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Beating the study abroad blues: Why it’s ok to be alone, but stinks to be lonely abroad

(The SA Blues are always open, but you can put them out of business. Photo by www.stevieraysbluesbar.com)

This post is dedicated to Ronnie who wanted to know how to handle being lonely abroad

Read any study abroad promotional material and you’ll read how exciting an opportunity studying abroad is. What you probably won’t read or hear in most study abroad preparation sessions is that studying abroad can also be a very lonely experience, especially for us introverts. Many students don’t realize that you can emotionally prepare for loneliness. These skills aren’t just for a study abroad; they can be used in your daily life here at home too! Let’s take a look at what it means to be lonely abroad and how you can fight it so that you don’t succumb to the study abroad blues like I did.

What are the study abroad blues?

Lingering feelings of sadness, depression, confusion, loneliness, isolation, and homesickness during a study abroad. I say lingering because having a day or even a few days of sadness, etc… makes you human and not a victim of the study abroad blues.

What causes the study abroad blues?

The study abroad blues are caused by some common key factors. Depending upon the person, they can also be caused by other factors such as emotional / mental health status or a traumatic experience. Let’s focus on the common key factors. The first cause for the study abroad blues is having unrealistic expectations of the study abroad experience. The second common cause is not emotionally preparing for the experience. A third common cause is not preparing culturally and/or linguistically and dealing with the difficulties of cultural and foreign language immersion. This list is not exhaustive, but it gives you a better idea of what can cause someone to feel lingering (more than a few weeks) of negative feelings in what is ultimately a life changing experience. As an introvert, I can tell you that we are more susceptible to the study abroad blues. But, it’s important to understand that the study abroad blues can happen to any student. Here’s why:

frame(It’s all about the picture portrayed. Photo by greenertrees.net)

How studying abroad is often portrayed: An adventure with the occasional class where you will embark on the experience of a lifetime with new people, new food, and sight seeing.

What studying abroad actually is: Being 6,000 miles away or more from everyone and everything you’ve ever known in a foreign land where you’re not understood, do everything differently, and have no one who loves or understands you.

If you only think of amazing adventures and not the challenges that go with studying abroad, you could find yourself succumbing to the study abroad blues. Does it mean that the first blurb of the portrayal is incorrect? No! But it’s a gross over generalization of the experience and one that doesn’t acknowledge the second blurb which is also part of the experience.

lonely(Loneliness. Photo by annsantos08.wordpress.com)

Why is it ok to be alone, but stinks to be lonely abroad?

Let me start with the latter. Being lonely stinks period. No one likes feeling isolated from the rest of the world, like you just don’t matter. Being lonely abroad is even worse because now not only do you feel isolated, but you actually are isolated. Not from the world entirely, but from your world. From the place that you called home for twenty years where you understood the language and the cultural norms. It also means that you are isolated from the people who know you, who love you, who want to be with you. But it’s not just the emotional aspect of being lonely abroad that stinks, it’s the experience of being lonely as well.

Have you ever gone sight seeing alone at home? Kudos if you have! Before I went abroad, I had lots of alone hobbies in my apartment, but I never actually did anything alone like eating at a restaurant, going to a movie, or to a museum. I was always with someone. When I got to Paris and walked out of Tatie’s studio onto a busy street in the heart of the sixth district is when my first taste of true loneliness hit. I immediately realized I didn’t understand a single thing said by passersby; I was receiving very strange looks; and every where I looked I only saw unfamiliarity. I could have gone on exploring past le Louvre which was just over the river, but I was overwhelmed by the sudden and strong feelings of isolation. Then I started thinking how I was thousands of miles away and 6 hours in advance of the man I loved and my family. At that moment, I lost interest in exploring Paris because I was lonely. And I allowed myself to stay lonely like that for 4 months. The seeds for the study abroad blues were planted my second day in Paris and they stayed with me the entire first semester! My wallowing in the study abroad blues was a disservice not only to my emotional and physical health, but it didn’t allow me to enjoy and embrace being alone abroad.

Being alone abroad is a critical part of the studying abroad experience. It’s where we learn some of our most important lessons about becoming an adult. Being alone means that we have to depend on and trust in ourselves to make our choices. Without the experience of being alone, we can never fully reach adulthood. Why the emphasis on being alone abroad? For many of us, it’s the first time in our lives that we have the opportunity to actually be alone and can’t phone a friend or our parents in a time of need. Being alone can take getting used to. It can seem lonely but it’s really not. But just in case you are feeling a bout of the SA blues coming on, here’s some quick, easy, and free ways to deal with it.

pow(Fight those blues! Photo by nacamentertainment.com)

Quick tips on how to fight loneliness abroad:

  • Start at home! Don’t wait until you get abroad and feeling lonely to make up a game plan for battling the study abroad blues. Start now before you get on that plane.
  • Get out of your room! It’s easy to want to stay in and lock yourself in your room when you feel like poo but isolating yourself when you’re lonely equals trouble. Do you like coffee or hot tea? Get yourself out of bed and enjoy your comfort beverage in the a public place. It’s amazing what a change of environment can do.
  • Exercise. I’m too lazy to look it up but there are articles out there on how exercise releases endorphins or some feel good chemical in your brain. Even a quick 5 minute jog in the park or 5 minutes of jumping jacks in your room for those nasty, rainy days works wonders.

 

 

  
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French Expressions You Don’t Learn in Class: Slanging it up

(Photo by sites.unice.fr)

French slang is a weakness for me. Not like I can’t get enough, but rather I don’t know enough. Slang is difficult because: A) They don’t teach it in French class; B) It changes constantly; C) And it’s usually said so quickly that it’s hard to pick it up in conversation. Anyhoo, I came across a somewhat recent slang expression that I know you didn’t learn in French class, but will help you to sound like a native Parisian in no time.

Is it Like, Love, or Something in Between?

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(Je kiffe grave Star Trek! Photo by moviepilot.com)

Je kiffe grave. This is a slang expression very popular in Paris and its surrounding suburbs. It means that you like something strongly. For example, je kiffe grave ton écharpe (I really like your scarf). In this expression, grave is no longer negative. Usually grave (just like the English counterpart) denotes something is bad. But this expression takes the usually grave grave and makes it something positive.

Filler words- anything goes

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(Photo by www.ilovegenerator.com)

If you’re not really feeling kiffe grave, you can still take the new positive meaning of grave and use it as a filler word at the end of a sentence. Young French people can be heard excitedly saying “Ouai, c’est grave!” to show how much they agree or like something. They’ll also simply end a sentence with grave. For example, j’aime bien ton écharpe grave. Quoi can also be used as a filler word at the end of a sentence in place of grave.

  
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Twenty in Paris named One of the Top 20 Paris Bloggers to Follow

(This super amazing Paris photo is by Derya Senol from SenolPhotography. https://instagram.com/senolphotography/)

I am super duper honored that Twenty in Paris was named one of the top 20 Paris blogs to follow for 2015 by FlipKey.com! What was even more amazing was to be included in a list with my all time favorite Paris blogs.

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Andrea’s favorite Paris blogs which you totally need to check out are:

Prête moi- Paris (Fun fact: Melissa- the creator of this blog- will be featured in the Twenty in Paris newsletter in April in the new “Hear it from a Pro” section)

Oui in France

My Parisian Life

Paris in Four Months

Where is Bryan?

Bon weekend!

-Andrea

  
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A Mom’s Advice on Study Abroad: Reflect, Barely Connect, Record

(all photos by Stephanie Ross and owned by High Low Glitter)

From the Dinnertable to Cyberspace to Your Own Space

When my daughters were little, I created a game called High Low Glitter, which we played during dinner. Each person at the table shared his or her:

  • High – the best part of the day
  • Low – the worst part of the day, and
  • Glitter – a fun, unexpected small moment from the day.

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High Low Glitter (HLG) proved to be a better way than: “How was your day?” (“Fine.”)  HLG got my family talking and kept us talking. It also got us listening, sympathizing, celebrating, laughing and perhaps most importantly, reflecting.

Before you can share a High Low Glitter you have to pause and reflect on your day. This seemingly simple act of pausing to reflect yields surprising results:

  • You recall little moments that at first seem insignificant, but upon further consideration are what made your day unique, special and meaningful.
  • You share important parts of your day that may or may not have seemed newsworthy outside this context.
  • And in that sharing, the meaningful moments of the day – big or small, good or bad – get noticed, acknowledged and remembered.

When my daughters left for college, I missed hearing their daily High Low Glitter, so I created a place for us to have “cyber-family dinner” whenever and wherever we were. I built a web version of High Low Glitter that allows sharing of ones daily highs, lows and glitters with a very small (7 connections) private network of people.

bring-home-closerWe all started using highlowglitter.com. It was great fun to once again get a glimpse into each other’s days. Then something interesting happened. The importance of posting to share my day, become less important than posting to record the day. The High Low Glitter practice became more than just an enjoyable family activity; it became a daily reflective practice – a journal of the important moments each day.

And I wasn’t the only person this happened to. It happened to my husband. It happened for other High Low Glitter users, who emailed to thank us for creating a place to share the high and low. And then it happened for my daughter while studying abroad in Greece:

The High Low Glitter of Having Your Student Study Abroad

Another way I use HLG is to frame experiences (a trip, a special event) and larger periods of time (a season, a year.) Using the technique this way is not only fun, but also fair. You recall the good and bad, the ups and downs, as well as remember the little moments that make life more textured, interesting and joyful.

So what is the High Low Glitter of having my students, Emily and Heather, study abroad?

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High: Knowing that my students will grow exponentially – intellectually and personally – from their study abroad experiences. And being proud of them for having the confidence and daring it takes to study, volunteer or work in an unfamiliar country and culture, often one that includes a significant language barrier.

Low: Ironically, the Internet.

When I studied in Greece almost 30 years ago, we wrote home. We received the occasional call on a shared phone in the dorm hallway. If we were out, we missed the call. Facebook? Skype? Netflix? Nope. We had 3-hour long dinners, explored the streets of Athens, read magazines to get week-old news from home, and talked into the night.

We were in Greece.  Nowhere else.

The Internet is amazing.  It takes us everywhere from anywhere. And of course I want my students to use it. I want them to be able to share their experiences from anywhere. But I also want my students to use the Internet wisely. I want the Internet to enhance their experience not detract from it.

Glitter:  Their stories! Especially the ones that capture the authentic cultural experiences and adventures my daughters are having.

And how do I like to hear about these stories? Since no one writes letters home, I like my students to share their day as often as possible at highlowglitter.com. I know I am bias and that I just said the Internet was my low, so why this format?

Because with a High Low Glitter post my students:

  • reflect on their day in meaningful way. They are less likely to take their abroad experience for granted, and more likely to appreciate it even on rough day.
  • connect in a substantive way with the people back home who matter most, yet they are not over-communicating. I get an authentic sense of my student’s day-to-day lives without intruding on or distracting from their adventures.
  • record the small, often unnoticed and under-acknowledged, but likely remarkable moments of their time abroad. I treasure these stories now and know my student will treasure them always.

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Stephanie Ross

Stephanie Ross is the creator of High Low Glitter and co-founder of highlowglitter.com, a micro-social networking site devoted to providing a place for families and close friends to share the meaningful moments of the day in a purposely small, private cyberspace. After several years as a full-time mom, Stephanie began her career in personal and professional development coaching. She wears many hats but none more important than mom to twin daughters Emily and Heather.