How To Maintain Your Sanity While Studying Abroad

The members of the Black & Abroad community recognize how much of a privilege traveling is. Each of us has had our worldviews expanded and lives touched for the better by experiencing a new place, culture, or people. Inevitably, each of us has also experienced the more stressful side of travel, whether while passing through customs or while desperately trying to cross a language barrier.

As I write this, I am currently studying abroad in Greece. By the end of this five weeks, I will have visited six very different areas of Greece while learning about rhetoric and theatre in their birthplace. This experience could never be strictly all work no play obviously when traveling with 14 other nineteen to twenty-two year olds. I’ve already enjoyed enough clubs, bars, good wine and free shots to last me a lifetime. In short, this trip has already been the opportunity of a lifetime, and I think God everyday.

Shortly after arriving in Greece, I found myself sitting on the edge of my hotel bed sobbing. In the past, I’ve been prone to anxiety attacks, and the stress of traveling in a place where I could not speak the language while taking classes with readings, assignments, performances, and exams brought some of my anxiety back to the surface. I had the additional challenge of being the sole black member of the group in an overwhelmingly white society. Quite a few Greeks as well as other tourists were fascinated by my very being. Although I only experience a couple instances that seemed blatantly racist, I was constantly made to feel different because of my race. Not having a companion on the trip to share my feelings with made me feel even more alienated, at least initially. Even more, I tried to ignore my feelings because I felt guilty for being unhappy in such a beautiful environment. It wasn’t until I accepted my emotions as they were, did I begin to really enjoy my time in Greece. These are some of the ways that I dealt with my anxiety.

Create a routine (No matter how loose it is)

A lot of people associate travel and vacation with spontaneity. If you love spontaneity, go for it, but I personally needed a loose structure for my day in order to feel comfortable.

I had to plan my day around my classes; so keeping a routine was pretty. Normally, I would wake up around 8:15 or 8:30 to get dressed and have breakfast before my 9 or 9:30 class. After class, I would have lunch, and then would lounge and work on my assignments. Normally, I would then take a nap or explore until dinner. Eventually I would make it to bed somewhere between 12 midnight and 1:30AM. 

Pray or Meditate

At home, I normally start and end my day with a short prayer, but initially, I fell out of the habit while I was traveling. Picking the habit back up helped so much. If you aren’t particularly religious, meditating or saying affirmations, could serve a similar function of starting your day off with purpose. I wrote in my travel journal most nights as a meditation on where I was mentally and emotionally and to help me figure out my emotions.

Phone a friend

Humans need interaction, and sometimes we need more depth to our interactions with others than just partying. (I learned that after maybe like 3 weeks; who knew partying didn’t just make everything better). Towards the beginning of the trip, I called my parents regularly to talk about how I was feeling, which was a good alternative when I felt like I couldn’t talk to any of the other students. If you are traveling in a group, try sharing your experience with them. You might be surprised by how understanding, sympathetic, or empathetic your traveling companions are. 

Take care of yourself

Drink the water!!!! Eat something green or with fiber occasionally. Take long walks or runs for exercise. Your Mind and body are connected, one cannot flourish if the other is struggling. 

Don’t be afraid to be alone

FOMO is real, but it is okay to take time for yourself. Some of us need more of it than others. 

Lastly, write down your favorite moments of each day

It’s hard to get through those dark moments but choosing to find bits of light in each day. Acknowledging even a simple smile and how it made you feel will help you through some of the stress and anxiety.

Sabrina Carter

Sabrina, a Communication student with Spanish and Theatre minors, may be a newbie when it comes to international travel, but after her first adventure abroad in Greece, she cannot wait to continue exploring the world. In the *quickly approaching* future, Sabrina hopes to pursue a career in what she loves - media or theatre - and that allows her to continue traveling.  But right now, next on her list is Spain. Follow the rest of her travels on Instagram at @sabrinadcarter.