How Study Abroad Helped my Mental Health and Emotions
Mental Health Back Home
My emotions are something I’ve struggled with a lot in the past. In particular, I feel this at my home university because at Colby I feel stressed and sometimes lonely. Being so far away from home at Colby is hard. I always miss my family and the comfort of Chicago: of home. I’ve often felt down and low-spirited at Colby; and it’s been hard trying to manage those emotions while having a normal college routine. I knew studying abroad in Mérida, México would be exciting, yet difficult; as I didn’t know how I’d feel and how I’d be able to manage my emotions in a healthy manner.
I had spent a summer doing an internship in Argentina before. While I learned a lot and had fun exploring Buenos Aires, there were times when I felt extremely lonely and sad. In general, I don’t think I’ve handled those emotions of sadness and loneliness well in the past. I tend to shut myself down and isolate myself from others. That coping mechanism has honestly never helped me feel better.
Positivity in Mérida
However, in Mérida, I feel that I’ve been able to better manage these melancholic emotions. Although, in general, I genuinely feel very happy here. There are so many things I love about being in Mérida that I haven’t felt a wave of sadness come over me. I think that being in Mérida has been great for my mental health. I feel so relaxed and carefree, and everyday is just so beautiful here.
The sun is something that has truly helped me. Back at Colby, which is in Maine, it’s always gloomy and the weather does have some effect on my mental well-being. Every morning here in México, I wake up, and the sun is shining, welcoming a new day. I just feel good. The sun illuminates my heart like it illuminates the day. I feel less stressed in general. I’m learning a lot in my classes, even though it was challenging to adjust to the new environment. But now that I have adjusted, I feel comfortable, especially since the local students have been very helpful and welcoming. The course load also isn’t as heavy as it is back at Colby, which gives me more time to relax.
Something very important that has helped me is the cultural environment. One of the reasons I chose to study abroad in México was because I wanted to explore my Mexican identity. Being in México, and being surrounded by people that are like me has made me feel very comfortable. Back at my home university I do not fit in. I am Latinx, low-income, and a first generation student. Most of my peers are white and middle/upper class, and have had parents and grandparents that attended college. I felt like I didn’t belong and sometimes I still do.
The lack of cultural diversity is something that I struggle with because it makes me feel left out. I am the minority and it has made me feel like I have to prove myself, which is emotionally exhausting. However, in Mérida at the Universidad Autonoma de Yucatan, I’m not the minority anymore. Now, I’m part of the majority. Of course, I’m still different because I’m not from here. But, I can relate to them more than I ever could have with most of the students back home. The culture here is something I can relate to: the food, the music, and the language all remind me of my home. I like feeling like I belong here, it’s a different kind of feeling that I never have felt back at Colby.
Also, the support I have received from my host family, friends, and IFSA staff has helped me. The friends I have made, both from the IFSA program and from UADY, have made me feel cared for. My friends back home have also been helpful and are there for me when I need to talk, but I’m glad I’ve been able to find people I can bond with and build friendships with because friends are definitely important for one’s mental health. Sometimes I just need a hug and someone to talk to in person and my friends here have been able to give me that kind of support and I have been able to do the same for them.
I have had a few moments while abroad in which I’ve missed my family and felt alone. But my friends make me feel less lonely and they have been able to make me feel like I can reach out to them. IFSA staff has also made me feel like I can talk to them as well and they constantly check up on us to ensure that we are feeling well. My host family has been so welcoming and have made such a huge effort in making me feel at home and as if I’m part of their family. We go out together sometimes and just enjoy each other’s company and talk. I feel very comfortable with my host family and I feel comfortable sharing anything with them about how I’m doing emotionally. This is something that has helped me, feeling like I can reach out to people, and I have definitely done so.
Dealing with Negative Emotions
Whenever I begin to feel a bit sad, I’ll let myself explore those negative emotions through writing and music. Back home, it was hard to let go of those feelings. However, in Mérida, I have been able to just let myself feel those melancholic emotions, but then I’m able to release them and feel happy. In Mérida I can more clearly focus on the positive aspects of my life. I think about how grateful I am for having been given this opportunity to study abroad and travel. I think about how grateful I am for my family and the friends I have. México has given me a different, more positive perspective, which has made it easier for me to let go of negative emotions and embrace the positivity of life.
I’m nervous about returning home and going back to Colby. I fear that I may fall into my old habits and won’t be able to deal with my negative emotions. The transition back to Colby will be difficult, but I’m confident that I’ve learned enough about myself to be able deal with my emotions in a way that will help me feel better rather than worse. I just need to focus on the positives in my life. I need to think about my family and friends back home and how much they’ve given to me and how much we love each other. At Colby, I need to think about the opportunity I’ve been given to study at a prestigious university and basically for free, thanks to my QuestBridge scholarship. I’ve found a new outlook on life and I think it will help me in the future.
Carolina Rojas-Becerra is a Latin American Studies student at Colby College and studied abroad with IFSA on the Mérida Universities Program in Mérida, México in spring 2019. She is a First Generation Scholar for IFSA’s First Generation College Scholarship program.