The Truth About Studying Abroad’s Effects on Your Mental Health

Inside scoop! Skip Sightseeing for a day and make time for yourself!

By Claire Nunez

Editor-at-Large

Studying abroad is seriously one of the best decisions I have ever made in my entire life.  I am so proud of myself for coming abroad.  I never thought I would because my anxiety always held me back, but here I am! Even though I love it here, I have been seriously regretting my decision to come here. Wait, you just said that this was the best decision you’ve ever made? LIAR! Before you burn me for lying let me explain myself:

I currently live in Amsterdam (in the Netherlands, believe it or not, some people thought I was going to Upstate New York).  It is the most beautiful place I have ever been to.  In the first few weeks, I found myself riding around the city, starry eyed.  WOW, EUROPE! I was like a dog in a new park– so many new smells! So much to discover!  Amsterdam was my oyster and I was going to slobber all over it– figuratively of course. I honestly don’t know what it was.  It’s not like I have never been abroad before– I have over 30 country stamps in my passport.  I was just so excited, I guess, to have what everyone said would be the best semester of my life.

Now, all of this smelling and wagging my tail ran me ragged.  The canals are just canals now. Bitterballen is literally just fried gravy.  The scent that emanates out of the coffee shops does not smell like anything anymore. I began to feel super out of sorts and Amsterdam lost its luster.  The sight of raw herring made me want to puke even more than it did before.  Feelings of homesickness as well as actual sickness began to sink in a little bit.  Why was this happening?  I wanted to be in love with the beautiful city I came to again, but all of a sudden, it was just scratching its balding head asking if I was going to finish my hagleslag.

Amsterdam is really the most amazing place I have ever been to, so why was I feeling so shitty? Well, most sociologists would say I am currently in a downturn in my cultural adjustment period.  Every time people move somewhere for an extended period of time, they experience culture shock.  I was experiencing culture shock and was in a dramatic downturn on the cultural adjustment graph that study abroad gave us before we left America.  I did not feel like I was going into a downturn, but because I didn’t care for myself, it made it all the much worse.

Every situation has its ups and downs.  Studying abroad is no different. People always hype up this experience, like every day is going to be like waking up in Disney World on Christmas.  No, it is not like that. It is pretty great, but not every day is going to be amazing.  I tried to rationalize this before I left so that my expectations wouldn’t be too high, but I found myself worrying that I would be in a Taken situation.

Even though I feared being kidnapped, I had these fairy tale images of myself dancing through Prague with a handsome man or lounging on a boat in the canal, looking like a Dutch model. It is not like this at all! I do not look anything like a Dutch model and I probably could never lounge on a boat without an umbrella.  With these thoughts in my head, I really tired myself out.  I was doing too much eating, travelling, spending, and working.

I just tried to pack so much into the day’s’ hours.  I couldn’t do it and I broke. I hit a serious wall culturally and physically. I found myself missing my cat, and lasagna, and plain ol’ America.  I wanted REAL Cheetos with the fake cheese and for stores to be open past 6 p.m. I got sick. I couldn’t breathe out of my nose. The logical solution? Pierce my nose.  Even though I was breaking down and setting myself on fire, I kept going. This was not my smartest move. I should have taken time for myself, but nope.  I had to be having the best time of my life. The Instagram pictures had to prove it.

I was broken and now, I am fixing it.  I have begun to recognize the importance of self-care more and more as I have been healing. I always preach self-care but I never follow my own advice. Homework turns into internship applications and my freelance design work which then turns into keeping in touch with people from home (sorry, you’re all work) and then I have to sleep. I just try to work as hard as I can for as long as I can. Self-care is oh, so important and that importance does not disappear when you go abroad.

Time management is so hecking important while studying abroad.  You are only here for a finite number of weeks. You need to make the most of it! Well, yes. You do need to manage your travel and money so that you can maximize your time abroad, but you should also be managing self-time in.  I really did not do this.  I spent so much time trying to absorb Amsterdam in my first few weeks and I lost sight of my mental and physical health.  I used way too many Euros on useless things. I didn’t think clearly.  I only thought of making this the best semester of my life.  Newsflash, there is no such thing as the best semester.

Even at Fordham, every semester has its ups and downs.  I think about my favorite semester thus far, and it really had some real downs. A semester abroad is no different.  We are just told that this has to be the best.  We have to visit as many countries as possible.  We have to drink too much.  We have to eat everything.  We have to be free of the woes our country has.

Honestly, these unrealistic expectations made this the “worst” semester of my life for those two weeks.  I was so down on myself and I just wanted to go home to chill with my cat.  All I really needed was perspective. I had to think and rationalize. Life is never perfect, no matter how much you hype it up.  There will always be good times and awful ones.  It is inevitable.  Now, I am a lot better and I have accepted that I need balance. I need to go to the gym and workout. I need to take myself on dates. I need to just sit in bed with a pie and Modern Family.  We all need to relax. Just because something is supposed to be amazing, doesn’t mean it will be.

I think what I am trying to say with this spew of words, is that you should never expect too much. If your first semester at Fordham is rough, take a night off from Blue Goose and just chill. If your senior year is more stressful than exciting, reflect a little bit and sleep. Not everything has to be Instagram perfect all the time, and it won’t be.  Just take some time for yourself and then you’ll be wagging your tail again.

 

“Well, most sociologists would say I am currently in a downturn in my cultural adjustment period.”

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