Hearing Hard Stuff from Home: Staying Present While Abroad

Ericka Bremer is a student at University of Denver. She is an ISA Featured Blogger and is studying abroad with ISA Service Learning in Viña del Mar, Chile.

I’m halfway (!!!) done with my study abroad experience here in Viña del Mar, Chile, and I think the reality that I’ll be gone for so long has finally set in. Maybe it’s because during my time abroad, many of my friends (including myself) have received difficult news from home: the death of family members, destruction from recent natural disasters, controversies over current news events, etc. Whether it’s political or personal, handling stressful/sad news from home can be really, really hard.

For me, getting through the tough stuff has involved focusing on my support groups and finding and sharing gratitude for the culture I am currently experiencing. Being abroad has shown me how expansive and intimate my support groups are both at home and in Chile. 

Even though I’m thousands of miles from home, sometimes it doesn’t feel like it. I try to take advantage of today’s incredible communication technologies as much as I can. I talk more with my sisters and high-school friends here than I do at home! A simple Snapchat group has connected me to the loved ones I miss, and makes it so I don’t even have to unplug from my life in Chile. It’s a reminder for that when things do get hard, those people are only a phone call away.

While in Chile, I have found an equally amazing support system by simply being open. I tell my host family if there’s problems back home. I confide in my friends here and the ISA staff if I’m having a difficult time. Reaching out can be terrifying, especially if it’s with people you’re not 100% comfortable with. But taking the leap has changed everything for me, and I have discovered that the more you open up, the more love and support you can receive. Just tonight, my host mom told me “bad things will happen. But if you stay strong and focus on happiness, the bad things will always pass.” Those words completely changed my outlook about my day! Such wisdom! #GoHostMom

My adorable host parents at once (Chilean dinner time).

That’s the other wonderful thing: no matter what is going on at home, you are HERE, and this is your reality. It’s up to you what you make of it. After I read an upsetting news article, I called my grandparents and had them walk me through it, journaled about it for 30 minutes, took a deep breath, and went about my day. When I heard about the passing of my cousin, I had a similar approach. I did what I could to support my family, and then packed a lunch and headed to the beach for the day with my friends. I told my loved ones how much they meant to me, and then ate anticucho (basically a large meat stick) with some Chilean classmates. It’s possible to be engaged with what is happening back home and present at the same time.

Choosing to focus on the positive has been life-changing for me. Simple things, even. My host mom packs me a juice box in my lunch every day. That’s incredible. I freaking love juice boxes. Stray dogs walk me home from restaurants, every bus ride is a wild adventure, my favorite plants have started blooming, I can feel my Spanish starting to become second-nature… The present moment is truly unbeatable if I am able to accept and move on with whatever is happening at home, if I can trust in my support groups to help me deal with the situation in whatever way I need.

DunasDeConcon’ Juicebox fanatic sandboarding during an ISA excursion in ConCon, Chile.

In the end, you never know what’s going to happen tomorrow. So, you might as well end every day with love!


Note: I completely understand that each person has their own coping strategy and that this method might not work for them. For me, it has simply been a good way to focus on the bright side and enjoy the present moment.



The world awaits…discover it.

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