Check-In and Carry-On: Emotional Baggage





If there’s one thing pre-departure orientations never warn you enough about, it’s that studying abroad can bring out the worst in you. Let me explain.

Yes, going to another country to experience new cultures and learn new languages and discover independent living is meant for self-improvement. There’s no reason to do this if it weren’t for any benefit. But being around all these brand new stimuli sometimes forces unforeseen reactions. Back home, I can manage myself well enough. Being in a familiar environment puts less strain on my brain, and I can pay attention to myself instead of focusing on an ever-present cultural adjustment. But here, in France, when I’m alone in my tiny apartment on a Friday night, after a long week of school and work, the darkness from my window pierces through me together with the frigid winter wind.

Depression sucks. There’s a constant pain gnawing at my chest, occupying the space between my physical and metaphorical hearts, everywhere and nowhere at the same time. It’s an inextricable part of who I am. Except… it’s a secret, to be kept hidden lest it cause harm to myself and to others.

My default coping mechanism doesn’t help. The worst of it is that I tend to lash out in an attempt to make myself feel better by making others feel worse. I’ve gotten much better control of myself, but it still takes literally all my energy to not take my emotions out on the few people here who actually do care about me.

So what do I do? There’s nothing I can do but just keep going, but also ask for help when I need it. I just need to make sure I keep in touch with my friends and family so that I have people I trust to talk to about how I feel. Thankfully, my school’s study abroad office has also been a reliable, helpful resource. They’ve been there for me when I needed a professional to talk to.

I also have to just keep busy and focus on why I’m here in the first place: my education. Making sure I had my work on my mind proved a worthy distraction. And, I’ve only been rewarded with amazing grades. My boss, who also manages student grades, told me she had never seen someone get a 19/20 which, in France, apparently never happens. But I got one.

I’ve just got to remind myself of all the opportunities I have, and all the progress I can make if I stay focused and keep positive.

It also helps to take the time to stop and smell the flowers!