As a Junior in my second study abroad program, first in England and now in Chile, I have discovered that being displaced, while consumed by new experiences and boundless knowledge, can be overwhelmingly challenging. This realization emphasized the importance of incorporating self-care into my routines, especially while abroad.
Identifying Your Needs
What are the essentials for you to be at your best? Before leaving, reflect on your everyday routines to determine what your essentials are. This can include using a specific type of shampoo or face wash, finding comfort in a particular pillow or blanket, depending on planning and scheduling your time, needing a daily workout, a favorite snack, or even a phone call home a day. My needs vary depending on where I am traveling to and for how long, which is why it is also important to revise needs when settling into your new home.
Adapting to the Food
Food is an essential part of our everyday lives, it fuels us to do what we want and where we may find comfort and enjoyment! Studying abroad in Oxford, I had the opportunity to buy my food, which made it easier to adapt. In Chile, however, I live with a family that eats differently than I do. The Chilean diet is one that consists mostly of bread and fried food, despite being blessed with a plethora of locally grown fruits and vegetables. The difference between Chilean cuisine and the cuisine I was used to at home, full of proteins and fresh fruits and vegetables, took a toll on my energy, my attitude and the health of my digestive system. Luckily, I was not alone, other exchange students from America expressed similar concerns. Which is why I emphasize the importance of communication with your host. Make sure your host knows what you like to eat and also how you are feeling. Most host families enjoy having foreigners stay at their homes and are happy to adapt their pantry to what they need (not to mention, you are paying them to feed you). Don’t suffer! There are so many remedies that help cope with the digestive shock of a new diet.
This does not mean you shouldn’t try new things. The whole point of going abroad is to experience a new culture, which includes its cuisine! So yes, make sure you are getting the nutrients your body requires but also be adventurous, you never know what you’ll try next.
Establishing a Support System
Yes, it may be called self-care, but that does not require you to fight battles all on your own. The difference is that while you’re abroad, your typical support system is compromised. The people you had at your fingertips are a little farther away than you are used to. This means that while these people back home can still help you through tough times, encourage you when you need it, enjoy your successes and share your happy moments and new experiences, you also need some kind of support system in your temporary home I have befriended other American exchange students, who I can express my concerns about my host family with, and who encourage me to have tough conversations with them. And now, I’ve found another support system, the gym. Joining a gym has given me an outlet for my stress and a community of people who encourage the growth of my physical strength which simultaneously boosts my mental and emotional strength. I can’t forget the Chilean girls who very sweetly included me in their friendship after class one day and haven’t turned back.
This is my favorite part of the self-care dynamic, and the one I am best at. I love treating myself. No matter where I travel, I make it a point to find a coffee place I love and to frequent it as much as my heart desires. Yes, coffee is a money pit, but I have identified it as the one thing that without fail can bring me happiness. Whether it’s the smooth roast of the espresso itself or the comforting balance of the foamy milk with it, once I find a place, I know where I need to go for a pick me up. Treating yourself is so essential because it reminds you of your worth, and that you deserve the best and to be happy.
I am very guilty of neglecting this aspect of self-care, but resting is one of the most important ways you can take care of yourself. Rest and sleep are how your body recovers physically and mentally. Getting enough sleep helps you fight off illnesses which you are already vulnerable to just by being in a foreign environment, and also restores a chemical balance in your brain that keeps your mind balanced, and your bodily functions regulated. Rest doesn’t just refer to sleep. It also refers to taking a break from the nonstop nature of a study abroad journey. When you’re abroad you tend to plan a lot more into your life than you regularly do at home. Having time to recuperate allows me to be a successful student and also a more positive member of society, which helps strengthen my friendships here.
Lastly, self-care requires you to be extremely forgiving of yourself and give yourself some room for error. In a new environment especially, things tend not to go as planned. You just have to remember that it is okay to mess up and that you are not a worse person for doing so. You didn’t get up to run today? That’s okay, you always have tomorrow. Did you miss your new friend’s birthday? No worries, buy him a gift tomorrow. You weren’t paying attention and missed your bus stop? Look on the bright side, now you have a nice walk to look forward to. Our ability to mess up but to forgive and learn from it is part of the beauty of being human.
While studying abroad can be a drastic adjustment to your everyday routine, it’s important to put yourself and your well-being at the top of your priority list. Once you do this, you can focus on truly making the most of your experience abroad.