WSN Abroad: Adam Seltzer
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.
It was mid-August before my junior year when I realized I had no idea where I wanted to study abroad. No joke – I posted on Instagram to crowdsource ideas. I then reached out to a multitude of friends who had studied abroad in various countries in order to hear about their experiences. See, all my life, I have been fortunate enough to have parents who encouraged and supported me studying abroad. However, I had never left the U.S. and felt quite geographically clueless. This feeling was particularly unpleasant as I watched seemingly everyone around me gain admission to programs in their dream cities; but, it was also my fault for not having done my research sooner.
Fast forward to January 4, and my flight to London was taking off. I had convinced myself that London is the right city for me, but I had yet to truly find out. An inevitable combination of excitement and nervousness overtook me as I thought to myself, “Wow. This is really happening.”
Throughout my time abroad thus far, my greatest lifestyle change has been the extent to which I am alone. But let me clarify: alone doesn’t mean lonely. In fact, perhaps my favorite aspect of this experience has been learning how to successfully be alone. Whether that means going out to a club alone and meeting my closest new (and first Australian!) friend, wandering around London and watching street performers for hours after class, or visiting a museum along the water in Denmark, I am learning how to take advantage of chances to learn and grow independently and anonymously. Each time I’m alone, I am surrounded by so much, yet simultaneously familiar with so little. Each time, I become more self-aware and feel more capable. While sometimes it would be nice to walk through the streets and see my friends like I do in Ann Arbor, learning how to love being alone has proven to be invaluable.
Furthermore, I am very grateful to have joined ThinkMental, my study abroad university’s mental health society. My time in Wolverine Support Network undoubtedly drove my decision to join, and although the two organizations are quite different, ThinkMental has already provided me with a warm, welcoming community of students who care about one another’s well-being. As an exchange student, this is an especially valuable opportunity to develop meaningful cross-cultural relationships.
Now you must be wondering what the downside to studying abroad has been. Personally, the biggest struggle I’ve faced is an inability to focus – and I’m not just referring to schoolwork. Living in a large city has been a culture shock in and of itself, and as my sense of curiosity strengthens and new opportunities continually present themselves, I face major difficulty in focusing on any given thing. So many thoughts and feelings seem to run through my head that it can be hard to actually capture them. Perhaps this is heightened by a fear of missing out on new experiences, and thus feeling as if eight things are constantly competing for my attention at once. Certainly, social media is unhelpful in this regard. As I see my friends doing things I haven’t done and visiting places I haven’t visited, I suddenly believe I’m being less productive than I thought. As someone who is used to being on top of everything, this state of mental overload is both new and, at times, uncomfortable. To the people whose messages I ignore: I promise it’s not personal; I’m just trying to first process everything myself.
With that said, I genuinely am living my best life. By calling friends and family, exercising (when I get the chance), and taking advantage of as many social and cultural opportunities as I can, I have managed to adapt very smoothly and have generally maintained a positive mental state. Surely, moments arise in which I feel weirdly removed from my American life and various obstacles come along with constant traveling, but these problems are miniscule in proportion to how much I’m gaining from this experience. It’s only been seven weeks, but at the same time, it’s already been seven weeks. The next thing I know, I’ll be packing my bags to return to Maryland, so I better continue to live up every single moment.
Now, here’s the bottom line. There’s a lot of pressure associated with studying abroad. Everyone tells you it’s going to be the greatest, most life-changing period of your life. They see your glamorous social media posts and tell you you’re “thriving,” even if they have no clue how you actually feel. Most of them ask, “Are you loving it?!” rather than asking, “How are you?” And yet, as I sit here blaming social media for painting unrealistic and idealized pictures of life abroad, I feel so fortunate to be able to say that the image social media is painting of mine is about as real as it gets. Every day, I ultimately wake up feeling happy and grateful for the life I’m living, and I hope everyone studying abroad has moments in which they feel the same way.