In a word of warning, this post likely will not be as light-hearted as my previous ones have been. It is that time of year when, as the semester winds down, the workload and resulting stress wind up. Even as I write this, I am struggling to concentrate, knowing I have the dreaded end-of-semester Triple-P’s—Projects, Papers, and Presentations—staring me in the face. Suddenly, it’s not all fun and games anymore.
I won’t mince words here; studying abroad for four months is a difficult endeavor. You leave your home, your family, your closest friends, your pets, your car, your favorite foods. After awhile, you even start to miss your annoying little brother. You have to keep a sharp eye on your money, your time, your health, and your work, all the while still trying to enjoy the new and beautiful country in which you are living. Sometimes, you just want to be back in Burlington, where the semester’s end was just a hair simpler.
In our very first group meeting—so long ago, the first weekend after we arrived in Dublin—they warned us to be mindful of our mental health. I remember silently looking to my left, then to my right, wondering whom of us would go insane. As I met a few gazes from other students doing the same, I realized it may not be that simple. Mental health encompasses so much more than we often give it credit for; it’s not simply black-and-white. The everyday stresses of a student’s schedule can have quite an effect, and it is very important to be mindful and observant of how we are reacting to these things.
I have outlined a few exercises that have proved very beneficial to limiting my stress and emotions any time I start to feel frustrated:
1. Work – Sometimes the most frustrating part of a lengthy paper or project is determining in what direction you are supposed to go. Take detailed notes of your assignments, so you know exactly what is expected. If you don’t completely understand an assignment or process, ask your professor for some extra clarification. Map all of your homework out on a calendar, so you can see what is due when. For me, this concrete visual representation of what needs to be done, each in relation to everything else, helps me lay out a plan of attack that helps keep me on track. If you get frustrated or unmotivated, take a little breather; go for a walk, take a shower, eat something, then go back to it later.
2. Money – I have already written a fair amount about budgeting, but I really can’t stress it enough. Keep up with your weekly budget, make adjustments if you have to, and compare it frequently to your monthly and total budgets to make sure you’re on the right track. If you have online-banking, it is even easier to check with your bank and keep track of hidden fees—such as ATM charges—or suspicious activity.
3. Homesickness – Chat with someone back home once in awhile. Personally, I wouldn’t recommend excessive use of Skype, Facebook, or anything else that could distract you from your cultural immersion, but there are so many fantastic resources in this digital age for connecting people. I think it is completely necessary once in awhile to connect with your family and friends back home. Just talking to a familiar face can be very comforting.
4. Sleep – Sleep is always a difficult thing for any student, but it is one of the most necessary things of which to be mindful, particularly while abroad. Going out every night and still trying to pack in a full day of classes and homework will only add to your stress. Take a break once in awhile; go to bed early, get a full night’s sleep, then wake up early and knock a few things off the assignment list before your roommates wake up, while it’s still quiet. Your mind works better immediately after a long night’s sleep and a good breakfast, so take advantage of it!
5. Everything – Just talk to someone. You would be surprised how much difference this can make. No matter what is going on, there is someone in the same boat, who understands what you’re going through. Just sit down and let everything out, organize your frenzied thoughts and talk them over. If you have a friend with you whom you already trust, you’re all set; if not, this kind of honesty is a great way to build strong friendships.
Everyone reacts to new and different situations in his or her own way. Some are able to adapt incredibly quickly and smoothly, while others find it nearly impossible to find a new flow. Most of us are caught somewhere in the middle, often fluctuating between the two extremes, and we can never tell at which point we will find ourselves next. Even so, there are many ways to keep yourself sane, and still enjoy the fact that you are having one of the most rewarding experiences of your entire life.
Champlain College Dublin Student Blogger