The first week of my study abroad experience is behind me. It has been at once surreal, exhausting, exciting, terrifying, fascinating and uninteresting, and long. Emphasis on long. No matter how gracefully you approach this period, and no matter how prepared you think you are, it’s going to feel overwhelming, and you’re going to need to work to catch your footing and carve a niche out for yourself.
I’ve found that no matter how confident and centered I felt when I left, everything kind of went out the window when I got here. There is nothing to remind you of the value of comfort, confidence, familiarity, and home quite like jetting across the world and dropping out of the sky to an entirely unfamiliar place. From language barriers, meeting an entire world of new people, being separated by at least hundreds and at most thousands of miles from everyone I know, love, and trust, living with only what I could fit in two suitcases…absolutely everything about this week has been overwhelming and unpredictable.
This is not all bad; it’s actually not necessarily bad at all. It is overwhelming, and it does desperately need all of your attention and focus. I’ve found that focusing on creating a routine, maintaining communication with loved ones, being diligent about learning and practicing this new language, getting enough sleep, maintaining practices that make me feel fulfilled and at home, and and exploring and familiarizing myself with this city have been instrumental in making this week go as smoothly as possible.
One of the first issues I ran into was having an irregular and unpredictable schedule. This meant that I was constantly running from point A to point B, and often missing meals without realizing it. Having healthy, easy to grab-and-go food on hand has helped me greatly in getting my schedule back on track–after the first few days of getting home at 7:00 realizing I’d only eaten an apple all day, my energy was low and I was feeling pretty run down, to say the least. It may sound basic, but making sure that you’re fueling yourself properly is so incredibly important, especially when you’re in a situation where that’s the last thing you think about.
As I’ve said ten times by now, this stage of the semester is hectic and overwhelming. In moments of stress and self-doubt, having loved ones to talk to, especially those in similar situations as me, has been a life saver. My sister and best friend are both studying abroad, and talking to them about my experiences and hearing theirs on a regular basis has made me feel connected to and close to them. Feeling comradery and togetherness with trusted friends and supporters has been essential for me for in this strange, sometimes solitary week.
Finally, as I mentioned before, it is very likely that your sense of self will change during this foreign experience. To reclaim my mental center and establish more regularity in my life, I’ve made a point of doing things that I love to do, that bring me fulfillment, and that I do regularly in my daily life at home. For me, this has meant regularly journaling, reading, watching (good) movies, talking to loved ones, and exercising. Also, as an introvert, it’s very important for me to have alone, re-charge time. Prioritize what your body and mind need to feel most whole.
No matter what, this week is going to feel like years. To make yourself feel as comfortable as you can in a stereotypically uncomfortable time, try to ground yourself just as much as you go with the flow, and find consolation in the idea that with time, this will become the new normal.