Danielle Zabielski is a Communications student at Saint Joseph’s University and studied abroad with IFSA-Butler at the University of Melbourne in Australia in 2016. She is an International Correspondent for IFSA-Butler through the Work-To-Study Program.
When I chose to study abroad in Melbourne, Australia, I knew I’d be in for some interesting experiences, but I felt pretty capable of handling anything that could possibly come my way (except for maybe a ginormous spider or something). My friends who’d previously studied in Oz prepped me for my exhausting trek across the globe: a few hours of driving to John F. Kennedy Airport in New York; followed by a five hour flight to California; an hour or so of a layover; and, finally, the monstrous 15 hour flight to Australia. Upon arrival, I’d need to get used to Melbourne’s time zone (14 hours ahead of home), the use of the metric system, and the prevalence of Aussie slang. Overall, though, I considered myself prepared for my excursion.
Overwhelmed by Anxiety
But something I wasn’t quite prepared for happened to me in JFK prior to boarding my flight.
After finding a seat in the crowded terminal, I pulled out my MacBook, turned it on and waited… and waited… and waited. Typically the screen would prompt me to enter my password, but instead it remained blank — and then an error message appeared. My gut sank with dread. Again and again I attempted to power my laptop on, and again and again the screen stayed gray. With only two hours until my flight — hardly enough time to leave the airport, hightail it to an Apple Store, and make it back through security — I knew there was nothing I could do about my broken computer.
This was the straw that broke the camel’s back, so to speak. I suddenly became overwhelmed with feelings of apprehension, panic, and regret. Previously repressed anxiety about living across the globe for one-third of the year engulfed me like a tidal wave.
“If I wasn’t traveling,” I thought, “I bet my laptop would still be functional. It probably broke in transit. As if flying for so long wasn’t already bad enough, now I really don’t want to sit on a plane for over half a day while I stress over this. Maybe I shouldn’t even be going on this trip. Is it too late to turn back?” I wanted to run straight out of the gate and back into the safety of my parents’ car.
I was so wrapped up in my negative thoughts that I hardly realized when some IFSA-Butler students filtered into the terminal near me. Nearly in tears with my head still spinning, I introduced myself to them and explained why I was so disheveled. Everyone immediately offered their sympathies and cheered me up as best they could — despite probably having some reservations themselves about our forthcoming excursion. Let’s face it: travel can be nerve-wracking, even for those who are excited about doing it.
Enjoying the World Despite Your Worries
The truth is, everyone gets at least a little anxious about extended, long-distance travel, whether they’re a seasoned pro or a first-time flier. And those worries and fears are very valid: from monetary expenses to jet lag to lost luggage (and even to busted laptops), there are myriad things to obsess over while getting from point A to point B, and even more to worry about once at said point B. You never truly know what’s comig next — and that can be a troubling thought. Sometimes these thoughts seem so pervasive and intense that you really do wonder whether you should be traveling at all, or if life would have been better or easier had you simply stayed home.
…overthinking can easily get the best of you, causing you to miss out on fully enjoying your abroad adventure.
When I stepped off the plane with my IFSA mates, however, all of my doubts washed away as quickly as they had once washed over me. It finally hit me: here I was in Australia, surrounded by a bunch of new friends and a spectacular landscape. Rather than continue to fret over my laptop — which couldn’t be serviced for at least a few days — I embraced the amazing experiences afforded to us by IFSA’s orientation in Sydney. We had only three days to spend in a gorgeous city, and I knew I couldn’t let myself ruin them by being miserable over what was, in the grand scheme of things, a small bump in the long road of studying abroad.
Thankfully I did end up getting my computer repaired (shoutout to the tech wizards at Sydney’s Apple Store!). And, I suppose, it’s a bit easier to tell you not to agonize over mishaps when I’m looking back on mine from a romanticized perspective. I do mean it, though, when I say that overthinking can easily get the best of you, causing you to miss out on fully enjoying your abroad adventure.
Living in an unfamiliar country is a unique experience, one that is bound to bring equally unique feelings with it. If you ever feel alone in your woes, know that you’re most definitely not the only one feeling like you do. Talk to your peers or the IFSA-Butler team about how you’re feeling, as they’ve probably gone through something similar or feel the same as you. Sometimes people refrain from discussing their less-than-cheerful emotions because they’re afraid no one will understand — or at least empathize — with them. But in my time abroad, I’ve discovered that once you express your openness to others, they will likely feel comfortable opening up as well.
Above all, try your best to look on the bright side and accept the inevitable difficulties that come with travel as part of the full experience. Things might not go as smoothly as you’d imagined, but that shouldn’t detract from your stint abroad. (And hey, at the very least, you’ll have a great story to tell at the end of it all!)