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Daniela Rodriguez
Mental Health

How Studying Abroad Has Affected My Mental Health

Coming into my study abroad program, completely blind to all expectations, there was obviously a strong sense of fear and doubt. There are probably few things more terrifying than moving to a foreign country for four months. Aside from fear and doubt, there’s also the thought that you are moving overseas alone and clueless. To my immediate surprise, I found that this was very far from the truth.

All throughout high school I, like most teens trying to find their place in the world, struggled with anxiety. Although I didn’t really come to terms with it until probably the end of my freshman year of college, I always knew there was a fatal flaw with how my brain handled certain situations. The transition into college only heightened these feelings, especially in social situations. I was too afraid to join clubs, too afraid to talk in class (even if I knew the right answer), and ultimately too afraid to go out and really enjoy college. I had suppressed myself within the four drowning walls of my dorm and finally realized the only way out was to leave and go far away.

The second I signed my study abroad contract I was rushed with excitement, but primarily because I was ready for an aesthetic Instagram feed. Obviously, the idea of studying abroad seems like a dream (which it is) but no one really talks about the mental preparation that comes with it. As someone who struggled freshman year in most social situations, I knew I had to go into this abroad experience with an open mind, positive attitude and a fearless personality.

I was able to start this new mentality from the moment I moved into my dorm. Although it took some inner strength, I was able to push myself to approaching people and do everything in my power to initiate friendships. As nerve-wracking as it was for me to be outgoing, being the introverted extrovert that I am, it was easily the best decision I’ve ever made. It was as if a mental switch went off and I had suddenly found my place in both a group of people and within myself.

Now the only thing better than finding your people is getting to travel the world with your people. It is as if we were all put in this program by fate because the odds of us all meeting amongst the many students on campus is highly unlikely. With life-changing cities at our fingertips, we are able to truly experience the world as a group. Personally, seeing cities such as Amsterdam, London, Milan and Brussels has opened up my eyes to how big the world is and how small my problems are. Getting to experience people around the world, different food, different cultures all within four short months has been an extreme highlight. Seeing these places is like taking a deep breath of relief after a long day. Although travelling can be stressful and stepping out of your comfort zone can be scary, the destination is what makes all the difference in the long run.

I’m not sure if I’m just lucky with my experience thus far, but there is no doubt in my mind that studying abroad has been the most influential thing I’ve done in bettering myself. Although working on anxiety and mental health as a whole is a continuous battle that needs attention every day, being abroad has helped me put into perspective what is important in life. At risk of me sounding too cliché, the people I’ve found, the places I’ve been to and the opportunities I’ve been given have all helped shape me into the person I’ve wanted to be for so long.

All photos courtesy of Daniela Rodriguez.

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Media/Communications Studies Major
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