WSN Abroad: Introduction
WSN Abroad is a column where Wolverine Support Network leaders share their experiences managing their mental health and wellness while studying abroad. From Argentina to Italy to Australia, these students recognize the importance of prioritizing mental health no matter where they are. Follow along for stories of travel, exploration, and self-care!
Wolverine Support Network is a student organization and community on campus that seeks to address and promote student mental health and well-being through weekly, peer-facilitated support groups and bi-weekly stress-busting events. To learn more or sign up for a group, visit http://umichwsn.org.
I have known I wanted to study abroad since beginning college. As a lover of travel, my trips thus far in life have taken me to places like Switzerland, Peru, Tanzania, Puerto Rico, and more. I crave the excitement and novelty of seeing a new landscape, experiencing a new culture, and meeting people from all over the world. When it came time to pick a location to study abroad, I knew I wanted to go somewhere where I could spend plenty of time outside, and choosing Sydney, Australia was an easy decision.
It wasn’t until I had already committed to my program that I began to consider the potential challenges that come with studying abroad. What if I didn’t make new friends? What if I spent too much time alone? Or never got time alone? What if the stress that comes with planning travel logistics, coupled with not having a real “home”, adversely impacted my mental health in big ways?
As recently as 6 months ago, I would wake up and immediately be crippled with anxiety that consumed my entire body. I was overwhelmed with a fear and panic from a source I could not quite pinpoint, and sleep felt like my only true provider of relief.
This past semester at U-M, those types of feelings existed only in my memories. While I obviously still encountered difficulties, my mental health was incredibly solid—due to factors such as having a home space that felt like mine for the first time in college, fostering deeper connections with people I truly fit in with, an amazing therapist, and making time for activities that make me feel grounded, peaceful, and give me greater clarity of self.
With everything going so well in Ann Arbor, I started to grow worried as my time abroad drew closer. I was scared of relapsing into the anxiety and emptiness I felt the first half of 2018, and was unsure what I would do if those feelings returned while so far from home.
But wherever I go, there I am. The self-awareness and self-care practices I have spent time cultivating are still with me, whether I’m in Ann Arbor or Australia. My external reality will look quite different, but my inner world, the way I react to problems and support myself, those things remain the same. And I have an extraordinary network of people who are only a text or FaceTime away.
This column will give WSN leaders a platform to talk about how they manage their mental health while living, studying, and exploring in a foreign country—to talk about the parts of study abroad that don’t make it to Instagram. I am so excited to read about their journeys and reflections, and hope you will follow along with us.
I sit here and write this in a coffee shop in Madrid, at the beginning of a 4-week country-hopping extravaganza before I arrive in Sydney. I am reflecting on what someone told me before I left. They said that while I was viewing my great mental health at home as a reason I shouldn’t go abroad, being in such a positive headspace pointed to the opposite conclusion: that this was the perfect time to push myself and explore. That it meant I was ready. I think they’re right. And perhaps most delightfully, this time when I travel I am not running away from anything. I am only running towards new experiences, new horizons, sprinting as fast as I can, laughing the entire time, yelling, “I’m ready, I’m ready, I’m ready.”