Moment 5: mental self-care
Living abroad – a new language, another culture, a different world to learn, to adapt, to blend in. You thought it would be just exciting and fun, and you have been almost always so good at things when you were home. You have confidence, you have ambition, and you have some faith in yourself to be fine with the future unknown.
But you are STILL out of your comfort zone, sometimes it still gets you emotional side because perhaps, you start doubting, not local enough, you don’t master the language well enough, or actually quite simple, the people you trust are not around you anymore. Because, when there is a problem or problems, the casual family gathering or random college friend bump-in where you earn a little bit of comfort by just mentioning your worries, are now no more.
People you used to meet are so far away. Digital was and is an illusion, you find it out sooner or later. You know it very well, although you need new inputs, you slowly accept the fact that you need your old friends, to see their faces with no mediated screen display or to hear their voices with no third-party data server which sometimes unreliable. But now they are gone digital, and your emotional needs are slowly unidentifiable because you did not experience them so keenly before. You did not have the vocabularies. Lacking the energy to work on new emotions might be the reality for any international student or expats, especially in Germany for lots of reason. You need strategies just like you need to learn German when you are in Germany.
For those who are thinking about going abroad or who are preparing already, the mental preparation might be more vital than other condition on your own side, besides the financial, academic performance requirement or other duties asked from the German side, for example. Imagine, communication in a thoroughly authentic, direct setting will become very precious and you cannot know how to maintain friendship or relationship if this is your first time abroad for a long period. You really can’t.
Having no vocabularies to name and to capture our own emotions is a common situation for people who know nothing about psychology basics, such as the emotion list of “anger, surprise, disgust, sadness, joy, and fear.” Let me show you a story and it might a similar story to yours or your friends’. If you find them somehow fits, it means you will know the starting point of a solution.
She is a female friend who works in Düsseldorf. She is aware of her better-than-average condition as an experienced professional while as a younger-than-35 foreigner, she looks fine and has an outgoing personality, speaks English and some German. But she has a very strong sense of insecurity, passing the first 6-months trial at work and getting the permanent working contract as a US passport holder did not stop her anxiety. She has no vocabularies for her own emotions, but the emotion flows come just too powerful as she did not experience those before she left her existing social circle(s) in 2017. She is making time to meet new people all the time. She avoids staying alone as long as she is in Europe. Bus she admits she feels exhausted, hopeless, sad and upset almost every day after work. She stuffs her schedule with dancing courses, language courses, sewing, cooking, meeting same-language friends, meeting English-speaking friends, traveling. Her sense of loneliness does not go away at all. She starts psychotherapy gradually which is covered by her insurance.
People have various reason(s) to go abroad, but it does not mean we should silence the emotional voices inside by ignoring them or lying to yourself that you don’t have them. Some of you might have never gone through them before being abroad, just like my friend in Düsseldorf. The challenge is to identify those feelings, use your own language to name them so to describe yourself under any circumstances, with zero judgment and complete honesty. Your every feeling is right and deserves full attention, a name, and some treatment or an action accordingly. But beware! this does not justify your every action if it costs other people’s life or interests. Actually, if you can, please consult a therapist – the good news is, if you are a registered student in Germany, some insurance package covers psychotherapy too.
I bring up this topic for a reason. After having completed my master in Heidelberg, a short-term internship in Mannheim, and a transit 600km northwards to Bremen, I have found the meaning of home is a big and a constant theme for me, as an anthropologist, a woman, a non-European, and as a Taiwanese (or the Republic of China; our President and I are firmly against the statement by China’s leader) residing in Germany. I found I had fought with unknown feelings also too often and did not have the full set to work on them properly – many decisions were ill-made because I could not be honest with my real basic emotion flows, for example, I never admitted that “I am scared,” although that was a constant feeling that I endure very often. People come to Germany with all kinds of stories and contexts and backgrounds, some are really harsh and institutional, some are more individual and personal. But as long as you feel down, please try to use vocabulary list and discuss with someone able to help you unfold your ideas of undergoing undescribed emotions. The more equipped we are in staying consistent with and aware of those emotions, the more we are empowered in fulfilling small tasks and making the right life decisions. This should help you better from the starting point of your life in Germany.