Advice and Mental Health, 4000 Miles from Home

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Isabel Pineo
August 24, 2022
Jerusalem angel street art

Hey everybody! For those who haven’t read my bio, my name is Isabel and I am about to cross the Atlantic for a semester of environmental studies in Freiburg, Germany. This will be my first time in Freiburg (in all of Europe actually!) and I am incredibly excited to walk the city’s quaint streets, hike in the Black Forest, and experience a culture that values the environment it calls home. Truthfully, that is pretty much all I know about Freiburg, but with the right mindset, I am sure that wherever I go I will find happiness and a home. 
As far as crossing an ocean, I’ve done that once before. This summer, I studied abroad in Jerusalem, Israel, so I have the unique perspective of telling you from the get-go how all that planning turned out, the things I will do again, and those that were big mistakes. My first piece of advice? Tell everybody you are going abroad, even if they don’t need to know. They may look at you like you’re crazy, but more likely than not, they will have gone where you are going or know someone who has. I’ve received the best advice this way. For instance, I mentioned casually to an acquaintance that I was going to Freiburg and she got really excited, told me it was her second favorite place in the world and offered to put me in touch with a friend of hers who grew up there. Now, I know where to buy waste-free groceries, where to get a used bike, the secret hikes you can’t find online, and the best Thai food in the area.
A second piece of advice: don’t be afraid to ask for help. There are help lines for just about everything these days. Not sure what you need for your visa? Call the embassy (or consulate, depending on where you are). Want to know if your phone plan works abroad? Call your carrier. Ninety percent of the time it’s the job of the person on the other end of that call or email to help you, and the other ten percent of the time they are happy to do it anyways. Why does this work so well? Because people are generally nice, but when you are stressed beyond belief trying to coordinate a semester abroad while studying for finals, that is easy to forget. I forgot it when I went to get a visa at the Israeli embassy. I was in and out through security a million times getting things I had forgotten to take in with me from the car, and by the time they stamped my passport with that student visa I was sure they’d deny me based simply on the fact that I was the biggest airhead who ever lived. Yet they smiled, gave me the visa and all the help I needed, and wished me luck on my trip. They were just people. 
Speaking of people, here’s something you’ve heard from every person you’ve ever met: prepare, prepare, prepare. Consider me the first one to tell you that you should do a fraction of that preparing. Yes, learn some basics about local customs, like how to access public transportation, what to wear, and if you should tip at the restaurant. You can even do some light research about sites to visit in the area, but please, put down the 300-page book on local history and stop stressing because you can find the answer to “Google, what is the average temperature in October in Freiburg, Germany?” If you pack an open mind then bringing the wrong fall jacket won’t be a big deal. Here’s an example that anyone who loves food can relate to. I researched everything there was to know about the best street foods to eat in Jerusalem from falafel to shawarma, but when I got to the market, I ended up going for the recommendation of a local. I can’t even remember let alone pronounce the name of the dish, and when the chef asked what I wanted the filling to be, I told them to pick for me… and it was the best thing I’ve eaten all trip! So much for research.
When it comes to preparing for your journey, those three pieces of advice are the biggies. I’ll tell you all about what it’s like to live in the place you’ve only dreamed of in another post. Before I go, I’d like to get a little personal about myself. Going abroad is about more than just travelling the world or academics. For me, it’s an opportunity for personal growth, to relearn what it means to live and to go to school, not to live at school, for school, or because of school. I’m not gonna lie, this past year was difficult. There was stress, overwork, and some serious mental health struggles, so going somewhere new is just as much about the change of setting as it is about learning to change my relationship with work and with myself. This is certainly a lofty goal, but with hard work and self-awareness, I believe Freiburg is the place to achieve it. All of this is to say that studying abroad isn’t a cure-all and it won’t necessarily be the overtly positive experience that you see on social media. Sometimes life just sucks, even in the sunniest city in Germany. That being said, studying abroad can be profoundly eye-opening and give you opportunities that just don’t exist back home. So, if you have always dreamed of travelling the world, know that studying abroad can mean so much more; and if you’ve never felt the spark of wanderlust, remember that living and learning in a new place might be exactly the push you need to get going on an internal journey. 
That’s all for now. I’ve shared some photos for you to get to know me, my life at home, and my time abroad so far. And, if you are interested in hearing more about my travels, thoughts, advice, and the progress I’ve made on my mental health goals, keep an eye out for my name; I’ll be posting all semester. Thanks for reading!

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Isabel Pineo square headshot

Isabel Pineo

Hi there! My name is Isabel Pineo and I am coming to you this semester from Freiburg im Breisgau, a charming city in the Black Forest of sunny southern Germany. The official reason I’m here: to learn about environmental studies in a culture and urban setting known for its emphasis on sustainability. Unofficial reason: to eat amazing food, go on lots of hikes, meet fascinating people both local and foreign, and to focus on putting my physical and mental health first. I guess you could say that I’m searching for answers to the question of what it means to live rightly in the world, for the Earth and for ourselves. Since most of us have been asking that question for a very long time, I’ll be sure to update you on all the answers I find as the semester progresses!

2022 Fall
Home University:
Case Western Reserve University
Fulton, MD
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