Written by Roxana Padilla (Cornell University) Student Correspondent CET Florence, Fall 2017
Almost two months into the semester, phone calls and text messages from my friends and loved ones always start out the same way: “How are you?? How’s Florence?? Are you having an amazing time??”
My standard answer? “I’m great! I love it here, it’s going by way too fast!”
On my good days, when I’m riding the high of living in this beautiful and mesmerizing city, I say every word with feeling and wholeheartedly believe them.
On my bad days, though, when I’m functioning off a night of no sleep and struggling to act normal, it takes every muscle in my body to make my mouth form the words or my fingers find the keys. On those days, I can’t wait for the conversation to end, and when it finally does I’m left feeling more tired than before.
When you’re constantly hearing from those back home how lucky you are, how exciting your life is, how jealous they feel scrolling through your social media, you feel an immense amount of pressure to uphold this facade of wanderlust, self discovery, and enlightenment set up by all other study abroad students before you. No one wants to hear about your bad days, they want to hear about the best gelato you’ve had in Florence. They want to hear about the handmade tortellini in Bologna. They want to hear about the famous canals and gondola crooners of Venice. So you rack your brain (and Google) for every possible adjective synonymous with “amazing” and hope you seem perfectly happy and normal.
But sometimes you just aren’t. Sometimes you’re not okay. You find yourself wondering whether you made the right decision going abroad. You question if you’re taking full advantage of the opportunity you’ve been given. You wonder if you’re being ungrateful when you find yourself missing your friends, family, and the convenience of home.
It’s practically impossible to not be affected the pressure and expectations set by your family, friends, and yourself during your time abroad. But it’s important to be aware of your limits and not be too hard on yourself. Just because you’re living another country doesn’t mean you have to be at one hundred percent all the time, having instagram-able moments everyday. Allow yourself those lazy days to re-energize and regroup.
Bad days are normal, but sometimes those days can turn into weeks and even months, and it’s important to acknowledge when the cause is more than just homesickness. Mental illness like depression and anxiety can sprout up at any time and place, but there are always people and resources to help you cope. The most important thing is to seek help.
Take advantage of your semester. It’s all new, exciting, and surreal. Many of us will never have another opportunity like it again, and it truly goes by in the blink of an eye. Remember to put yourself out there, but not at the expense of your mental health and well being. Listen to your body and your needs, ask for help when you need it, and know you’re not alone.