I didn’t really want to write this post. I didn’t want to write it for a number of a reasons and here’s some of them:
- No one likes hearing Not Fun things of a mundane nature. This post will be read by less people than my others because it’s not cheery, not informative, not dramatic – it’s just a bit glum.
- Writing it down makes it real. This has its pros in that it sorts everything out in my head and allows me to think things through, but it also makes my feelings Official. Which I have been in slight denial of and quite tempted to keep up the ‘everything’s great!’ theme I’ve got going so far.
- It might be seen as ‘attention-seeking’. This is always my ultimate fear with talking about this kind of stuff; I don’t want to ever be seen as expecting pity or sympathy (hence why this post won’t be shared to Facebook.) I know a lot about my situation is about as privileged as they come and I’m incredibly grateful for that.
But I did eventually decide to write it anyway. Why? Because:
- It’s the truth. I am very aware of the FOMO, comparison and superficial nature of social media etc etc, except it’s all never been more apparent than now, as I’m abroad. I’m getting a lot of ‘oh it looks like you’re having an incredible time!!’ and ‘I’m so jealous!’ which, admittedly, does make me feel kinda good – I worked hard for this and I’m really glad I’m doing it – but is also certainly not the situation 100% of the time.
- This is my blog, and though this tiny little corner of the internet is still as publically accessible as the rest of it, I want to be able to look back and remember everything about my year abroad – the highs and the lows. To just focus on the cool times would be dishonest to myself.
- I’d basically mentally written it already, so it seemed a shame to waste all that thinking time.
Way, way back before the summer, we had a pre-departure talk at Exeter. Sitting in Alumni feeling slightly overwhelmed by all the new information we were being bombarded with, a very enthusiastic lady from admin got up to talk to us about culture shock. Even if we weren’t going to a dramatically different culture, she said, we should still be aware it could easily happen to us. After about 3-5 weeks, when the shine and excitement of moving in had worn off, was a particularly common time for feeling down we were told.
And folks, I feel like I am currently presenting a textbook example of that theory.
For all the cool things that have happened and keep happening, for all the traveling and instagrams and exploring new places, in the week passing my month anniversary of being in Canada I have not been in a great mindset.
It’s hard, because on many levels I’m not homesick. I miss knowing my way around UK supermarkets and I miss having all my class readings on ELE and I could really do with a hug from my Mum most days, but honestly, I don’t want to go home. I would be happy to be in Exeter, but I know I’m going back next year, so I’m not even down about that.
I just feel kinda sad sometimes?
And very lonely too on occasion (this making friends thing really isn’t a walk in the park and I’ve gotten lazy at it). And mostly still a bit overwhelmed by all the new things that people are starting to expect you to get at this point. And I miss HUGS. Man do I miss hugs. My family and friends are just so tactile back home and it’s strange adjusting to days on end where the only physical contact I’m getting is being beaten up inside the key with my fellow post players (my arms are covered in bruises. Seriously.)
Fortunately, I know a lot of people feel similarly. Emily talks to her mum basically every day. My best friend currently abroad in France sent me a long message about worrying about ‘backsliding’ in terms of her mental health that I can 110% identify with. Even a random British girl I got chatting to in my History class was saying she feels ‘flat’, and is grateful she’s only here for the semester.
I had to leave basketball weight training early the other day and I thought I’d done so subtly. Apparently not – because a poor unsuspecting teammate followed me to the locker room to check I was alright (thank you Melina I really did appreciate it), and so I obviously did the only logical thing and promptly cried on her.
“I’m just bad at everything,” I managed between sniffles, which I know sounds ridiculously melodramatic, but that’s honestly what it feels like.
Because I am ‘bad’ at everything. I’m struggling to pick up North American-levels of intensity towards basketball (a bit too intense if you ask me, and I think actually the rest of the team might agree); I’m still completely ignorant to the random bits of Canadian history trivia that comes easily to my classmates (I’m not used to being behind!); I have to loop supermarkets multiple times or stop and ask someone when I’m trying to find eggs; I still need Google maps to make my way around Byward Market. I’m even ‘bad’ at physical exercise right now, because my ankle is still!! being!! a pain!! All this has lead to some bizarre tears at inappropriate times (walking home with four bags of shopping for example being the most tragic, also what is it about Loblaws that’s so depressing I don’t understand), and a general glumness that seeps in whenever I’m not actively doing something. A busy Tess is a happy Tess, or at least, a Tess who is too busy to spend much time thinking (read: over-thinking.)
I know a lot of this is out of my control and that things I will pick up with time. You can’t assimilate into a new country just on demand in two weeks, jeez Tess. Anyone who knows me knows I readily admit one of my worst faults is my patience (i.e. lack of) but in this case I know I’m just going to have to wait it out.
That, and maybe chat to someone on campus wellbeing. I popped in the other day to 100 Marie Curie Private, and the lady I spoke to was super duper lovely and to be honest exactly what I needed; someone sympathetic to rant to. She also happens to be a fellow Brit expat, so aside from talking about feelings she basically whipped out a map to show me all the best places to shop in town and gave me all her handiest of tips for winter clothing.
In short let me repeat a lesson that I know must people will be well aware of; yes everyone on a year abroad has an Instagram and Facebook that looks incredible, yes they’re most likely having some incredible times and meeting new people – but no, that does not mean they’re enjoying a year of blissful happiness. You do not see behind the scenes on social media. I may be in Canada, but Canada still has rainy days and deadlines and friendship issues. Life in another country has the added element of newness and excitement; but it’s just as flawed and hard at life back home sometimes is.
Honestly, I already feel better for having written this all out. And if it sounds a bit doom and gloom, fear not, because in the days I’ve been drafting this post I’ve already started to feel a bit perkier. My Dad’s friend Andrew who lives in Ottawa rang to tell me how I wasn’t to want for anything while here as he was only ever a phone call away (and also invited me to see his two labradors which I am SO DOWN FOR). I watched the Trump/Clinton first debate live which was such a novelty and then we had a great USA history class debating it. I’m heading to the Panda Game tomorrow, which is famously the longest standing Canadian college sports rivalry in history and I am super excited for it. And then just this evening Nat and I made Emily watch Forrest Gump because she hasn’t seen it before and we ate spring rolls and drank cheap LCBO wine and it was honestly great.
All in all I know it’s all going to be okay. Eventually. I’ve just got to make allowances and be aware for the days when it’s less so.
(In the meantime if anyone wants to send me feel good post, or, potential Canadian friends reading this, initiate a hug next time we meet it would be 10/10 appreciated.)