Study Abroad Blues

It’s kind of in the college zeitgeist that going abroad is a wonderful and life changing experience, and with good reason. Whether it’s a study abroad program or an internship, studying or learning is made much easier by the fact that you’re in a country where the great cities of the world are a plane or bus ride away. Either before, after (or during) your time abroad, you can embark on your own little Grand Tour, jumping at the chance to see the world while you’re there. Between that, trying food you’ve only seen in movies and meeting new and interesting people, who has time to be sad?
Truth be told, everyone, from time to time. Our collective imagination does tend to make us create an interesting experience abroad, but it can also lead to unrealistic expectations. There’s nothing in the water in Europe (or anywhere else for that matter) that removes feelings of stress and anxiety. Situations arise, and we react to them as we would anywhere else. When a paper is due in Oxford, is it not as stressful as in Ann Arbor? A missed deadline at work as bad in Rijeka as in Detroit? We may be in a new location, but similar things are expected of us, and pretending that they don’t exist does nobody any good.
The same principle applies to being, just existing in a healthy way. While we acknowledge stress and anxiety, mental health in general, there seems to be a hind-brain response while you’re abroad. “Why worry about that, you’re in Paris?”, “Who has time to be sad in Rome?”, “If you take time to yourself right now, you’re wasting a potentially life-changing weekend in London!” Seriously, enough. While being abroad can be amazing and liberating, expecting something to happen or affect you before it does sets you up for failure, and can lead you to spiral in an altogether unhealthy way. When we pretend that being abroad should come with no problems (and only solutions), the only thing we succeed in doing is repressing them and making them worse in the long run.
If you need it, take the day off. Grab some fruit from the local market (it just tastes better abroad doesn’t it?) and take a hike to your favorite park. The world will still be there to visit next weekend, and chances are you’ll be more open to it.

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