How Your Attitude Impacts Your Overseas Experiences
Studying abroad is an amazing and unique experience, but sometimes we can get caught up in thoughts that keep us from enjoying ourselves completely and prevent a positive attitude. Whether you’re studying abroad for a semester or completing an entire degree, you might have trouble letting go of what is happening at home, what you’re going to do when you return, or might have feelings of ‘missing out’ (do not fear – you’re definitely not, even though it can feel this way).
You may also feel pressure to maintain relationships at home and struggle to foster new relationships. These are all normal feelings to experience while studying abroad, and things I grappled with during both my semester and degree abroad. Read on for some tips and ideas that helped me stay present and enjoy every moment, and may help you as well!
But first, a wee bit about the importance of a positive attitude. When I was growing up my father always used to tell me, “Attitude is everything.” This drove my teenage, angsty-self absolutely crazy, but mostly because I knew he was right.
If we go through life with a negative attitude or always looking for the deficits, we will never truly enjoy any experience or feeling. If we go through life like this, what drives us? Will we achieve the common life goal of happiness? Probably not.
When I began to change my attitude, I noticed my satisfaction and gratitude levels skyrocket. This has taken years and is still something I continue to work on, but the most transformation happened during my semester abroad which enabled me to make the most of my experience.
Changing my attitude and critically reflecting on how I was approaching my semester abroad was crucial. I wasn’t paying to have a horrible time or spend all of my free time Skyping friends and family back home; I was paying to have a once-in-a-lifetime experience and make new friends. So I started scheduling one hour blocks a couple of times a week to Skype my parents or friends, leaving my phone at home when I went to meals or to the beach with friends, and practicing mindfulness in the little moments.
I scheduled Skype time into my schedule like I did with other important things in my life, like the doctor or the gym. This made it a commitment but also something special, as it wasn’t happening too often so there was always enough to catch up on when it did happen. Remember, you will most likely have so much more going on than your friends and family back home, and you’ve got so much time to share that when you get back! Make more memories while you can, and make Skype time special.
I also left my phone when it was safe to do so (i.e. not a night out in town!). It also aided with my mindfulness practice. It is shocking how many people are connected to screens and phones while they’re out or eating with loved ones. This action sends a covert (or overt) message that whatever is on the screen is more important than the people you are physically with. Facebook, Twitter, Instagram, and e-mail will always be there; take a break for a few hours to really be with your friends. If you want pictures, invest in an actual camera or get a disposable one for some real fun! You won’t regret the time you didn’t spend checking updates on Facebook – I promise!
Finally, I started practicing mindfulness in a few different ways. Before you quit reading because of the word ‘mindfulness’, let’s talk about what that actually means. Practicing mindfulness is simply a way of paying attention to what you’re feeling and experiencing during the present moment – such as your emotions, physical sensations, etc. – without focusing on the past or future.
It can help you calm down if you’re experiencing anxiety, or it can help you feel grateful for the amazing people you’re laughing with. It’s a form of non-judgmentally checking in with yourself, and can be done at any time. I would practice mindfulness for short periods of time, such as doing a body scan while lying on the beach to get in touch with the physical sensations of the sand underneath my body and the sun warming up my skin.
I’d also practice mindfulness when I wanted to check my phone, asking myself why I felt the need or if it would hinder what I was trying to achieve in that moment. The results of this were surprising, but ultimately beneficial, and have carried over into other areas of my life such as my studies and my relationship. It’s even helped me manage my anxiety and depression more effectively!
These are just a few things that helped me during my semester and through my degree abroad thus far; it is by no means an exhausted list! I’d also like to offer that if these ideas work for you, great! If not, leave them and trust you will find something else that works for you.
Learning to stay present and maintain a positive attitude while studying abroad can take time, but you will only gain even more from your experience. Enjoy the journey!