Studying away from home is exciting, overwhelming and nerve-wrecking. For many, it can be quite an anxious time. Alexis, an International Student Ambassador, discusses how her own anxieties held her back, and took its toll on her mental health. However with some well needed chats with friends and some time to self-reflect, Alexis grew to love her life in UL that bit more. Not everyone has an overall brilliant experience, it is hard for some, but if you put in the work and make the most of your time here, you, like Alexis, will make unforgettable friends and memories. Here is her story:
While I would love to say my first semester was amazing here at UL, if I’m being honest, I can’t. However, through self-reflection, chatting with friends, family and classmates as well as some good old Cognitive Behavioural Therapy, I came into semester 2 with an action plan on how to improve my experience and overall mood. By sharing my difficulties over the past seven months, I’m hoping that I can help others to find ways to either avoid or get out of the funk in which they’ve found themselves.
Now, while my experience last autumn got to the point where I truly did not want to return this semester, let me say that not all of last semester was horrible, so I want to highlight some of the things and people that kept me sane!
My flatmates. Honestly, I really lucked out with my 5 (2 boys and 3 amazing girls) flatmates in Thomond Village on the UL campus. Everyone is respectful of each other and we really hit it off, especially us ladies! Having a home environment, I feel safe in is huge for my mental health, so I do not know what I would have done without this space and these people. We also set up a clear schedule for cleaning and chores, which honestly did wonders for my stress levels as we probably have one of the cleanest flats on campus!
My classmate besties. I really connected with a couple of people in my class of 41 and I’m so grateful for their support and providing me with a space to be me. Additionally, when I finally opened up about what a hard time I was having, I really appreciated their supportive responses.
My support system back home. I have really great friends and family and while I knew this coming into school, I could not have made it here without those I left in America and even France. Thank goodness for FaceTime is all I can say!
All that said, I knew there were some key changes I needed to make when returning this semester.
My ‘Action Plan’ included the following:
- Talking it out;
- Going to counsel sessions from the start;
- Actually going to events for the clubs and societies that I signed up for;
- Going on more outings with my flat-mates and friends;
- Being less hard on myself academically;
- Little things to improve my health and environment.
So what have I actually done so far?
Regarding ‘talking it out,’ I’ve been very open with more of my friends and even some lecturers this semester about how unhappy I was. While I want to be honest with my friends here and in the states, I also don’t want to make anyone feel like I’ve taken them for granted, which leads me to therapy so a) I didn’t seek out help before I was basically hopeless and on the verge of quitting like I did last semester and b) so that I have an impartial observer who could listen to me and validate my feelings and thoughts, without me making me worried about offending them.
I joined many clubs and societies last semester, but was so overwhelmed with academic work that only went to one drama society meeting and that was it! So, this semester I’ve been to all of the Dance Societies Zumba classes as well as the majority of the Drama Workshops. I’m fortunate that my one flatmate and another friend were both interested in doing these activities with me which motivates me to get there. There are still other activities I would like to do, but it’s progress!
Being more social is a big thing for me this semester. I enjoy my alone time, so it’s not hard for me to be a hermit, but I realised in this experience how much energy and happiness I get from social gatherings and having fun with my friends. Therefore, I’ve actively tried to make plans with those around me whether it’s as simple as lunch, brunch or organising our 2nd semester’s first class outing.
Since being here I’ve discovered that I’m a perfectionist. Who knew?! I hold myself to a really high standard and tend to hold others to this as well which has made group work, which is about 50% of our modules, really difficult sometimes. I can’t make other people care as much as I do or think like me, but I have found ways that I can be easier on myself. In total, we have over 40 hours a week that are dedicated to in-class lectures, additional readings, essay work, and team meetings outside of lectures. That’s a full-time job! Last semester I only missed 1 class and that was because of my immigration appointment. 1 single class! Obviously, this did nothing for the quality of my mental health so I decided that this semester that if I was feeling really overwhelmed with a project or just needed a ‘mental health day’ I would skip class, and that would be okay! In general, I’ve also tried to be less hard on myself as a person. I’m the only American in my program and often feel like I’m too loud or too touchy, so I’m doing my best to be happy being me! Now, another part of me was really disappointed in myself by my struggle to adapt to UL, because I have moved away before and both times it went well! Just last year I quit my job and moved to France and guess what? It was amazing! However, I try to remind myself this is a completely new situation with new stressors and I need to give myself a break.
There are also some other little things I’ve done to help my situation. For example, I made a ‘vision board’ to remind myself why I’m here and what my eventual goals here are; like to move to a city, afford to live in my own apartment again and find a career. I also spent more time and money on decorating my bedroom. Keeping things cosy is important for me so I decorated with pictures, throws and a cute area rug to make my room feel more like home. Additionally, I finally bought some Vitamin D supplements! I don’t think I realised how little sun I would get here, but I do think that affected my mood more than I realized. In all, I’m happy to say that while I have ‘my days,’ I’m in a much better, healthier place this semester and that was accomplished through changes I consciously made and the help from the amazing support system I’m blessed to have from across the North America and to here in Ireland! Remember, it’s never too late to ask for help!
It is important to reach out if ever you feel unhappy or alone. Clubs and Societies play a big role in student lives, both Irish and International. It is the best way to make friends, and also it is a break in the evening from the stresses of assignments and exams. Everyone needs a stress reliever, an escape from daily work, and the UL Student Life Clubs and Societies allow you to do this. Even if it is week 6, you can still join, it is never too late.If you ever need to reach out and talk with a professional, there are counselling sessions available to you on campus. All the details and more can be found at the following: https://www.ul.ie/healthy-ul-mental-health. It is understandable to need to reach out especially when you are so far from home. Do not be afraid to ask for help. There is always – ALWAYS – someone to listen. As Alexis so bravely discusses in her own blog – your mental health is important. Give it the attention and love that it needs, do not ignore it.