To Stress or Not to Stress - Taking Control of My Study Abroad Journey

Audrey Phillips
January 9, 2020

Picture this: you’re at a family gathering over the holidays, talking to relatives that you haven’t seen in what is probably literal years, and the butterflies in your stomach flutter with joy as you tell every single person that you’re studying abroad next semester and you’re just so excited. But as you move through your family members the butterflies’ wings beat harder and harder and then suddenly a stampede of elephants is running through your entire nervous system because every family member is asking you questions like “Are you going to have enough money for that?” or giving you advice on which insect repellents to buy so that you can avoid diseases you’ve never heard of and your stress levels are on the rise. With each difficult question or new danger you could potentially face, your well of excitement drains a little more, replaced with a steadily building sense of dread. 

That person is actually me, but it’s okay if it’s you, too. I am a notorious over-thinker, over-stresser, over-everything, and preparing to study abroad has left me with my hands shaking, planning for any and all disaster scenarios on many a night. My brain is great at inventing stress out of thin air, so when anyone, especially family members, ask me hard questions, I just about short-circuit. It’s not that I’m not thinking about the hard or scary parts of study abroad (like budgeting or somehow finding a sense of direction so I don’t get lost in Japan every single day); I just don’t want to be confronted with my own stress because then I stress about being stressed. 

One of the things that stresses me out the most about studying abroad is packing, of all things. I detest airports and airport security because it feels like a system set up to make you fail and then laugh in your face at your ineptitude; unfortunately, studying abroad means that I will be dealing with many airports, and I will be doing it all alone. On top of airports, there’s the fact that I will be living away from my home base for 5 whole months, and if I forget something at home I can’t just run back to pick it up. Do I bring my own pillow? How many sweaters is too many? Do I own enough pairs of jeans? Will my fellow study abroad-ers think that I’m weird because I’m not bringing enough shirts? What if I packed too many? How many things should I buy in preparation for the trip? Should I buy nothing?

At the end of the day, though, there are endless opportunities for your feelings about studying abroad to become consumed entirely with stress. In addition to packing and airports, I could stress over money, language differences, fashion differences, cultural differences, if I’ll be able to find shoes in my size- there are boundless details for a stress to feed on and grow so immensely large that it eclipses every other emotion and all you want to do is run away.

I have had many conversations with myself, and I think I finally have some advice from me to me (and you, if you’re like me): stress is normal, and often productive, but it shouldn’t override the excitement about studying abroad. Of course you’re going to be stressed - but most of those butterflies in your stomach should come with an eager sparkle in your eye because while there are endless ways in which to stress about the admittedly elephantine undertaking that is studying abroad, there are also never-ending ways that this trip could be one of the best, most fulfilling experiences of your life. 

I am so incredibly excited to be going to Japan that I quite literally cannot find the words to encompass what I’m feeling. I will never not be grateful to those who have helped me get here, especially my dad who has responded to every difficulty we’ve faced during this study abroad journey with “don’t worry; we’ll make it work” (of course I still worry, but that’s just who I am). I cannot believe that I am being allowed to do something so thrilling and valuable and, simply put, insane. There aren’t enough words to describe exactly how I’m feeling, or at the very least I don’t know enough words to do so, but I know that I’m truly, deeply happy.

I could let my stress ruin the happiness and delight of preparing for study abroad. I could let those questions from my well-meaning family members spiral me out of control and make every single second leading up to my departure center void of true excitement, but I think that I’ve decided not to. Yes, I’m stressed, and I acknowledge that that will be an inevitable part of myself most likely for the entirety of my time in Japan (and probably my whole life), but it’s only one of the multitude of emotions that are stomping around inside my heart, and I can’t let it push everything else out. Why would I let something take the sparkle of joy away from me? Let's make a pact, from one over-stresser to another: my stress cannot be divorced from me, but it will darken the rose-tinted joy of my time abroad. 

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Audrey Phillips

<p>My name is Audrey Phillips and I'm currently an East Asian Studies major at Mount Holyoke College in Massachusetts! I'm originally from the south which means that my favorite food is biscuits, hands down. I love birds and cats and anything pink and my favorite person on Earth is probably Dolly Parton (my favorite musician is Mitski though)!</p>

2020 Spring
Home University:
Mount Holyoke College
Atlanta, GA
Asian Studies
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