Study abroad and self-care

Being abroad is an incredibly exciting period in life. It’s a massive privilege, for starters, as being abroad makes you one of relatively few people in the world who not only get to attend college, but get to spend part of that college career in another country. Because of this, and rightly so, most of us feel the need to take advantage of every possible moment we can while abroad. And that’s good! Part of the benefit of studying abroad is pushing yourself out of your comfort zone and discovering new skills and capabilities of which you were previously unaware. It’s discovering a new side of yourself that can only be revealed under pressure, specifically the pressure of coming face to face with a brand new country and culture and trying not to embarrass yourself too much in the process.

Exploring new things (and old cathedrals) in Manchester, England.
In the midst of the desire to grow and develop as a person and see as many museums or ancient structures as possible, it’s easy to let self-care get lost in the shuffle. I recently developed a wicked case of food poisoning, so self-care has been on my mind lately. Here’s 4 tips to help take care of yourself while abroad.
1. Don’t be a typhoid Mary. There’s going to come a point in your abroad experience where you’ll get sick-whether that’s briefly from food poisoning, a cold, or something even more serious, it’s fairly likely you’ll come down with something. The odds are even better if you’re on a longer term abroad experience. But if you find yourself getting sick, don’t push yourself to continue all your usual activities. It’s not doing anyone any favors to be around you while you’re hacking and coughing and sneezing your germs everywhere. At the very least, give yourself a day or two for cold recovery, longer if you’ve come down with the flu or a sinus infection or something more contagious. Taking a day to take care of yourself, sleep a lot, drink a lot of water, and not pass your germs along can only be a good thing.
Good self-care ultimately results in more time to do cool things like take day trips to new cities
2. Learn to recognize social exhaustion. Granted, this is coming from me as an introvert. So if you find yourself on the more extraverted end of the spectrum, take the following with a grain of salt. Being abroad comes with a lot of pressure to make good friends with whom you’ll experience amazing new things. Making friends is an essential part of being abroad, and it’s a good idea to step out of your comfort zone when building a new network in a new country. But do learn to recognize when you need a break. You don’t need to do something social every night in order to make friends. Sometimes it’s just fine to take a night to yourself and go to bed early or watch Netflix or read a book, or do whatever it is that helps you recharge and feel like you’re not being spread too thin.
I am a big fan of sitting in quiet coffee shops to take a break.
Taking some personal time makes social interactions that much better. 🙂
3. Call your parents every so often. I know, I know, you want to live as much in the moment as possible and not be constantly thinking about home. That’s good. Being connected to your host country is important. It speeds up the settling-in process, helps you overcome culture shock, and enriches your experience overall. But don’t completely neglect family. It can be really helpful and refreshing to fill your mom or dad in on whatever’s gone down in the past week, get advice if you need it, and have them make your dogs say hello over skype. And besides, your parents will feel much better seeing you in real time once in awhile than just via your Instagram photos.
My family are a big bunch of nerds who love their footie pajamas, our dogs, and seeing movies together. And I love them for it.
4. Take a few solo walks around your host city. Do it within the bounds of common-sense safety, definitely. But just take half an hour and stroll around a part of the city you haven’t been to yet. Maybe take some of your favorite music along and get a coffee, and just watch the world go by for a little while. Listen to what the birds sound like. Figure out what kind of urban wildlife exists in your new hometown. Mostly, take a little time to breathe and be in your city without feeling the need to rush off somewhere. Taking time to just be in York and not run around it was what helped me really start to feel like a local; like I belong here.
I’m grinning because I just saw two geese fighting a swan. The swan won.
Of course, none of this is an either-or proposition. The whirlwind sightseeing can be great fun! But finding a balance between going a million miles an hour and stopping to (perhaps literally) smell the roses can be the key to really making the most of your study abroad experience.
-Faith Lierheimer, DUSA blogger
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I Thought I Wasn’t Prejudiced

After living and working in another country I felt I had learned about a different culture. Especially after being abroad for the entirety of my junior year, I thought I identified with certain parts of the Chinese culture. Obviously, I am not Chinese and am by no means an expert on Chinese culture. Still, I had studied the language pretty intensively, had lived with a host family, traveled on my own and consumed copious amounts of Chinese food. Only after two months of being back did I begin to realize how being exposed and immersed in Chinese culture affected me.

Apart from thinking silverware was heavy and clunky compared to chopsticks, I also subconsciously thought I could identify various kinds of Asian ethnicities (Chinese, Japanese, Vietnamese, etc.). Let me explain.

You know how animals seem to have a sixth sense and can detect when there is danger? It may sound strange, but I swear there are people who have a sixth sense and can tell the difference between different nationalities (much like people here pick up on what regional area a person is from based on his/her characteristics). While in China I interacted with people from Japan, Singapore, and other southeastern Asian countries. After awhile I began to subconsciously identify the people I interacted with as belonging to certain nationalities. The funny thing was I had no idea about this until two months after I returned to the United States.

 

One day, while waiting for an appointment, my friend was looking up different doctors on her phone. She handed me her phone and asked me if the doctor she was looking at was possibly Chinese. I looked at the person and at the name, and it was definitely not a Chinese name. I shook my head, saying I did not think he was Chinese. Still, I continued looking at the doctor’s photo, my eyes going back between the name and the face. And then it clicked.

“He’s probably Vietnamese.” I told my friend. “He looks just like my friend so-and-so from Vietnam.”

“Oh, I was judging based on the name.” My friend responded, quickly taking her phone back. A few minutes later she said, “I looked up the name and it’s Vietnamese.”

Once we were back in her car, she told me the receptionist had given me a harsh look when I brazenly said the doctor looked Vietnamese. I was completely taken aback—I had just spent nine months living in a country where it was almost second nature to classify people based on their appearance. After hearing about the reaction my comment had gotten, I was immediately self-conscious. On one hand, I could see people of certain ethnic identities not appreciating me judging others based on looks. On the other hand, it was normal to me because I had just come from a country where that was normal—people would call me Russian or ask where in Germany I was from. Some people told me I was obviously American. I learned to roll with it. Once back in the States, however, I felt obligated to consciously realign my thinking. It was weird at first, but I have gradually shifted back to certain attitudes and behaviors that are more accepted in the United States.

When I think about this experience, it is almost embarrassing to think that people thought I was prejudiced. I considered myself operating as I had been trained to do abroad, in a different country and in a different culture. It became natural to begin to identify the people I saw with certain Asian countries. The interaction at the doctor’s office made me immediately conscious of how habits developed in other countries may not be very appropriate when I am in the US. Hopefully this awareness transfers to further travels and interactions with various people.

 

-Michelle Yeager, Peer Adviser.