Maximize the time you didn't ask for

Like many international students who graduated college in the U.S., I'm currently waiting for my employment authorization to kick in so that I can start working. Those who have been or currently are in this situation may know that the wait isn't easy. If you're not careful, the anticipation can quickly turn into anxiety as every single waking minute becomes dedicated to worrying about the future. You can't let it get to you.

While I could go on forever about what waiting for a U.S. immigration case feels like, I’d much rather talk about how to manage the indefinite amount of free time that comes with the wait; the free time you might not have asked for. The liberal arts student in me has been itching to start working and get productive, but in the last few weeks, I've had to find other avenues to channel my energy into.

And it’s not like I had to try very hard to find activities. We all have passions and pastimes we wish we had more time for, and as difficult as it has been for me to see, I know I’ll be complaining about being too busy soon enough. So without further a due, here are the top 5 things I've been up to that have taken my mind off of the anxious wait, and have helped me feel whole:

1. Sketching


I finally have time to sketch! So far, I've only done pencil sketches of Gigi Hadid (I just love her face), but I do eventually want to get back into chalk pastel drawings (where my heART really is). Since my last proper visual arts course ended in high school, art's really taken a backseat in my life. I've always said to myself that something that brings me such a peace of mind ought to be more integrated into my everyday life... so here I am!

2. Yoga

For the longest time, I'd been avoiding doing Yoga, not wanting to join what seemed to be becoming a western capitalist trend (it's true!). But having heard more and more stories from friends who've had fulfilling Yoga experiences, I recently warmed up to at least trying it out. I bought myself a cheap Yoga mat on Amazon, researched YouTube instructors, and today, completed my first 30-minute practice! My body instantly woke up to very challenged muscles and a rejuvenated blood circulation. People are always cheesily saying to try something new and challenge yourself. Today, I did the cheesy and it felt great!

3. Actual Skincare

Last Thanksgiving, I went to Cole's Salon in Burnsville, MN for the first time. They're a pretty cool spa chain in Minnesota, and if you're a first-time visitor, you get LOTS of free samples. I'm talking hair, name it. That day, I came home, put the bag of samples down and forgot all about it until - you guessed it - this summer when I moved into my new place. I tried their natural apricot face scrub, lemon facial cleanser, and then some strawberry moisturizer. I was so blown away by how smoothly layered my face felt after all of that, and decided that post-college me is going to reasonably invest in my skin. That way, I can say that I definitely tried in my twenties. Plus, everything smells and feels so good!

4. Watching Movies based on British & European Literature


If you love romance and literature but you haven't seen Pride & Prejudice starring Keira Knightly and Matthew MacFadyen (heart eyes), you are missing out. I won't go into all the British and European literature I love. Just put this one on, sit back, take in the poetically beautiful dialogues, and prepare to fall in love with Mr. Darcy. That is all.

5. Going to the Freakin' Dentist

Unromantic, I know. We're all "supposed to" go to the dentist every six months, but international student health insurance really has its boundaries. This summer, a toothache got the better of me - a result of my neglecting the dentist throughout the school year - and I got a nice, thorough, overdue dental checkup. You know it's worth it when you get to walk out of there with a free toothbrush made for sensitive teeth, and very specific pain-relieving advice. Until my next appointment... yay...


But there you have it. 5 (very random) activities that I wouldn't have easily prioritized during a busy, everyday schedule. They've each added to my peace in their own way, whether through allowing me to creatively express myself or through somehow improving my health. When I was first deciding how to spend my newfound time, I found that I was struggling to find my worth outside of my career. I couldn't see these 5 activities to be just as meaningful as - if not more than - work. And why shouldn't they be? We're made of so much more than job titles and education. We're also our childhood memories, our secret aspirations... the list could go on.


So I Challenge You…

…to at least come up with your own list of 5 things you would try or do more of if you had a sudden dollop of free time. If you want to take it to the next level, try incorporating one activity into each of the next 5 weeks! After all, the pursuit of your mental wellness and happiness deserves so much more than "spare time".

*I would add that I also paid attention to finances when making these things happen. Budgeting and saving take priority for me #StudentProbs, so I always thought about whether I could afford a particular activity. If you can, your mental health will thank you.

Alex Hemmer