There was a conversation I had with my dad a while ago when I was trying to rush ahead and figure out the step by step formula that would equate to a successful future. He told me to think back to puberty when so much change and growth was happening within me. He said, “Now imagine if your body tried to accelerate that process, stretching and breaking bone and muscle over the span of days instead of years. Imagine how painful that would be.” Some days I interpret his words to mean be still, and on others it’s a reminder to push myself into the right amount of discomfort. It’s the power of these malleable affirmations that have kept me afloat during my time here in Oviedo. It’s what keeps feeding me the courage to find out where and how I fit in the world. It’s almost impossible to explain how an international experience opens you up and shifts your paradigms, but one of my favorite things to do now is try.
I got the gang together – DeOvionne Brown, Jade Senior, Jocilyn Koser, and Danielle Burkholder – to do a collective mental health check. We talk about the good, the bad, and everything in between here:
Cassandra: What are some of the positive and negative effects studying abroad in Spain has had on your mental health?
DeOvionne: Something that’s been beneficial for sure is taking walks at night, whether I’m alone or with a friend. I walk a lot here when I’m feeling frustrated, irritated, or any type of way. As a person of color, you can encounter people who are ignorant or uneducated and make you question a lot of things. I contemplated if Spain was worth it, and going on those walks helped me balance out my mental health.
Danielle: For me, something that was really rough was when things were going wrong back home in the States and there was nothing I could do about it here. But a good thing for my mental health honestly has been just living in the moment. Everyone says that studying abroad will be the best time of your life but you forget that you’re still living your life so there’s going to be ups and downs. You know, everyday is not going to be perfect, but you can take it one moment at a time. Like just chillin’ here on a blanket in a park – this is a great moment.
Jade: The hardest thing is being out of your comfort zone. I felt really small being here but big at the same time. It was my first time being out of the country, and I’m in this tiny little town where no one knows who I am. It’s like Debby said, taking things day by day. Being away from home, you have to adapt to a new way of looking at mental health and how you feel and who you can talk to about it. I think the thing that helped me the most were definitely my girls. I’ve never laughed so hard in my entire life and we’ve made the funniest, goofiest memories.
Cassandra: What are some of the coping mechanisms or new habits you’ve adopted here that you hope to bring back with?
Jocilyn: Traveling! It doesn’t have to be a big thing either. It can be going twenty minutes away or an hour to let go of what’s on your mind and seeing new things. Sometimes I can feel so congested with stuff, but here I’m taking my time to enjoy life. During my free time, instead of sitting in the house or watching TV, I like going to try new foods or experience a different culture. I think we could definitely do this back in the States, we’d just have to make sure that we juggle and prioritize it.
DeOvionne: Journaling. I do it almost every day now.
Jade: I didn’t journal or go on walks, but a mindset I wanna keep with me is the realization that everything is not so serious. The world is gonna keep spinning even if I do make a mistake. But I feel big in the sense that I can go anywhere I want, and I can make my own world how it is.
Cassandra: How has the culture of wellness – food, physical activity, socialization – in Spain affected you overall well being?
Danielle: I definitely think my appetite has changed and I’m eating healthier, but not gonna lie that led me to be like, “oh my god, I’m craving sugar right now.” That was a hard adjustment.
Jade: You can tell the difference just from the food you eat here. My host mom made me a hamburger and it just tastes like I’m getting more nutrients in my body. They definitely push the social aspect of wellbeing, especially during meals. They’ll sit there and have dinner and lunch for hours and won’t even eat for most of that time. You can tell where their focus is for food and in general.
Jocilyn: The first host grandmother I stayed with was 78 years old and worked out three times a week. If I stayed in the house all day on a Sunday she would ask if something is wrong or try to encourage me to exercise or go out . It doesn’t even have to be exercise, it can be hanging out with friends or walking around. Here they really support an active lifestyle and doing stuff with your body and your mind.
Cassandra: What advice would you give to future students who want to participate in Temple’s Oviedo, Spain program?
DeOvionne: Just get comfortable with being uncomfortable.
Danielle: Realize that some days you’re gonna feel like crap, but that just makes the better days so much better. And even with the crappy days you’re still learning stuff. Honestly, this program was life changing for me just because I learned a lot about myself by being uncomfortable and being in uncomfortable situations. Don’t have the expectation that it’s gonna be fun the whole time because it’s not. But you’re still going to learn a lot and it’s gonna be worth it.
Jade: Going off what Debby said, take those risks and accept the good with the bad. Realize why you’re here: to grow, experience another culture, learn a language. Just keep pushing.
Click here for more about how students are maintaining their mental health abroad here.