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The stories we don’t usually tell

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Reading time: 5 minutes
Taking care of your mental health during your Erasmus
Sign on the street with the phrase: all the things that could happen next.
All the things that could happen next

Often when we talk about Erasmus, the first images that come to mind are travels, friends, parties, fun. However, we still talk little about the difficult moments that also come with embarking on an adventure like this.


It is very likely that on your journey, you will also come across challenging moments, in which you question your decision to board that plane. And it is okay to talk about it, and maybe you are one of the people who need to talk about it right now. That is why, as a psychologist, I decided to write a little about this side of the story that we don't usually share with the world.



It may be that the difficult episodes you go through while living abroad are connected to the life in your hometown. Not being close to family, friends, pets, not being able to witness special moments, not being able to help them in difficult times, or just missing the comfort of home. The photos in which you won't be there, “see you later” that will turn into goodbyes, or the simple realization that things will be different when you return.


It may be that the difficult episodes are connected to your life in the new country. You will realize that the smallest things can require a lot of energy from you. Going to the supermarket, taking public transport, interacting in several languages, resolving bureaucracy. It will take time for you to understand the subtle rules of that culture. It may take you more or less time to make friends, or to open up to new people. It is an adaptation process, calling the new room your room, understanding how the new university works, discovering your favorite places and foods. And if it is your first time living alone, figuring out how to take care of your health without anyone around, learning to live by yourself and also learning to ask for help.


It could also be that the difficult episodes are connected to things that haven't even happened yet, but that are making you anxious. Decisions about your studies, your career, financial worries, fear of failure, comparisons with other people your age, insecurities. That old question “where do you see yourself in five years” and the blackout of simply just thinking “I have no idea”. It is also common to hear about the fear of missing out, so many new things at the same time, so many new opportunities, and that fear in the back of your head of not taking advantage of them as you should.


And it may be that the difficult episodes you go through are just a great mixing of all these at the same time.



In one of the modules of my first semester with Erasmus, we had an “Adaptation Workshop”. This was not an ordinary class, it was a time to simply come together to reflect on what we were experiencing as international students. There we had moments to simply complain, others to identify our resources and strengths. I think it might be useful to share with you when we had a moment to list “coping strategies”, things we were doing in bad times to take care of ourselves.


Some of us in the class turned to sports: running, swimming, extreme sports. Other people also used other means to listen to their body: stretching, meditating, breathing deep, crying, dancing, singing, or just sleeping.


Some saw the strategies at home, they liked to cook, clean and organize things, or watch a sitcom. Some saw them outside of it, they liked going out for a walk, shopping, buying gifts for themselves, or going somewhere close to nature.


Some preferred to spend time with themselves, having a break without work or phone, writing things down, journaling, doing gratitude exercises. Others preferred to spend time with others, talking to close ones, calling old friends and relatives, asking for instructions and advice, or talking to professionals.


Some chose to make a to-do list, to help them with their sense of achievement. Others would allow themselves to do nothing. Some thought the best way was to stay positive, even in difficult situations. Others thought it was better to let the sadness sit for a while and observe it.



All this to illustrate that “self-care” can mean very different things. Anyone who promises you a formula could actually be taking you to a place of greater pressure and toxicity. No matter how many suggestions you find here in this text or on your TikTok, you are the only one who can really identify what makes you feel good, your balance. And don't forget: you can have some help, find out if you can get counseling sessions at your university.


So, this is an exercise that I invite you to do: stop and write somewhere you remember later, a small list of things that you can reach out to when you feel like you’ve not been walking in a very nice path. You can change it over time, but having that little point of stability in the middle of hurricanes can be of great help.


And next to that list, maybe write a sentence about what motivated you to make the decision to be where you are today. It may seem obvious now, but trust me, sometimes the most obvious things are the easiest to ignore.



Personally, I brought with me photos of special people, and printed some more with those who arrived along the way. They are stuck on my wall next to a little post-it that says “one day at a time” and some days that is all I need.


To finish, I know that sometimes it is difficult to admit to yourself that you are feeling bad when you “should be” in the happiest moment of your life, making your dream come true. But the more we talk about these difficulties, the more we will realize that they are actually much more common than we imagine. It is part of who we are, and this brave decision to put our bodies out into the world.


Sometimes the borders we need to cross are not just the ones out there. Take your time, you're doing great!