An Honest Chat About Anxiety Abroad

Hi, I’m anxious!

I have also tried to write this post about three times. I want to make sure that I cover everything and say everything I feel, but still in an optimistic and respectful way. This topic isn’t talked about a lot in conversations about studying abroad, so I feel this pressure to do it justice.

See? Anxious.

The entire summer before coming to Copenhagen, everybody told me: “You are going to have the time of your life. You won’t want to come home. It’s going to be absolutely amazing.”

And honestly, a lot of that is right for me right now! I do love it here and I do think this will end up being one of the most important experiences of my life.

But I’m not going to lie and say my mom didn’t have to send me a text saying “If you’re really miserable, we can bring you home. We’ll deal with the logistics later.”

I won’t lie and say there weren’t multiple times I shut the door to my room and texted my friends, 6 hours behind me time-wise, desperately hoping for someone to just answer me as tears streamed down my face.

I’m a creature of comfort and familiarity. New situations, especially those with a lot of unknowns, make me anxious. Situations where I’m not 100% sure what its going to be like or how it’s going to be – like, for example, moving to a new country where I don’t have any close friends to take classes and live with an entirely new family and not see my best friends for six months.

Studying abroad is a lot of change in a very, very short period of time. And it’s a lot of change in a place where I have almost none of my comforts from back home – my best friends, my mom, mobile order Starbucks capability.

In the beginning, I had a lot of anxiety attacks. They didn’t even show up until after the first week; I think the adrenaline and busy schedule of orientation took me far. But it didn’t take too long for the worries to start pushing their way into my brain (without asking permission first, I might add).

Will I make friends? It seems like everyone is already friends I can’t just push my way in there and what if they don’t like me I might go this entire semester without any close friends and I’ll be alone when everyone else is having fun. What if I do something wrong? What if I disappoint my host family or I make a stupid mistake and everyone thinks I’m done or what if I’m not smart enough for my classes or what if I’m in the wrong core course or or or

Yeah. Welcome to my brain.

I can successfully say, however, that these attacks have greatly decreased. Once classes picked up, I got closer to my fellow core course students during core course week, and I started traveling and making plans – life suddenly seemed okay.

I also took steps to make sure I would get to this place – I wanted to have the time of my life this semester, and I didn’t want to spend my entire time in Copenhagen trying to hold back tears on the S train.

So I found my comforts.

I found the Disney Store on Strøget. I learned that McDonald’s milkshakes taste the same here as they do at home. I found a good, amazing friend who recognizes my anxiety and knows when to take me out or leave me on my own (if you’re reading this – hi Molly!!). I kept a constant dialogue with my mom and my friends from back home. I started knitting.

Anxiety is one of those things that differs from person to person. I wish I could give one overall answer or solution to this abroad anxiety, but I can’t, not really.

But if you are a currently anxious study abroad student, or a prospective student worried about the mental health aspect of this whole process, I’ll tell you this: it will be okay. There are people here to help you and guide you if you feel lost. Don’t feel the need to put yourself out of your comfort zone to make friends – I’m not a big partier, and I was able to find friends I adore without making myself even MORE anxious by staying out late far away from my homestay.

Denmark may be very different from the States, but it’s not totally separate. There are bits of home here – you just have to find them. Find your Disney Store or your McDonald’s milkshakes.

Nobody really talks about anxiety when going abroad. But please don’t keep it hidden or think you’re in the wrong or that you’re ungrateful for your time here – your feelings are valid, and you are not the only one having them.

Good luck, I believe in you, and I love you.

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