Getting Over that Semester Abroad Slump

Written by Stephanie Jamilla (George Washington University) Student Correspondent CET Vietnam, Fall 2017

Lincoln Memorial steps

Deep talks on the steps of the Lincoln Memorial

Around this time every year I slip into what I call a “Fall Semester Slump.” Maybe other students can relate. It’s this strange intermediary period in which I no longer feel the exhilaration and intense motivation of starting a new school year but am also not working in overdrive since finals season is yet to come. I grow weary of the semester’s assignments and find myself trudging through each day just waiting for the promise of Thanksgiving break. My semester abroad in Vietnam is no exception. More so, I feel that the slump is heightened by me being overseas (and, well, not being able to go home for the holiday and pumpkin pie). Because not only do I experience the symptoms that I would back stateside at the George Washington University–tiredness from schoolwork, consequent procrastination, a need for rest–but there’s this added layer on top of it. After spending 2.5 months learning about an unfamiliar society, language, and culture while simultaneously being thrust right in the middle of it all really knocks something out of you. And I’ve reacted by craving familiarity. I crave the 45 minute train ride from my small hometown suburb to Chicago’s Union Station. I crave late night crepe runs and midnight monument talks I have with my closest friends at school. Heck, I crave being able to read a sign on the street and fully comprehend it. I find myself so incredibly desiring the mundane, quotidian routine that I actively abandoned when I boarded the 1 am flight to Vietnam back in August.

I think my two brushes with the familiar this past week brought on this slump. For one, I spent my semester Fall Break with extended family in the Philippines. The night I arrived, my grandmother made arroz caldo. It’s a Filipino rice porridge that I grew up with, that I’m all too acquainted with, and I couldn’t help but feel a little emotional when I slurped down the first spoonful. For five whole, delightful days I interacted with people and moved around in spaces I knew well and who knew me well. When my cousin and aunt greeted me with “Welcome home!” I truly felt it. I was home.

As for the second, I got to see my parents in person for two weekends. My trip to the Philippines was book-ended by their visits to Saigon. (Disclaimer: They solidified their travels before the dates for Fall Break came out, so as I was in Manila they exploring Hanoi and Angkor Wat. It wasn’t as if I was trying to escape them as soon as they arrived.) It was wonderful getting to interact with them in person rather than over video or text. Having two of the closest people to me tangibly here felt like a luxury. They embody home, and how homesick I was. These two instances were reminders of what I could have if I were in a place I considered familiar and left me wanting more. It was like they were two slices of home, but no, I wanted the whole darn cake.

matcha latte

My parents treated me to a matcha latte at a coffee shop I frequent in Saigon

Please don’t get me wrong, I am both happy and appreciative to be in Vietnam. It’s just that, to quote the message I sent my boyfriend, “it’s a strange dynamic how as I’m more easily inserting myself into the fabric of life in Vietnam the more I crave the places in the US (or even in the Philippines) where I already have established a grounding.” I’m still struggling a bit to navigate this dynamic. However, after a couple days of wallowing, I’ve resolved to make the most of the time I have left here. I certainly won’t let this slump characterize the last month (too soon!) that I have in this wonderfully unique country. Maybe I miss that Chicago train commute, but I also love riding around Saigon on the back of motorbikes. Maybe I’m anxious to eat at Crepeaway with my GW friends, but I treasure grabbing dinner every night with my roommate. Maybe I want to be surrounded by English again, but I get super excited whenever I read something in Vietnamese and realize I understand what it says. It’s these little reminders that have allowed me to recalibrate my mentality towards study abroad. My time here is all too limited, so I want to focus on what I can learn and experience in these last days. I’m sure that Saigon has much more for me to discover.

If you’re facing a slump, whether it’s a Fall Semester Slump, a Study Abroad Slump, or otherwise, keep your chin up! There’s only a few weeks left this term, and you can get through it. Make sure to take a couple breathers and create time for yourself each day. It’s important to recharge in order to be most productive and to take care of your mental and physical well-being. Just remember, whatever is getting you down will have an end, and there’s always a tomorrow if you’re feeling crummy today. Bạn có thể làm được! Cố lên!