I was intensely homesick for a week about a month after my arrival to Spain and I have struggled with some random sad and unhappy days in Salamanca this semester. This has been exacerbated by the difficulty I’ve had communicating with the people that I depend on for support because I don’t have good internet access when it is convenient for my friends and family (there’s a nine hour time difference between Spain and California). This is a list of some of the things that I’ve thought through or done to help alleviate some of the tougher times that I think might be helpful for anyone thinking of or currently studying abroad:
1. Explore your city: This is imperative. While ISA does do excursions, which are great, and being in Salamanca means that it is easier to get to other parts of Europe than it would be from back home, there is no substitute for familiarity with the place you actually live in. This doesn’t just mean going out and partying though. Schedule a day or a weekend where, instead of going off on a Grand Adventure, you stay home and discover all the cool places that exist.
2. Make an effort to do something that you can only do while you are abroad: I’ve had days where I resented being here because I started to feel like I’m not accomplishing anything towards my life goals or degree (this is my second semester studying off-site from my university). So, in order to remind myself that this is an awesome opportunity, I’m trying to travel to additional places in Europe that I wouldn’t be able to get to easily from home, such as Sevilla and my upcoming trip to Italy.
3. Find a Favorite Thing: This could mean anything from a favorite food from your town or country, a favorite place, a favorite sight, anything. Two of my favorite sights in Salamanca are Charles the Bulldog and the cathedral. Charles because he’s always happy and the Cathedral because it’s SO old and it’s age gives me perspective on how lucky I am to be studying in such an old, prestigious place.
4. Talk to someone: This is cliche, but, for me at least, it does help to be able to rant occasionally with my friends about my frustrations, especially if they share similar frustrations. And, if talking to your friends abroad isn’t helping, try to talk to someone in the local ISA office, your friends and family at home, or even look into the counseling services available.
5. Put all your effort into your classes: If your school is like mine, this is especially important, because my grades here actually count towards my GPA, which apparently isn’t true at any of the schools that my friends here attend. And even if it is just pass/fail, if you do find yourself unhappy and having a hard time handling the cultural differences or language barrier, redouble your efforts to do well in class so that at least when you get home, it doesn’t then feel like you wasted a semester of your time being miserable, when you could have been earning credits or grade points you need for graduation.
BONUS: know yourself: This may seem a little like odd advice, but really, only YOU know what helps YOU when you’re feeling down. So, if that means going for a run, go for a run. If that means writing notes to yourself about what’s frustrating you, then do that and throw them away. Any advice given to you should be synthesized and interpreted to be able to work for you and your personality because all advice is coming from that person’s perspective, and every person has a different perspective on life. And, as my friend Hallie said, “You’re the same person, no matter which country you’re in.”
DOUBLE BONUS (like a double rainbow): take stock of the things that you DO like: For me, making lists is an amazing thing. It doesn’t matter if it’s a to do list that I only do half of or just a list of which foods I want to eat the minute I am home again, I just love the process of organizing my thoughts in a bulleted format. Which, now that I think of it, is probably why this is my second post in a row that is a list. Anyway, as cliche as it is, making a list of the things that I like about living in Salamanca, the things I’m grateful for in my life, my goals for when I return or for the rest of the semester, or pretty much anything, has really been helpful for me when I’m struggling.