Getting Through A Difficult Week Abroad

Navigating the streets of Central London.

Even though studying abroad can be an exciting opportunity to learn and make great memories, there will still be those unavoidable bad days when everything seems to go wrong. At the beginning of this month, I went through an especially difficult few weeks where I was both battling a stomach bug and had my phone stolen. Living thousands of miles away from home, I found that managing these setbacks was even more challenging without the support system I was used to back in the States. I felt overwhelmingly homesick and even started to doubt my decision to come to London. However, like all bad moments in life, things eventually got better and I finally found myself starting to get back into the rhythm I had at the beginning of this semester. Hopefully, you never find yourself in a bad situation while living abroad, but here are a few words of advice that should help if you ever do. 

1. Utilize The Support System and Resources Provided

When studying abroad, it’s important to remember that you’re not alone and that there are resources specifically designed to help you navigate difficult situations. On both occasions, when I was feeling unwell and had my phone pickpocketed, I immediately reached out to my onsite program team for support. They were quick to respond and help me with whatever I needed, from suggesting nearby doctor offices to offering to accompany me to buy a new phone and set up a SIM card. It was comforting to know that I wasn’t alone and that there were people nearby who were more than happy to help when I needed them.

2. Take Some Downtime To Recover

While it can be tempting to keep busy and not want to waste a single moment abroad, taking some time to stay inside for a day or two and recoup after a bad experience can do wonders for helping your mental and physical health. I didn’t even realize how exhausted I was until I took a couple of days just to sleep in and not go out. Trust me, prioritizing rest occasionally does not mean you’re “missing out” on anything—your mind and body will appreciate it!

3. Get In Touch With Friends And Family Back Home

Living in a different country doesn’t mean you’re completely cut off from your support system back home. Even though they weren’t able to physically be there for me, calling my friends and family and having them listen to my rants helped me remember that there are people out there who love me, which helped me feel less isolated in the moment.

4. Partake In Some Retail Therapy

I’m not saying go out and spend all your money, but there’s a valid reason why the term “retail therapy” exists. As soon as I was starting to feel more like myself, I took a day to explore London’s shops and splurge a little. My confidence was severely lacking at that point, and I was having serious doubts about my ability to live alone in a foreign city. However, after purchasing some things I’d been wanting to buy since I first got to London—including Zara’s “Fashionably London” fragrance and a new pair of everyday shoes—I felt my confidence returning. As I left the Zara store on Oxford Street with my purchases in hand, I watched the most beautiful sunset over the buildings and remembered how amazing it was that I have this opportunity to study abroad.

5. Start Reading For Fun Again / Start A New Book

Books provide a fantastic way to distract and fully engage your mind when you’re stressed. I got to the point where I was unnecessarily exhausting myself by continuing to think about “what if” situations—although I knew that I’d already taken all the necessary steps I could after my phone was stolen. Referring back to my previous point about relaxing, starting a new book on top of that helped reduce my stress by focusing on something else. There’s also just something about going into a new bookstore that’s instantly relaxing. For the book I’ve been reading this month, I purchased it at Daunt Books, a cozy, unique Edwardian bookshop located on Marylebone High Street. I highly recommend checking out what independent bookstores are nearby, you might be surprised by the hidden gems you find!

6. Make Future Plans

Having something to look forward to is the best way to move on from a bad situation. Over the last week, I started planning out the specific details for when my roommates from back home come to visit me for spring break. Being able to put my energy into planning a fun adventure helped me realize that even though I went through a difficult time, there’s still an opportunity to make up for it and make better memories. 

Taking inspiration from the classic “Keep Calm and Carry On” mentality of the famous British slogan, it’s important to remember that bad days are sometimes unavoidable—but they don’t have to be the end of the world. I know that facing challenges abroad can feel overwhelming, and it definitely doesn’t help to be far from home, but I promise you that you can get through it.

Mackenzie Hornik is a student at University of Colorado Boulder and an ISA Featured Blogger. She is studying with ISA in London, England.

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