Words by Allison Knapp, a CAPA London alumna and Human Services Major from the University of Delaware.
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April is Stress Awareness Month and, as we all know, college can be stressful and that doesn't stop when you study abroad, so it's important to take a step back sometimes despite the pressure to see and do everything.
Everyone responds to stress differently, so take the time to find out how you handle it best. Here's a few tips and tricks to help you make the most of your time with as little stress as possible while you're overseas.
1. BUY A PLANNER. I found it really helpful to write everything down in a calendar-like planner, whether it was assignments due or trips I wanted to take. Visualizing your schedule is super helpful, at least for me!
2. MAKE LISTS. This really goes for anything, and is helpful when you need to get certain things done within a budget or time frame. For example, I made a list of groceries I wanted to buy from Sainsbury’s every time I went shopping. I made a list of other cities I wanted to travel to while abroad. I made a list of things I wanted to do and experience in my host city of London. I made a list of people that I wanted to bring back gifts for…etc. I love lists, and it feels great to cross items off of them once you’ve done them.
3. TALK ABOUT IT. Talk to your friends, both at home and abroad, about what is stressing you out. It is very likely that your abroad friends are experiencing similar stress as you are. However, your home friends know you the best and can offer you great advice, even from thousands of miles away. Talking is therapeutic, and simply verbalizing what is stressing you can help you become less stressed.
4. BE PRESENT & REALISTIC. Live in the moment and understand that you will not be able to tour every museum, eat at every restaurant, stalk every celebrity, and visit every city that you want to while you're abroad. Your main responsibility while abroad is to focus on schoolwork, so do not let your mind wander far from that. Yes, I made tons of lists for things I wanted to do and see, and I left with a bunch of items still on the list. It did stress me out that I did not accomplish everything I planned to, but this just gives me a reason to work hard and be able to go back! It may seem like a long time, but the four (or so) months really do fly by quickly. Enjoy being abroad, but don’t feel pressured into meeting all of your expectations.
5. ENJOY THE DOWN TIME. Just because you are in a new and exciting place does not mean that you have to stay busy 24/7. I loved just riding the bus around London, listening to music and people watching. I also loved going for walks with my friends or sitting around Hyde Park. Being a traveler and a student is tiring, so don’t forget to take the time to just relax.
6. LEARN TO BUDGET. Here is a big one…financial stress. I know while I was abroad, I tried to save on as much as I could. I was tempted every day to buy at least something, but I limited my spending to things I only truly needed. Some of my friends took advantage of London’s hot trends and shopped, while I knew I wanted to save. If I ate out for dinner one night, I would be sure to cook the next. Be conscious on what you spend on, and ask yourself: is it worth it? There is so much you can do and see without having to spend loads of money, so do the research; it’s worth it. (Check out CAPA alumna Lily's post on budgeting while abroad!)
7. BE INDEPENDENT. Don’t be scared to do things that will make you happy, even if you are alone. For example, I love to volunteer, so while I was abroad I reached out to clubs on a nearby school’s campus and searched for opportunities. I was able to volunteer for a fundraising event, which I really enjoyed, and am grateful for that experience. As another example, Christina Perri (the singer) was playing at a venue in the town where I lived and a CAPA student I was friendly with posted about wanting to go to her concert. Even though we weren’t close, I told her I’d go with her because I love Christina’s music. It was just us two who went and that night was one of my favorite memories from London. This is your experience, and no one can take it away from you.
8. ADDRESS THE CAUSE. Find out what is causing your stress. I am currently taking a class at my university called "Art of Happiness", where I learned about ‘Segal’s 5 Causes of Stress’: demandedness, judgementalness, vulnerability, awfulizing and fear. By identifying your cause of stress, it will be easier to manage the effect it has on you and find a way to fix it.
9. REACH OUT. Don’t be afraid to ask for help, whether it is from your program staff, professors, friends, family, etc. Being away from home for such a long period of time is stressful in itself, and it is completely okay to need help. Just try to remember what an amazing experience you are having, and that everything will be okay in the end.
10. HAVE FUN. I know this sounds silly, but enjoy every second you have of this once in a lifetime experience. Never again will you be able to be a young adult, with no major responsibility (besides your schoolwork and/or internship, of course), who has an amazing city in the palm of their hands. When you get stressed, take a step back and realize how lucky you are to be able to study abroad, travel, meet new people, indulge in new cultures, and perfect your different accents. Enjoy it, love it, and be grateful. Yes, you will get stressed at some points, but remember to have fun.