Last autumn, I almost decided against studying abroad in London; I thought it was too expensive, I wouldn’t be able to work, I didn’t want to leave my boyfriend and friends, I wasn’t sure if it would affect my track to graduation. Quite simply, I was scared. Then my boyfriend asked me the most perfect question:
So come June, will you wish you had been in England?
Of course I would! How could I get so caught up in my own anxiety, my own fear of the unknown, and miss out on the once in a lifetime chance to live abroad for half a year? I wish I could say his words made the rest of the preparations easier, but that would be too easy. If you are reading this, I am sure that you know as well as I do that true anxiety is irrational and without cause. We often attribute it to random events to try to bring some reason to the constant state of unease.
I saw my experiences mirrored in my best friend as she prepared to move to Prague on her own a month after I moved to London. Honing in on my coping techniques, I was able to give her some guidance, and also reassure myself that I was doing alright. Thankfully, she had a 10 hour layover in London on her way to Prague, so we were able to mark that date on both of our calendars as a big, fluffy safety blanket. She focused her energy into thinking that her flight was to visit me, rather than on letting her anxiety creep in over what would happen when we said goodbye. I got to tell myself that I only had to make it a month in London on my own because she would be coming to see me.
Fast forward to the end of February, to my first planned solo tourist trip. I would stay in Paris for 2 nights, and then Barcelona for 2 nights; I would only have a friend with me for the first 24 hours in Paris. I was nervous and excited. I can usually last about 6 hours in my own in a city before crashing and needing a cup of tea and a friend, but here I was about to push myself to be on my own for 3 whole nights – in 2 completely new countries! I got through because I focused on the checkpoints I had created for myself, just like I did when I got to London.
Are you anxious about traveling on your own?
Here are some things that worked (are working) for me:
- Cry. A lot. Cry on the plane. Cry on the way to your room. Cry in bed. Cry. Contrary to popular belief, life does not stop whilst your on holiday, and certainly not whilst you are living abroad for half a year. That thing you were worried about before you left will most likely still worry you after you have left – and I am here to tell you that that is ok. It is normal. It is natural. If you try to fight it, you will just create even more anxiety through the fear of not having the time of your life every second of every day. Have your cry, and then go have fun.
- Make small goals for yourself. Find a bar crawl to look forward to. Decide where you should go for supper on your first night. Choose one thing to channel your focus into, and let yourself look forward to that. When you find yourself getting anxious about – who knows what – remember that one thing you are looking forward to.
- Compile those little goals into a bucket list. About a fortnight before I left for England, I was freaking out. I could barely think straight. So, I sat down, opened Pinterest, and made a list of “29 Things to do in 23 Weeks”. That way, when I knew I would be anxious and not wanting to leave my room, I could choose an item off of my bucket list to go get it done. Plus, we all know the satisfaction of crossing something off of a list is enough motivation to get anything done.
- Skype, even when you feel like you don’t need to. I have ended up skyping my friends because we had made a date a week ago, and despite feeling completely fine in the moment, I always leave the call feeling like I had just taken off a horcrux. Do it.
- Think of everything as a experience to share when you get home. Take a million pictures while walking around to send to your friends that night. Pretend your adventure is a giant shopping trip to get a gift for your loved ones. Find the cheapest postcards to send out that weekend.
Deryn is studying abroad at Queen Mary from Wagner College, NYC, USA.