While it seems self-centered to focus on my own struggles, I wanted to make this post not as a reflection of my own hardships, but as an enlightening upon the hardships one faces when introduced to foreign environments. Whether you are also studying abroad this year, or simply starting a new school or job, I want this interview to serve as a way to better understand the emotional turmoil that comes with drastic change, and that it is far from abnormal. You are not alone.
*From now until the end of this post, the Interviewer will be denoted as an I: and I will be denoted as a K:*
I: When you first arrived here [England], what was the most prominent emotion you felt?
K: Relief. You know, you spend the last couple of weeks leading up to the departure going over everything that could possibly go wrong in between point A and point B, and it felt so good to get here with only minor dilemmas and to finally move on and worry about other things.
I: Minor dilemma?
K: My flight out of Indy was delayed to the point where I missed my connecting flight in Charlotte, but it went over fairly smoothly. That hour and a half we sat at the Indianapolis Airport were like hell to my very fragile nerves, though, let me tell you!
I: And when you finally got here, got into your living quarters, what was the first thing you did?
K: Unpacked. I wanted to be settled into a routine as soon as possible. Unfortunately, it didn’t’ quite work out that way.
I: Trouble unpacking?
K: No, that went okay, but the whole ‘being settled’ part didn’t happen. I would argue that it still hasn’t fully happened yet. I feel a bit like I’m floating sometimes.
I: Out of place.
K: Yeah, like I don’t belong or shouldn’t belong. I made a huge mistake when purchasing an Oyster card for the tube that has left me with so much else I have to worry about.
I: How big of a mistake?
K: About $100 worth. And for someone trying to save money, that hurt a lot.
I: Emotionally, I assume, as well as financially?
K: Yes. It’s been like a roller coaster. Some days I just want it to end.
I: To just go home?
K: On some days, yes. Others, it’s more like the entirety of my life needs to be put on pause. I’m constantly on the verge of forgetting something vital and spiraling into a dark void of nothingness where staying in bed all day just sounds like the only viable option. And then you drag yourself out to see the sights with new friends and the ache dissipates. I feel like every worry I’ve had is an overreaction and I’ll be more than fine before I know it. Then it cycles. Sometimes by the day, sometimes by the hour. As I said, not quite settled.
I: Do you have any kind of coping mechanism you’ve used to make the situations easier?
K: Detachment has a temporary effect. I can’t tell you how much Netflix I’ve watched in the past two weeks trying to escape. But on a more productive level, lists tend to help me keep myself organized and on track. I have lists for the grocery (things I need, price comparisons, necessary item frequency, etc.). I have lists of museums I want to visit, sights I want to see, places I want to go. I have to-do lists on my phone, post-it notes, in my planner. Lists of new usernames and websites I need to frequent.
I: And do they help?
K: In a way. They really aren’t helpful in actually keeping track of the things I need to do and helping me get them done. But they help me empty my head and reorganize my thoughts so I’m less likely to be overwhelmed.
I: So the experience overall has been more negative?
K: I wouldn’t say that. Perhaps more negative than I originally envisioned. It’s actually been a very liberating experience.
I: How so?
K: Well when you get past the hardships, the aching loneliness and that feeling of constantly being lost, it feels pretty good because it hasn’t beaten me down completely. Despite everything, I’m still going strong.
I: There were a couple of things you said there that caught my attention: lost and loneliness. Could you explain why you are feeling that way in particular?
K: I came here from a different school, meaning my home university is not hosting this particular program. Meaning, of course, that I got here and didn’t know a single person.
I: But you’ve made friends?
K: Of course, but it generally takes me a long time to feel overly comfortable with new people. So, I feel like, even though I have friends, I’m not comfortable enough confiding in them just yet. And when your ‘inner turmoil of emotions’ needs an outlet and your only options are people you haven’t quite grown to trust yet, it can feel quite isolating. Especially when your overseas parents and friends try and be there for you and they just can’t begin to understand how you feel or how to help.
I: And what about lost?
K: Imagine your in charge of getting groceries for your family this week. You always go to -insert your local supermarket of choice here-, but your mom insists you go to this new store that just opened down the street. Feeling confident (supermarkets are all pretty much the same, right?), you go without a list or anything, only to find nothing is in the same place, none of the labels or brands are the same, and they use a different kind of currency. It’s like being dropped into a very important test on a subject you’re not even taking. And to make things worse, you’re a 30-minute drive from home and your mom expects you home in an hour so you have little time to adjust before you have to move on. Your stomach drops to your toes, and even though it’s not a life or death, you still feel as if the structure of your world is beginning to crumble ever so slightly and if you move too fast, it will collapse on you completely.
K: Can you tell I’ve had a lot of time to think about it?
I: But it’s been a, shall I say, somewhat successful transition, thus far? Especially considering its only been two weeks.
K: I think I’d agree with that. I have had my hard moments, but I’ve always felt the need to push through in the end.
I: Then things can only go up from here.
K: That’s true, only up.