On the importance (and unimportance) of grades (for me) (in hindsight)

So, I tend to overthink things. A lot. Before coming to Canada, I was worried about how study abroad fit into my university career. Would I be behind when I got to Canada? Would I be behind when I got back? What if I dropped marks? I have the whole of the rest of my life to travel, so maybe I should wait?

Let me take a moment to walk you through a few reasons why I shouldn’t have been too caught up in how study abroad would affect my academics, and why you might not need to worry too much either:

Unsurprisingly, like a good number of other students, I have anxiety and I normally have difficulty giving myself time off. The first advantage of study abroad is that it gives me an excuse (an excuse to myself that is) to take time out to explore. Changing my environment so drastically also gave me an opportunity to change my habits; there were fewer expectations and routines attached to my new space, so I have been able to construct healthier and more productive study habits, based on what I’ve learnt about my learning style in my first two years of university.

Surprisingly, the difference in structure has also been a big help. I was worried before coming to Canada about the heavier workloads and the more frequent assessments, but far from being a problem this has actually been very beneficial; going from 100% exams in Manchester to grades split between finals, midterms, assignments and quizzes has had an amazing effect on my anxiety. I’m much happier, and my grades reflect this. Over this first semester I’ve engaged more deeply with the lectures and understood more as a consequence. I’m still a little nervous that I will struggle when I get back, but I’m hoping I’m putting down a firm foundation to work from when I return for my final year.

Another reason not to worry too much is that grades aren’t everything. In the longer term, study abroad can improve resilience, independence, and the ability to work with diverse groups of people, as well as other skills that employers look for. It also lets you explore the diversity of cultures within your field; if you want to stay in academia, you can use this experience to explore what atmosphere you want to be in. In physics for example, Guelph and Manchester are worlds apart; I’ve gone from a class of 250 to classes of 12-20. I know everyone, and everyone knows me, including the lecturers. I’m much happier asking questions, and when there are four deadlines on the same day and it’s just not going to happen, it can be resolved with a simple conversation.

So far, this experience has had an amazing effect on my anxiety, which has in turn had a positive effect on my grades. Study abroad is an enriching opportunity, and I’m happy I was able to look past my academic worries. Every story is different, but I think there is always a lot you can learn from challenging yourself, even if it’s just that being away from home for so long isn’t your thing. If you have the grades & skills to succeed, and if it feel right, just go for it!

Coping With Anxiety Abroad… And From Home

By George Davies – The University of Calgary, Canada

The topic of mental health is commonly discussed in the realm of studying overseas. So whilst I may not be contributing anything new to this topic, I wanted to share my experiences with anxiety during my year away. As well as the coping mechanisms I tried to deploy and useful links available during your time away.

Continue reading “Coping With Anxiety Abroad… And From Home”

Doing everything vs. staying sane

By Nooa Karlo, (University of Hong Kong, Hong Kong)

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Not a stereotypical exchange student.

There’s a common and stereotypical image of exchange students as these endlessly spirited and energetic creatures that will take every and any chance to find new experiences and opportunities. They’re people who are always smiling, going out, organising and participating in activities, partying, exploring and experiencing. Sometimes this also includes studying hard, sometimes not. In any case, it has been clear to me from the beginning that I did not fit well into this image. Continue reading “Doing everything vs. staying sane”

Till It Happens To You

There is an inescapable bubble that absorbs you when you study abroad. Everything is exciting, everything is new – new friends, new classes, new experiences. You quickly adapt to living at three times the speed of real time, where a week goes by in a day and a month is over before you’ve had time to process yesterday’s reading for class. But I’d implore any potential ‘go abroad’ student to just, if only briefly, think back to that very distant lecture in Manchester that was ominously titled ‘It Won’t Happen to Me’. I admit, it escaped my memory as soon as my suitcase fell off the baggage claim in RDU airport. However, it’s really important to know what your options are if you receive news from back home that temporarily bursts the study abroad bubble.

Last month, I received a text at 3am that reminded me that life at home is not left in a state of perfect paralysis as soon as you leave the country. The death of a loved one hits very hard, regardless of your geographical proximity to them. Being told that I could not statistically make the journey back for the funeral was very painful and frustrating and for the first time since arriving in the States, I felt quite deserted.

Trying to process this news whilst preparing for my first midterm exam that very same day was another challenge in itself. I chose to sit the exam, I had already prepared for it and didn’t want it looming ahead in an already hectic university schedule. But I also decided it might be worth contacting the Study Abroad Office back in Manchester. It did feel slightly awkward and somewhat useless (what could anyone do about the situation?) but it actually provided me with protection for my academic standing both at NC State and UOM. It seems an odd thing to consider during such a period of shock, however it helped to alleviate the stress of working and provided me with some mental space to grieve.

With this in mind, I cannot stress enough how crucial it is to consider your mental health, especially as a student. Thankfully my family and friends at home are all available for me to contact whenever I need to. I am also lucky to have superb friends over here in the States who I’m extremely grateful to for looking after me. Going abroad can be stressful, things can go wrong and sometimes we just can’t be where we want to be. But being out of my comfort zone has prepared me in many more ways than I imagined. Having global support has bridged the distance between here and home, and I am now aware of having a strong support network wherever I may be in the world.

This blog post is addressed to any student who ever finds themselves getting THAT phone call or text. To anyone who is caught in a national or local emergency, or who is struggling, for a short period or every single day, with mental or physical health. It is so important to have open communication between you and your academic institution. Any stress-inducing situation that hinders your academic capabilities is not just your burden to bear. There are mitigating circumstances, there is support and advice available to you, and you are absolutely not alone.