Coping From 5,000 Miles Away

Maria Bonsignore
October 17, 2019

The loss of a loved one isn’t easy to cope with no matter where you are in the world, but when you’re miles away from home in another country without your family, friends, and usual support network to help you through it, it can feel especially overwhelming. In the middle of midterms this week, I found out that my grandmother’s brain surgery did not go well and that she will most likely not survive it. Currently, she’s in a coma in the hospital. Needless to say, it’s been a bit difficult to focus on midterms.

I didn’t plan to share this information publicly like this, but then I started thinking that this is something that can realistically happen to anybody while abroad. It’s something that I think, though we would all rather avoid it, needs to be considered by anybody planning to or currently studying abroad: how to cope with grief when you’re miles and miles away from home.

Like most people, I’m not really in a position financially to be able to just book a flight without prior planning to go visit loved ones. It feels particularly bad because there’s still time to go and say goodbye, but I’m not able to do it. You know this when you go abroad, but it doesn’t make it any easier. Talking to my family isn’t always easy with the time zone differences either, so I feel like I get updates much slower than everyone else and it makes me a bit anxious.

In these situations, everyone has different needs. I did not attend class today after I took my last midterm, but I know that after the weekend I’ll be able to get back up and resume normal activity. For other people, it might take longer and that’s okay too. However, it’s important to have an understanding of your own needs in order to take the best course of action for your mental well-being. Reach out to professors, explain the situation, and work with them to create a plan that allows you to grieve without sacrificing your grades and wasting all of your hard work all semester.

I know that I didn’t do the best that I could on my midterms because of this. I could blame myself for not “pushing through” or trying hard enough, but the fact is that things happen. It’s not weak or lazy to struggle when you’re going through something hard. To all of the people reading this, both current study abroad students and those considering it: try to keep that in mind if tragedy strikes while abroad, though I sincerely hope that it doesn’t. All you can do sometimes is your best, but talking to professors really does help – most of the time, they’ll understand and be willing to work with you.

Important: if you find that your mental health has been severely affected by a tragic event in your life, you are experiencing suicidal thoughts, or you are struggling to cope with the situation, please make use of the available resources:

IES Abroad Chicago Dean of Students Office: 800.995.2300

IES Blogs related to mental health abroad:

National Suicide Prevention 24-hour Hotline: 1.800.273.8255 /1.800.784.2433.

National Suicide Prevention Hotline for Impaired Hearing: 1.800.799.4889.

Italy Suicide hotlines: 800.86.00.22 / 199.284.284 / 19696

LGBT Suicide Hotline: 1.866.488.7386.

Your professors, the IES Abroad staff, and even your classmates can also help you get through a difficult time. You're never alone. 

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Maria Bonsignore

<p>My name is Charlotte and I'm a senior at Penn State studying Human Development and Sociology. I like traveling, baking, k-pop, rabbits, and collecting scrunchies!</p>

2019 Fall
Home University:
Penn State University
Easton, PA
Human Development
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