Pre-Departure Mental Rollercoasters and Coping Mechanisms

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I have one week before I leave for Malta and I am ecstatic! I’ve experienced so many different emotions (and breakdowns) while preparing for this trip—it’s pretty funny and ridiculous. Each person who travels has different emotional, physical, mental and spiritual experiences that they have to deal with, overcome and embrace, just like I have. Although each person’s experiences vary, there are some pretty definite emotions, feelings and thoughts that each person is sure to experience as they get ready to depart for their trip. I wanted to share the rollercoaster of thoughts and mentalities that I have gone through as my trip is approaching and I hope that I can give all new travelers coping mechanisms on how to deal with the emotions that come with the new adventure you will be embarking upon. Here are 5 different mentalities that I went through/am going through as I get ready to depart for my semester-long trip to Malta and how I have dealt with each:

1.) The “This will be a breeze” mentality

If you’re anything like me, you may have been planning your study abroad adventure months in advance. For me, I began planning it more than a year ahead of time. When an experience as amazing and fun as studying abroad seems so far away, you’re really not thinking about the details of the trip—you just see beauty and fun and laughter and friends. It is at this stage where you will have the “This will be a breeze” mentality—you’re just ready for time to fly by so that you can embark on the adventure; you’re not thinking about the realities, risks or sacrifices that come with the trip so you feel like it will be a breeze.

2.) The “I’m ready to conquer the world” mentality

As time goes by and your study abroad trip gets closer, your mentality will switch from slight excitement and ease to a mentality of a warrior, a conqueror, a world defender. Okay, so that may be a little extreme, but I definitely think that I went through the “I can conquer the world mentality” 4-6 months before my departure. I began to have dreams of going abroad and doing and learning incredible things. I got bold in faith and was sure that if I could travel out of the country all by myself for 5 whole months, I certainly could conquer the world, too. It was at this stage that I was the most excited, most bold, and most eager for my trip.

3.) The “I can’t do this, I’m scared, I’m not brave enough” mentality

This one is definitely going to be lengthy. Once you go through the “love affair” and “hopeless romantic” stages regarding your study abroad trip, reality will start to hit you. For me, it hit hard. I began to realize that I would be in a whole different country for almost half a year and I couldn’t just retreat back home if I didn’t like it; I realized that this trip really would require bravery and courage that, frankly, I no longer thought dwelled in me.

A lot of my fear and anxiety came from having never been out of the country and being so far away from family and familiarity. But a lot of it also came from the media and world events on the news. I was planning my study abroad trip when the tragedy in Paris struck and the young girl from California who was studying abroad in Paris got killed. Of course, this only added to the weeks of accumulated fear that I had already allowed to pile up.

At this stage, I was completely ready to give up and forfeit my semester-abroad trip despite all the hard work and support I received. I began to minimize my expectations and faith in myself and started having crazy thoughts! I was scared I would get killed or kidnapped, get lost or lose all my money, that relatives or friends would die while abroad. Let me tell you, these are all thoughts of doubt only meant to bring you down! The likelihood of any of these things happening is so, so slim and you cannot allow these negative thoughts to stop you from the adventure of a lifetime (like I almost did).

During this period, it’s important to stay away from nay-sayers and negative thinkers, stay away from watching and listening to too much international news, and talk to your study abroad advisors and family if necessary. If you push past this mentality, I promise you’ll get back to feeling like you can conquer the world again. Not only will you feel like you can, but you will if you don’t allow the doubt and fears to stop you from going.

4.) The “Let’s get this show on the road” mentality

After I finally got past the stages of fear and anxiety, I was ready to finalize all of my trip’s itinerary and get ready to go! I think this was the most realistic stage of thinking for me—I was fully aware and accepting of the potential yet scarce risks of studying abroad, but I was confident that I would be okay despite those risks. I wasn’t denying the risks or unaware of them, I just did not allow them to get to me. This is when I truly got excited for the trip. In this stage, I was excited, but because all of my travel plans were not yet finalized I still didn’t feel completely prepared. I found myself in this stage frantically scrambling to get my housing, plane tickets, and finances finalized and organized. Don’t stress– if you wait an extra day to buy your plane ticket, the prices will not shoot up like you think (or like I thought)! Just relax.

5.) The “I don’t want to keep talking about how excited I am but…” mentality

This is the best and worst mentality that you will have before you get ready for departure and it is definitely the stage that I am currently in! At this point, I have booked my plane ticket, I have completed all my paperwork, I know where I will be living, and I have my entire itinerary planned. It’s literally just a waiting game. What makes it worst is that I have been out of school since December 8th, so during this time I haven’t had much to keep my mind from exploring all of the potentially amazing things that will happen to me once I leave. I spend lots of time researching Malta (my study abroad destination), and I try my hardest not to talk people’s ears off about this trip. Every time I get ready to talk about studying abroad with someone I preface it with “I don’t want to keep talking about how excited I am about studying abroad but….” It’s the best stage because you’re so close to making a goal and dream a reality, but it’s the worst stage because you’re just ready for the day of departure to come and you’re tired of waiting but don’t want to make yourself too anxious. There’s only so much research you can do before you just long for the real thing! In this stage, the only thing I can say is be patient—that is the key.

Overall, these are just some of the mentalities and emotions that I’ve experienced while getting ready to leave for my trip and although each person’s experiences are vastly different, I hope that this can help others get a grasp of how they will feel when getting ready to leave and how to cope with what can seem like “end of the world” thoughts and leave for their trip in boldness and bravery.