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Handling Negativity Abroad

Posted by on March 18, 2016

Everyone handles stress and homesickness in different ways, and some more negatively than others. If you find yourself or the people around you complaining or sulking while abroad, it can be difficult to know what you can do to help, if anything at all. When do you distance yourself from someone who is bringing you down emotionally? What do you do if you realize that you’re the one being negative? This article is about how I have handled it during my time abroad, but finding what works for you will take time and probably some trial and error.

When Someone You Know is Being Negative:

I went on a faculty-led study abroad trip to Chile over Winter Break, and while it was my second time studying abroad, and the ten day trip seemed like nothing to me after spending two months in China a year and a half prior, it was many of the other students’ first time studying abroad. Everything was a-okay for the first week, even after a stint of food poisoning that hit most of us and sent a few students and one of the professors to the hospital, but on day seven, with only three days left of the trip, several students had hit their breaking point. We were able to spend the last leg of our trip in the beautiful coastal city of Valparaiso, but while I found ocean view preferable to the cityscape of Santiago, the change of scenery, and perhaps the slightly less modern accommodations, left several people cranky and homesick. Only a few students seemed genuinely miserable, but their negativity rubbed off on the majority of the group, who joined in the choruses of longing for the comforts of home.

While it’s easy to analyze and explain their negativity in retrospect, I found it very hard to empathize with them at the time and found myself becoming annoyed at the people I had previously enjoyed being around. And unfortunately, whenever I think back on my trip, one of the first things that come to mind is how unpleasant those last few days were because of that atmosphere of negativity. In a shumwinchileort-term faculty-led program where our days were scheduled and spent together constantly, there wasn’t much to do but point out the positive things or laugh it off whenever someone complained, looking to spend more time with like-minded people who were determined to have a good time. I don’t know what I would have done if it were a longer program, but I imagine that I might have confronted someone about their negative attitude, or if I had been in a position to, avoid those people whenever possible. The last thing you want when reminiscing with old travel companions to be reminded of every little thing that went wrong rather than all the wonderful things about your time abroad.

When You Find Yourself Being Negative:

The fist step to fixing a problem is realizing that there is a problem! So if you start to notice your own negative attitude, you’re half way to changing it. Good for you! Being abroad is stressful: from culture shock to homesickness, it is totally understandable that you are not going to be having a blast every minute you’re in a foreign country – and that’s okay. But your attitude can have a significant impact on the people around you and how they perceive you. Maybe you don’t care, but changing your attitude will ultimately help you have a better time abroad. Think of all the time/money/emotion you’ve invested into the trip already. You probably want the best return on that investment, so here are some tips on how to break the funk:

  • Laugh it Off. Laughter is truly the best medicine. Try to find something humorous about the situation. Keep it light. Instead of being upset about getting food poisoning, we all had an inside joke about the perils of bike tour picnics. If you can’t pinpoint the specific thing that is bringing you down, do something you enjoy. Watch a funny TV show, listen to an upbeat song, go for a walk. Don’t allow yourself wallow in a bad mood and get stuck in the cycle of negativity.
  • Write it Down. Venting aloud is healthy, when used sparingly. But when venting becomes constant complaining, it’s time to evaluate yourself. Instead of complaining out loud, write it down so you don’t bring down the people around you. While abroad in China, I kept a very detailed blog/journal. When I got back, I realized that a lot of it was about the little things that bothered me that I had completely forgotten about. Doing this helped me vent without complaining to the people around me.
  • Just Say No. Complaining can be addictive; if you’re able to quit cold turkey, do it. Counter a negative thought with a positive remark. Resist the urge to join in when someone else says something negative. This is a hard one since it requires you to forcibly change your line of thinking, but I’ve found it’s one of the best ways to really appreciate my surroundings.
  • Seek Help. Lastly, if something feels very wrong, seek help, especially if you have a history of mental health issues. If there is a counselor or doctor available, that’s the best option, but a professor, supervisor, program or university staff is good too. While friends can help, if the issue is serious, get professional help. Your health is the most important, both at home and abroad, so take care of yourself first!

Remember, it’s normal to go through periods of stress and homesickness, but taking action to combat it will help you get the most out of your study abroad experience!

Eileen Settlemyer in China  Eileen Settlemyer
Business and English Double Major
Asian Studies Minor
UMW in China Summer Internship

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