Saying no, or: the challenge of life balance

kayaking

 

At the Fletcher School of Law and Diplomacy, there is always something going on. Just looking at the first page of my mailbox, I can see that our student-managed policy journal is looking for staff editors, that the Ocean River Institute is looking for interns, that the Office of Career Services is planning ten different workshops and info sessions just next week, and that apparently, I may show up at someone’s house party tonight if I bring some form of beer.

 

Now, as a person that is interested in everything and loves new people and activities–like most of you, dear readers, are—I would like to say yes to all of these things. Yes, I want to find out how to get hired by the CIA; yes, I want to have weekly discussion sessions on climate and energy policy; yes, I want to have dinner with the president of Estonia. The truth, however, I that I should probably say no to most of them—and I will.

 

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During the first weeks on campus, I was bombarded with recommendations to try this activity, to join that reflection group, to attend this social event. Having read all the exciting reports from other students who had spent time abroad, I more or less expected to be able to do all of them. However, I quickly had to adjust that idea. After three weeks of carefully planning my commitments for this semester, my schedule is not nearly as diverse as I thought it would. I will practically never be able to make it to a Thursday pizza lunch with the dean. I had to give up my plan of auditioning for the school band (a painful concession for a singing enthusiast like me). I won’t audit professor Klein’s interesting class on mathematics for economists.

 

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What I will do:

  • spend about 45 hours per week studying—likely more towards the end of the semester. This includes classes, the plus or minus 200 pages of reading I am assigned weekly, problem sets, study groups, online exams, preparing presentations and writing reflection papers. Studying, alone or with classmates, is the center of your life at the Fletcher School. But it pays off in the classroom: the more we read and learn by ourselves, the more interesting discussions we will have.
  • play improvisation theater one night per week. I joined an all-ladies, all-American (well, except me) improv group when I was in Boston last year, and they have been a great support. Our team name is Rumptown. Life does not always have to be serious.
  • train capoeira one night per week. Playing capoeira, a Brazilian movement art, helps me relax because it’s so complicated that I can’t think of anything else. And of course being in shape helps me cycle to class slightly faster, which must save me at least 7 minutes per week or so.
  • spend weekend afternoons with my significant other. Often we just relax, sometimes we go out and explore Boston with friends. Last week we went kayaking on the Charles river with one of my Fletcher classmates—perfect for enjoying the last days of New England summer. Next up is a visit to one of the local breweries!

 

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So the moral of this story is: instead of having become the band lead singer, I am mostly a nerd that lives in the library. Or perhaps more accurately: it took me a while to find an enjoyable life balance as a graduate student in the U.S., and saying no has become part of my lifestyle. But that’s all right with me, since there are so many yeses to make up for that. Yes, I am living in a new, exciting place. Yes, I am meeting countless new people—even if mostly over Econometrics problem sets. Yes, I am learning at a faster rate that I ever have. Yes, I’m a Fulbrighter. Yes, I am finally here.

 

— Clara Vandeweerdt

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