Student Reflections

How to Manage Being Overwhelmed While Abroad

Rachel Mann
January 25, 2023

Studying abroad is a transformative experience that can define many of our college careers. Now that this dreamt-about semester has arrived, I’m feeling a myriad of emotions that, perhaps, can all be boiled down to just one word: overwhelmed. Whether that’s dealing with immense stress or anxiety, it’s also the only adjective that suitably describes my abundant excitement and sense of adventure while settling in London.

Even before my plane landed, must-visit museums, monuments, and restaurants started adding up on my already overflowing to-do list. There’s a feeling of helplessness by wishing to check them all off as soon as possible. I was eager to familiarize myself with every block, borough, and Tube line the moment I arrived. Well, spoiler alert… no one can do all that in 24 hours! 

This truth took me a moment to recognize and respect, but as soon as I saw that the Underground was 30 times more complex than our beloved MBTA, I was instantly humbled and knew I’d have to be patient with myself. Now that I’m a week into my semester abroad here, I feel confident enough to (gently) give a couple words of wisdom on how to work through this sense of being overwhelmed.

 1. Write down all your research spots… and then remind yourself that you can’t visit them all within a week.

Yes, take advantage of those days off before class assignments begin piling up, but your early itinerary draft is still probably a little too ambitions. Sorry to break the news!

You may think you can swing by the Tower of London, St. Paul’s Cathedral, and Buckingham Palace the weekend before orientation, but you can’t do that if you want to properly appreciate them (shocker!). So instead, use your free days, pick a place –– or maybe two, if reasonable –– and simply enjoy the experience of getting there. Walk the whole way, become comfortable with the public transport, or accidentally head in the opposite direction and double the time it takes to get to your original destination.

A unique aspect of studying abroad is getting to really know your chosen city, so give yourself all the time to get off at every train station and walk each quaint street –– on top of hitting the tourist traps on your original list, of course.

2. Get some sleep, seriously.

Apologies for sounding like your mom, but try prioritizing sleep these first couple of weeks when adjusting to your new life. A notable time difference and unfamiliar environment can obviously throw off your sleeping patterns, but don’t underestimate the impact of 10,000+ steps, disorientation, homesickness, and countless other factors on the body and mind. Plus, many of you are studying in a country whose official language is not your own, so consider the effect on your energy levels of practicing a foreign language or finding ways to communicate with the locals.

To keep it simple, get those 8 hours –– and maybe a little extra –– because you deserve it. If you’re already an avid napper, continue unapologetically being yourself and rack up those Zzzs.

Long story short, any environmental change can be a challenge for us –– whether we’re on an exhilarating high from all the travel or longing for the days we were cozy at home with our families. Being at either end of the spectrum is totally understandable, and you’ll feel more settled sooner than you think. Now, get acquainted with your respective new home and don’t be too hard on yourself for needing some time to fully adjust and see some of things on your to-do list.