I’m sure right now you were just scrolling through Facebook, passing seemingly dozens of people saying “follow my blog while I’m studying abroad in (insert foreign city here) this semester!!” And then, when you go on that blog they all say some variation of the same thing: “this city is so cool!! I’ve already learned so much!! I already know it’s going to be the best 4 months of my life!!”
And of course, there’s nothing wrong with those blogs. Lots of people have lots of fun the first couple weeks during their study abroad, and I won’t say there haven’t been aspects I haven’t enjoyed. But it’s also important to remember there’s two sides to every coin, two sides to every story, two faces to every man. I want to share the “other” side of my first couple days.
But to do that, we have to go back past my first day here. Instead, this story starts almost a full 12 months before, when I first started going to therapy. My anxiety had gotten to the point where I couldn’t handle it anymore, and I knew I needed help. I never shared this information with many people so it’s hard to do so now, but it’s an important part of my life if I want to give an accurate account of my time abroad, and I owe it to people to be honest.
Flash forward past those months and sessions and we arrive to the day I left, when I was confident I had the tools to handle my mental health while I was abroad. But admittedly, I fell off the wagon in my first couple days. Breakdowns became more frequent and I began to feel like I was isolating myself from my peers and host family.
With some help of loved ones back home, I’m starting to turn things back around again. This morning, I turned off my phone and went on a three hour walk, exploring parts of the city that would have otherwise most likely remained mysterious to me. I did it by myself, but I didn’t feel alone. I felt free, from both thoughts and emotions, to take a step back and appreciate where I was.
Somebody back home also told me “do something new every day. Learn a new word, go somewhere you haven’t been before, eat something foreign.” I hate coffee, but I’m writing this from a café in France with a coffee in my hands because it’s something new, and it’s helped me a lot as well, so I want to offer that advice to others studying abroad as well.
I don’t share any of my struggles because I’m expecting sympathy or want handouts. I’m sharing so people with mental health issues know a study abroad can be accomplished and they shouldn’t let their mental health hold them back with fear. I want to remind my peers that the pretty pictures of old cities and beautiful sunsets people share online don’t tell the whole story. Just because mental health issues happen behind closed doors and away from cameras don’t mean they don’t happen. All you need is a good support system, and the programs offer help as well.
I’ll say it again because it’s important: mental health shouldn’t stop anybody from following their dreams, and those already abroad need to remember they aren’t the only ones who feel like they do.
One thing I’ve always found helpful during panics is reading. Since it doubles as a way to improve my French, I found a book quickly here and it’s been doubling as a therapy. In it, Rhinocéros by Eugene Ionesco, I found unexpected advice:
“La vie est une lutte, c’est lâche de ne pas combattre.”
Life is a struggle, it’s cowardly not to fight.