As a student with anxiety and depression, study abroad comes with difficulties that are not always talked about. You’ll hear a lot of people talk about study abroad as a “dream come true” and “the time of their life”—but this obscures the reality that study abroad is not always perfect, and you won’t be constantly happy.
One of the big challenges is obviously the initial adjustment. It may be difficult being away from your family and friends, and feeling FOMO about missing your life at home is completely normal. It can also be a bit jarring dealing with a whole new culture which often comes with a language barrier. For me, I didn’t know anyone in my program, so it was tough having to start from square 1 making new friends and creating a new community of people. I had gotten so used to my life back at my home university that building a new social network was really exhausting. I really loved making new friends, but, at times, I felt like it was all too much for me and I craved the support networks I had back at home.
Another challenging thing was allowing myself to relax. I didn’t want to waste any days because I knew I was only going to study abroad once. But the thing is I was burning myself out, and, by not taking any days off or letting myself have time to just chill, I was actually hurting my ability to function later. I realized that I needed to just give myself time to be and live my life at the same pace as home. That meant, for me, just hanging out on a weekend instead of going on another trip, or turning down an invitation to a dinner with my mentors’ group because I was simply too tired.
I have also had problems with anxiety about school and my future creep in while I’ve been here. Something that I don’t think people talk about is enough is that life doesn’t stop while you’re abroad. Unfortunately, you will still have internship or job applications, and you’re still probably completing classes for your major. I fell behind in a couple of my classes due to sickness and it made me really stressed out because my grades do still count. The reality was that pressure to succeed had not gone away, and the added pressure of making the most of my study abroad was weighing down on me, too. Ultimately, I had to accept that my experience wouldn’t be perfect, and I wasn’t accepted to be perfect, either. Catching up on work meant I had to skip out on an experience, but I learned to be okay with that. It wasn’t the end of the world.
Finally, I think that one of the most difficult parts of studying abroad is loneliness. Even when you make friends, these are not people who have you known you for years, and it can often be hard to deal with having a new circle of people, especially if they don’t know much about you. Also, I lived in a studio apartment, which meant I was spending a lot of time alone. I often cooked my own meals, ate alone, and hung out in my own company at night. This could be relaxing and rejuvenating on some days, but, on others, it was really hard not having anyone else around and it often led me to slipping into depressive episodes. If you are living alone, I encourage you to seek out the company of friends, even if you feel a little awkward doing so.
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My name is Sarah and I'm a student at Rice University. I'm a double major in history and anthropology, and I love to read and write. My favorite hobbies are walking around cities and trying new coffee shops!