Studying Abroad can be hard and stressful, but on its own, it may not be the sole stressor on your mind. I know that for me, it certainly was not, and I figured that relating to you the last heavy week before departure and how I coped with them might serve not only myself, but all of you.
My home institution unfortunately does not conclude classes until May 23rd, about six days before my flight to Germany, which, when combined with finals, meant that I was already a ball of nerves by the time my flight was scheduled to leave. Yet, this would not be all. With the end of the school year, this also meant that I had to move out from my dorm, and bring all of my stuff home. While many of my peers had moved most of their stuff back to their homes by the time classes ended, I had not been so forward thinking, and left move-out at the last minute. While I had received an extension to move out, it was a process that took me three days, including the day after classes which I had cleared out in an attempt to recover from a very course-heavy and stressful school year. However, such rest would prove short-lived, as my schedule would continue to be hammered throughout the week, as family came by to visit me and see me off before my flight to Germany, forcing several things I needed to take care of before I left to be postponed to another day, and I had to help my brother move into his apartment.
Don’t get me wrong, I love my family, and I am more than happy to take on the stress and exhaustion all of these things entail, but the time-squeezes get to me. If I wanted to be able to arrive in Germany safely and soundly, as well as make a good impression on my fellow students, I could not afford to arrive as a snappy anxious mess, meaning I needed to do something to cope.
For me, I found that there were some coping mechanisms more effective than others during this last week that I used. First, I will go through what didn’t work:
“Healthy Vices”: While some friends of mine may extol the virtues of maintaining “healthy vices” as a means to cope with stress. For me, I drank at the end of each day for two days while moving, but I found that drinking to unwind from a bad day simply doesn’t work, and I was much more irritable the next day rather than unwound and less stressed.
Napping: In college, one of the things which I swore by was taking a siesta after lunch or classes (whichever came last), as a means to mentally distance myself from classes that day so I could enjoy myself in the afternoon, take a break, or do any coursework I needed to with a clear mind. But, due to the nature of my stressors being much more “long term,” taking a nap in my bed was much harder, as I constantly turned over the possibility of doing something productive instead just to get it all out of the way.
However, in terms of what worked, they worked very well.
Among these was taking a walk, especially far, far away from my campus or home. I have tried walking around my campus before as a means to destress, yet, like napping, I found that I was constantly telling myself I could be doing something “productive” instead, and would look wistfully at my dorm. However, if I removed myself from my neighborhood or my campus, and went for a walk in the forest or downtown… I was physically distanced from my computers and textbooks, and could more easily put them out of mind in order to destress and build myself back together to be able to take on the rest of the week much more easily.
Another would simply be something I would call “swapping.” As I have noted before, I don’t like leaving things undone, and leaving something not done will psych me out throughout the week until I do it, and due to the scale of the things I had to do, simply doing them all at the same time was not exactly an option. Instead, as a means to help keep the stress and exhaustion down, I mixed and matched what I was doing. If I was doing something very difficult, I would do something easy for a while afterwards to recover, so I could do another thing that would be very difficult.
Lastly, and this may be obvious to some, but acknowledge when you need help! I say this as someone who should be saying it much more often, but I don’t because of my own pride, machismo, and perfectionist inclinations, so please please please do it if even I am saying it. My brother and mother both helped me cope through my stress levels by just being there for me to talk to about it, and physically help me deal with all of the things which I had to do in the lead up to my flight to Germany.
If it wasn’t for them, I would definitely be leaving Kentucky as a shut-down angry robot. Not all of you will be going to Germany like I am, but many of you will be leaving soon to go wherever your programs are. This will be one of the biggest adventures you are entering upon as an adult, and you will form relationships there that will be for the rest of your life, so don’t be a shut-down stress ball guys. Enjoy yourselves!
Have fun, for me, yeah?
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Buenas! My name is Thomas, and I am majoring in PoliSci & International Affairs. Very much excited to start learning about the EU in Freiburg this summer, as well as go beyond the Western Hemisphere for the first time. A good cook, and geopol nerd!