‘BEING ABROAD ALLOWED ME TO FIND MYSELF’, ‘IT HAS BEEN THE BEST YEAR OF MY LIFE’.
How many of us have heard these phrases? As someone who has been now living abroad for five years, I can guarantee, this ‘change’ happens every single year. We are all, regardless of where we live or how much time we spend travelling, discovering what we want to do with our lives and where on earth we are heading. Amidst all this emotion and change, mental health risks fading into the background.
For all of you who are hoping to take a year out/abroad/travelling, here is the tough truth. A LOT will happen during the year: good, incredible, breath-taking, and, sadly, some things can go wrong. As amazing as discovering new cultures and food is, and as frontier-bending making international friends can sometimes be, it is hard to be on your own.
Things will change
As we pack our bags to go on a year-long adventure little do we think about what we are leaving behind, and about the fact friend’s lives are going to continue with or without you. The boat hits the rocks when university starts again. You are somewhere in Spain, Italy, France, Canada etc. sipping on your glass of rosé and living your best life when suddenly Instagram starts to flood with photos of your friends going back to uni. They are having a great time, and you aren’t there.
Now, let me cut this depressing spiral right there. Yes, your relationship with your mates will change, but you will find out who is going to be there for you no matter the distance and time. Remember, your friends have not stopped caring about you. In the same way your life has changed, theirs has too.
Being on your own can feel incredibly lonely at times. I, for instance, was completely by myself when I was told about my grandfather’s death, and it was one of the most mentally challenging moments of my life. As I looked around I realised I was curled up in a ball, in the middle of my apartment in Brussels, miles away from everyone I loved. I just needed someone to hug me and tell me things were going to get better. During moments like these, you must remember how strong a person you are. You must tell yourself you will get through it. Make yourself a cup of tea, do something that makes you happy: go for a run, go eat an ice cream, anything that can spark a bit of joy inside you. And when you feel like the world is crushing you a little less, call someone that you know will be there for you. A friend, a family member, someone that inspires you, trust and makes you feel good with yourself.
Ask for help
If you feel like the situation is not getting any better, do not hesitate to ask for help. Go to your university, your employer’s human resources department, or simply any locals you know and ask for mental health resources. I assure you they will want to help. It is ok not to be ok, even if you are meant to be having the best year of your life. Having a little slip, overthinking, having a cry and feeling crushed is all part of your year, we are all human and life can become overwhelming at times. Asking for help is not a sign of weakness but of bravery.
Lastly, do not compare what you are doing with what everyone else has decided to do or post about. Each person’s year abroad takes completely different turns, so never think you are doing less or doing worse. Enjoy the little moments and meals with your new friends, learn loads, make great memories and remember that it is your life, no one else is going to live it for you. We all hit rocks at some point. We must remember we are brave enough to get back on our feet, and that we can always ask for help.
My fellow blogger Sunita has written a blog about her role as a College Welfare Officer – read it here.
For more information and support visit our student support and well-being web pages.