Friday, 5 October 2012

HerUni: Year Abroad Blues

Dealing with stress at this time in our life is difficult enough, add university on top of that and it makes it ten times worse. Fellow Roehampton writer Evie Chrysostomou tells you ways on how to tackle stress at uni which you can read here. But, what if you are now attending university in a completely different country? There is now a whole new place to adapt to, new friends to make, new foods to try… It is like being a fresher again with added pressure. Don’t worry though. After reading this, you should feel better about your brand new, fun, exciting life!
There are ten things that I think are issues that will bring on stress whilst you are abroad. For you, there may be more, there may be less, but here is how to cope when you are feeling down.
    1. Missing home/home comforts
You are bound to miss home at some point during your trip. It might be right at the beginning like me, or it may come along to surprise you after a couple of weeks of amazing fun! You’ll miss your friends, your family, your routine, and (I can say I am going through this stage) the food. First of all, remind yourself that this is an amazing opportunity that not many people are lucky enough to get. Then, if that doesn’t work, talk it out with a friend, write everything that you are feeling on a piece of paper, or go and have an amazing night out with all the new friends you have made! Keeping yourself busy is another great way to make yourself feel loads better, and appreciate this experience even more. Time will fly by, and before you know it, you’ll be back in England, wishing you could go back and live abroad for another year.
    2. Making new friends
Think of this one as, ‘I’ve been through this before, and I met some of the most unforgettable people in my life, and now they’re some of my closest friends.’ You never know who is going to be out there! You might make a new best friend who you can turn to for anything. You might meet someone from where you live (I did!), or you never know, you might meet your next ‘One’. Go out, meet people at bars, specialised parties just for Erasmus students. Attend as much as you can, be it tapas night, karaoke, film night, a trip to the local museum, a trip to the beach etc. This way you will feel so much better about yourself, and you can meet people from all over the world who are here to do the exact same as you. At the end of the day, you are all in the same boat!
    3. Culture shock
Not everywhere is like Britain, which is a very good thing! It means that you can explore different cultures, food, dance, music, lifestyle and much more! For example, here in Spain, they don’t eat lunch until between two and three in the afternoon, and they have their dinner at 10pm at night. Plus, between 2pm and 5pm is ‘siesta’ time where all the shops close for three hours to get a nap in, ready for the long night ahead. This can be good and bad. It all depends on your personal taste, but embrace it because you will be living like this for nine months. You might even end up missing it when you return to Britain. Another thing to remember is that Europeans are very laidback, so don’t be stressing yourself out if lecturers are late to class, if they don’t show up (even though they definitely should), and classes are cancelled.
    4. Different language
You are on the Erasmus scheme for a reason. You have been studying your chosen language(s) for the past two years of university, and now, you have to put everything that you have learnt together to experience life in that country. You may think that you are not ready to do that yet. I certainly did before I arrived in Spain, so much so that I seriously did not want to leave home. I was terrified, but now I love it here! It is hard to adapt to listening, conversing, and breathing your second language, but it is what you are there to do, and you can only benefit from it. It is frustrating and stressful when you don’t understand everything that somebody says to you, especially if it is your lecturer explaining something important which may be on your exam. Practise the language at any given moment, read up on your class topics, and remember that when you have a second and third language, you will be considered more for jobs in the future, and you may even earn a higher salary.
    5. Missing your university
It has been the place you call home for the past two years; you’ve made some fabulous best friends who would do anything for you, and you’ve (maybe) loved your lectures. Now it’s time for the Freshers pictures to go up, and there’s one person missing: you. This can get you feeling very low, especially when there might not be parties every single night at your European university. Of course, you are bound to miss your friends, and the uni lifestyle you are used to, but fear not! Your friends back in university are probably looking through your pictures on Facebook thinking, ‘she looks like she is having an amazing time’ or, ‘look at all that sun’, ‘look at the tan!’ There’s the other problem that the majority of your university friends are graduating this year, and you won’t be living the student life with them again. Sob! You can always book a flight back in advance to spend a weekend there. That’s what I am planning to do at the end of May, so I can go to the yearly Summer Ball. Make plans to look forward to, and remember that you should be having the time of your life too.
    6. Long Distance Love
Two of the girls I know out here are in long distance relationships. It must be hard to not be able to see, hug, or kiss that one person you are used to seeing a lot of the time. There are articles on HerUni that have been written especially for long distance relationships which you can find here and here. My little piece of advice would be to try and enjoy your time abroad, even if all you want to do is curl up in a ball. Go out, have fun, eat something completely different, go and let your hair down for a few hours. Do anything that you think will make you feel happier. Write to your loved ones, and ask for letters in return. It’s a nice surprise to find a handwritten letter sent oversees! And, don’t forget, long distance love may mean the love for your parents, your siblings, and your friends too!
    7. Work load
As university students, we are all expected to do a high amount of work: writing, reading, researching etc. As a foreign university students, we are not expected to do more, but we probably should so that we know exactly what we are doing, what that new verb that the teacher said today really means, and getting ahead of the work load game so that by Christmas, we’re not scratching our eyeballs out, eating crisps instead of a meal because it’s ‘easier’ whilst trying to revise for 24 hours of the day. It doesn’t work. Take a couple of hours every week to read over all of the notes you made. Write down new vocabulary; make a list of the things you need to get through be it homework, an extra task you want to do yourself, or a chapter of the book you have to read. Be organized, because by the time Christmas comes around, you’re not going to want to be revising (as much), especially as you haven’t seen your family and friends in a long time.
    8. Don’t like your new home
At first, it will take time to adjust. It is possible that you won’t like your new home at first because it doesn’t have your home comforts, or the bed is too springy, or your new housemates aren’t that easy to get along with. Stick with it. Time will make it better! I have been in Spain for nearly a month now, and I am still adjusting to the new bed, the lack of English food as well as not having a connection with my housemates. I still haven’t put pictures up on my walls to make it feel like home. If in doubt, email your home tutor, or your new tutor, and explain your situation. If you are feeling really depressed about living there, don’t just grin and bear it. You need to tell someone who can help you out. You might be able to be sent somewhere different. Or, if worst comes to worst, email your home tutor and say that you really don’t want to do this anymore. It is completely up to you. Help is always out there for Erasmus students. However, my advice is stick with it. Do something that will make you happy, or go for a run to clear your mind.
    9. Money stresses
As students, we’re always having a fight with our money. We want to save it, then we want to spend it all on loads of clothes, and a big night out with our friends. In the next moment, we want to save it for that summer holiday with the girls. It is a lot more difficult to save whilst abroad because you just want to do everything in a short space of time! For example, you want to test all the different restaurants (you can’t be bothered cooking), you want to go to all the major cities in your country of choice, and have amazing nights out that you want to remember, but never do. It’s obvious that you will want to make the most of your year abroad, but try not to get too carried away! Save money beforehand, or you could get a job. Lots of Spanish people want British students to teach their children English.
    10. Losing sight of who you are
I have definitely had this problem since being here. As you are starting a completely new life, it is possible that you forget little things about yourself that makes you you. For example, in a month of being here, I have not written one single article for HerUni, or any other websites. I have only written four blog posts, and that has been more recently. I needed to remind myself what I love doing the most and it sounds cheesy saying that, but it is true. You need to keep up your hobbies, whatever they are. If you are doing a combined honours degree with say, dance, you cannot just give up on your dancing for a year! That is impossible because it is your livelihood. I would love to study just one module of English Literature, but I am not allowed to. I am waiting until Christmas to read an English written book, which is hard, but at least I am writing.
There is a lot of information written here, and I hope that after you’ve been abroad, and felt fine, you don’t read this and start to get stressed out; because that is the opposite effect I want to have! All in all, if you are abroad right now, or you come across this article in years to come, I hope you have a fantastic year, make the most of every opportunity, and if you are feeling down, read this article, and give yourself a little pick-me-up.
For more information about your Year Abroad, there is a great website called with lots of very useful information and tips.

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