One of the main intentions I set for 2019 was to find home in my body. I vowed to make ‘home’ a state of mind rather than a place. As I departed my loved ones and hometown on January 1st to study abroad in London for five months, I knew this hefty goal would be put to test. Part of what drew me to study in London was the change of pace it would entail as I transitioned from a small liberal arts college in rural Upstate New York to a large city and university setting in the UK. Since arriving several weeks ago I have found this adjustment to be both exciting and challenging, as change so often is. During this time, the following five practices have been incredibly helpful in staying centered while living abroad and finding home in my body no matter my physical location.
1. Journal your intentions, feelings, & habits
If you don’t already journal regularly, I highly recommend it as you embark on your study abroad experience! I have found that writing out my goals (for the year, semester, month, etc.) and returning to them regularly helps keep me accountable. There is something magical about putting pen to paper, but IFSA’s Learning Plan process is another great resource for completing this step! I recently came across the learning plan I made over the summer and was hit with a tinge of much-needed motivation.
Journaling is also cathartic for many people. You are bound to experience a wide array of emotions during your time abroad (I certainly have), and writing about them can help you sit with/work through your feelings. Lastly, I have found that tracking my daily habits helps motivate healthy habits and keeps less healthy habits in check. I track things like sleep, exercise, and alcohol consumption in an excel spreadsheet, but people often do so in their bullet journals.
2. Take breaks from social media
Towards the end of 2018, I found myself mindlessly checking social media more frequently than normal, and I could tell it was making me feel uncentered. I decided to take a social media hiatus during my first week abroad and am so glad I did! It helped keep me present and encouraged me to truly enjoy what I was doing rather than over-documenting for the wrong reasons. Additionally, it is hard to meet new people and form genuine connections when you’re glued to your phone. If you are someone that finds yourself scrolling on social media to escape uncomfortable feelings or posting simply to ‘impress’ others, I grant you permission to take occasional breaks, especially during the initial transition period of being abroad!
3. Set communication boundaries
Before departing, I decided it would be healthiest for me to set some communication boundaries with my family. While regular communication with loved ones can help you stay rooted, constant conversation can hinder you from fully immersing yourself in a new place. It can be tempting to pick up your phone and reach out to loved ones every time you are homesick or bored, but I think we can all benefit from getting more comfortable with being uncomfortable, and with finding internal coping mechanisms. With all this in mind, I decided to make Sundays my family FaceTiming day. So far this system has worked out great on both sides!
4. Feeling low, lonely, or bored? Get your body moving!
Go for a run, attend a yoga class, take a nice walk, work out with a friend. Anything but sulking in your room by yourself. I have had more ‘free time’ while being abroad than I am used to, and while it can be tempting to relax my days away, I have found that too much downtime invites homesickness. The most effective way of combating these feelings has been getting my body moving. Going for outdoor walks combines the therapeutic effects of nature and exploration, while more rigorous forms of exercise induce happy endorphins and can feel empowering. My favorite ways to get my heart pumping have been attending Zumba and boxing classes (shoutout to the instructors at QMotion). Find a form of movement that works for you and do it regularly!
5. Hold onto spiritual/religious practices
Although this tip may not resonate with everyone, I thought it was important to include. Personally, yoga and meditation have become critical parts of my spirituality over the years, and continuing to practice them while abroad has been an essential part of staying centered. For you, this may mean seeking out your religious community, attending regular services, etc. You can easily get caught up in a vibrant social scene, intense academics, or exploring a new place, but holding onto practices that are important to you at home can help keep you grounded.
Sierra DeAngelo is an Environmental Biology major and pre-med student at Colgate University and studied abroad with IFSA at Queen Mary, University of London in England in spring 2019. She served as an International Correspondent for IFSA through the Work-To-Study Program.