If you’ve ever wanted to see more of the world and experience a new way of life, but you’re worried about dealing with anxiety abroad, this post is aimed at you. The goal of this blog post is to help anyone that is looking to find the motivation to study abroad or someone who might be unsure about their future plans to leave their home.
Additionally, if you have already made the choice to go abroad (a good choice, by the way) and are feeling homesick, anxious, or doubting your decision, I hope this post will help. I hope you find my top six ways to deal with anxiety abroad useful!
Everyone feels anxiety sometimes
Many of us deal with anxiety, and it is completely normal. In fact, the right amount of nerves helps us perform at our best. The problems referred to as “anxiety” today are better defined as when we feel nervous, scared, or apprehensive towards things that don’t warrant that response, or when we have “too many” nerves and are overwhelmed. A change of scenery and immersion into a new culture is something that will most likely warrant that response, so do not be surprised if you start to feel this way towards your trip or once you arrive.
My experience with study abroad anxiety
Before I left for my semester in Ireland, I was very nervous. I knew that I was going to feel homesick and miss my friends, family, and way of life that I grew fond of back home. What I was not ready for was the extent to which I would be uncomfortable during my first week. I had traveled to Europe for an extended period of time earlier in my life, so I was assuming that everything would go smoothly; however, I was wrong. I was not used to the culture, ideas, school system, apartment, or any aspect of my stay. Even as someone who had made this type of transition before, I was struggling. Remember that this can happen to anyone, no matter how you expect to react.
Dublin City University, my university in Dublin
My 6 tips for dealing with anxiety abroad
I realized I needed to make a change. It was during my first week that I was able to identify how to get over this “hump” and how to make the most of the rest of my semester. I was able to think a lot about what worked for me and what did not, and I turned those into my top six tips for handling anxiety abroad (or anywhere, actually). Here they are:
Tip 1: Realize anxiety is trying to help you
Not to get too deep into the science behind anxiety (watch the Netflix series, “The mind explained- Anxiety” for more), but quite simply it is our body trying to keep us safe from harm. When you realize that, you are able to be more patient with yourself each time you get anxious about something.
For example, when I felt homesick and worried about the rest of my trip during my first week in Ireland, I realized that was just my body trying to find a way to be comfortable as fast as possible, and thinking about home was convenient. Nothing about Ireland was really making me feel that way, it was just the general newness and culture shock that made me look for something comforting.
Keep this in mind whenever you are abroad: Is it really the place making you feel this way, or would you feel that way anywhere…?
Tip 2: Reframe the feeling
This will help you feel more at ease.
I decided to reframe my homesickness from:
“Wow, being at home is so much easier and I like it so much more, I want to go back!”
And instead think about it like this:
“I’m lucky to have a life at home that I really enjoy, and I will be happy to return to it after I get to experience a new way of living for a while.”
Replacing that negative voice in your head with a positive one really goes a long way.
Tips 3: Set small goals for yourself
This will help you feel accomplished.
I personally set out to talk to all of my professors and introduce myself as a study abroad student. When I had that face to face interaction with them, it was overwhelmingly positive and this made me feel more comfortable along with the pride that I was achieving my goal.
Other small goals that someone could set are talking with one new person from each class, seeing a landmark in the city that you’re in, or trying a new food/drink/ cultural experience.
Tip 4: Do familiar things
Being in a new place does not mean that you have to forgo all of the things that you did at home.
I found a routine at my school that was very similar to the one I had at my home university. I made sure to exercise daily, make at least one meal for myself, and to spend some time on campus doing work in the library or the student center.
If you want to see my home base in Dublin, watch the video below that I filmed of my housing.
All of these things made up the majority of my days at home, and a familiar routine can ease some nerves
Tip 5: Keep in touch with people from home
When you’re dealing with anxiety abroad, communicating with friends and family back home can be really helpful. Get Whatsapp or some other communication app that will let you talk to the people that you’re missing. As I said in tip 2, replacing homesickness with gratitude for your life at home is important and vocalizing that is critical.
Tell people you miss them, keep them in the loop with the new things that you’re doing, and appreciate the fact that you can talk to them from all the way around the world. Hearing loved-ones’ voices and even seeing them on your phone is really cool when you’re away and this is something that everyone should take advantage of.
Tip 6: Get involved
While you want to keep in touch with people and involve them in your trip, one of the best ways to feel more comfortable is to do as the locals do; going abroad is supposed to be a learning experience after all.
Get involved in clubs on campus, try to network with people and get a group to do things with. I was lucky to find other American students studying abroad and we went on day trips to places, out into the city center in Dublin, and did things on campus. This extends to the locals as well. Try to find students that live in that country and really get an authentic student experience that way.
Going abroad is a chance for personal development
All in all, going abroad can be scary, unnerving, and it might seem like staying at home would be easier and more comfortable. Truthfully, it is easier to just stay at home and do what you know, but that does not allow for growth.
Throwing yourself into a new way of life is hard, but the benefits start to show themselves quickly after arrival. I started to feel much more comfortable and used to my routine by the start of my second week in Ireland. Keep these things in mind when you go away, have fun, and realize that this experience is not afforded to everyone. Reap the benefits and personal growth that comes from your trip.
Matt’s tips on dealing with anxiety abroad are super helpful for people experiencing the mild anxiety that most folks will feel when they go through big life changes. If you’re experiencing something more than that, know that CIS Abroad site directors are there with you to help connect you to any resources you may need.