How to Handle the Side of Study Abroad You Don’t See on Instagram

Apr 3, 2019 11:18:00 AM / by Emma Aulenback

You probably already know this: there's more to the study abroad life than what's posted on Instagram. After being in Dublin for a few months now, Emma talks about the experiences that make up the entire scope of studying, living, and traveling abroad. She also shares three important tips on how to go with the flow of each global city and embrace the good, the bad, and...the ordinary!

Lying in the soft grass in a garden in Paris, basking in the scent of a fresh, gooey cheese picnic; the sight of a million shooting stars pinballing within the incredible structure that is the Eiffel Tower; and the sound of a crowd silenced by wonder (accompanied by the crackling crunch of crusty baguettes) defined the euphoria of my spring break travels.

While this moment will most likely be the one I recount when people ask “how was your trip?”, I do not want to disregard the less glamorous aspects of travel and study abroad that you are destined to encounter and which may cause you stress (both in Dublin and traveling elsewhere). From the outside, it may seem like study abroad is a four-month vacation. However, like everything in life, nothing is always as it seems, and behind every person (no matter how happy they may look) is a unique story with struggles of their own. Unfortunately, we could not check these at the airport with our luggage. Coming here definitely helped me escape the rut of routine. However, with the ups, there are certainly downs. No one can escape the inevitable feelings of sadness, loneliness, and stress that are included within the “Terms of Agreement” for life.

As we still are students, we feel the pressure to do well in classes, find summer internships (which includes applications, scheduling interviews and accommodating for time differences), budgeting our money, and scheduling classes for next semester. Some of us are in long-distance relationships. Others have family troubles. We have all lost valuable items (phones, clothing, wallets, keys...for me, my beloved Hydro Flask!). As we are halfway through the semester, homesickness is also starting to set in (mine began before I even left).

My point being: expect to have LOADS of fun when studying abroad, but also expect things to go wrong! Practicing mindfulness can help you discover the joy in both, so here are some of my strategies to help you with this during your time abroad!

TulipsSpring has sprung! I am certainly grateful for that!

Find Awe in the Hassle of Travel

While many of us say we love to travel—I am not quite sure any of us mean that literally; we appreciate the result, not the practice. Keeping your balance on the uncomfortably packed metro, and trying to avoid a game of human dominoes really does not “triumph” the experience of standing on the famous arch with an endless availability of fresh air and the whole city laid out before you. However, you should not waste the present moment wishing to achieve happiness in the future. Play a new game—look for the joy in the right now.

Take in your surroundings as they are...without judging how you think they should be, or how you would rather them be. Look at the people around you! They are the less obvious, and perhaps the more beautiful cultural sights to observe. To my left, the bright white hair of an old man and woman caught my eye. I smile to myself as I watch them whisper into each other's ears and giggle. The stress I felt a few moments earlier toward this confusing labyrinth of a metro system suddenly transformed into a grateful presence. In the dark and dreary tunnels, I was able to truly see this “city of love”. The sparkle in their eyes proved to be the brightest monument of all.

A mirror photo with friendsSpeaking of shine...

Find Peace in the Unplanned

As much as I would have liked to check everything off of my very touristy list, there is no way you will be able to fit everything in. While I advise having a plan of things you could possibly do, do not stress about sticking to a tight schedule. Let things unfold naturally and take full advantage of the wonders you stumble upon. You may be thinking you have to be constantly doing something to make the most of your time, however, some of the best experiences of my trip were the unexpected stops to rest on a park bench where I noticed the songs of the local birds, wandering through the pop-up markets to smell the fresh rosemary, or enjoying the street performers enjoying themselves!

Paris and Amsterdam Checklist Some plans are meant to be torn up!

Trying to see everything may leave you with blurred memories. Take time to actually live in the moment and appreciate your presence in the space. Forget about the passing minutes...paying them attention only feeds their wasteful fire!

Find Happiness in the Now

Mindfulness can help you step back from your problems and put things into perspective. While we cannot always change our circumstances, we always have the power to change our mindset and appreciate something (no matter how small) in our day. Starting a gratitude journal is shown to help boost mental health.

For me, I enjoy flipping through the pages of the book Happiness Is… by Lisa Swerling and Ralph Lazar and drawing in my own little sketches. Reflecting on what I know to make me happy in the past inspires me to incorporate it into my life abroad—like sipping tea and listening to the radio. Reliving happy memories from my past, and adding ones that I have made here reminds me that life is always changing. Happiness (much like the sun here in Dublin) will always find its way into your day at some point.

Happiness Is Book by Lisa Swerling and Ralph LazarAdding new sketches of what is making me happy in Dublin!

While our lives cannot always be full of cheese, that does not make them any less valuable. The good, the bad, and the ordinary...every moment deserves to be savored and appreciated.

Thanks, Emma!

Emma Aulenback


Emma Aulenback is an official CAPA blogger for spring 2019, sharing her story in weekly posts on CAPA World. A Sociology major at University of Massachusetts, Amherst, she is studying abroad in Dublin this semester.

Emma's journey continues all semester so stay tuned.

Learn More about the CAPA Dublin Program

Topics: Dublin, Ireland, Predeparture & Study Abroad Preparations