Dealing with Depression Abroad

It isn’t just “the best time of your life”.

All I could remember people saying when I told them I was going abroad was how amazing it would be- the great food I’ll have, the wonderful adventures, and the culture I will absorb. It was hard to expect anything else.

Not to say that my experience hasn’t included all of those things- I eat wonderful home cooked pasta daily, I’ve learned a new language, I’ve met great people, and I’ve seen beautiful sights. And yet, my depression still kicks in.

I have heard that this isn’t uncommon. Plenty of people who may have not experienced depression are said to experience it when they go abroad. It is quite a change to daily life and can be jarring emotionally. Luckily, as one may say I suppose, I have experience with depression and have been able to adjust my routines accordingly.

It is strange how it is affecting my life- where I know myself as a well-adjusted social person, I am seeing my quieter, more insecure, younger self emerge just a bit. I’ve felt the need to spend more time alone, which only causes more anxiety from me worrying why. As someone who came to the program knowing no one, it has been hard for me that everyone else seems to have a set group. All of the Greek students connect through their culture, and the other Americans came with other people from their schools.

While at first I was thrown off, I have taken time to myself to discover how I need to react to this to take care of myself.

I go on walks by myself to think, take photos, explore, and get exercise.

I keep a journal and draw.

I call home to friends and family (the best place to rant if something abroad is pissing you off)

I plan things for myself- regardless if someone is willing to join me or not.

I schedule enough time to get my work done and be on my own.

I invest time with people who care about me.

I keep to a schedule/ plan my days.

Now these things are in no way a fix all. Some days are harder than others and I find myself spiraling. Those are days when I call it an early night, put my thoughts on hold, and try to get some sleep. I often feel better in the morning. These things also don’t work for everyone. It takes time and practice to figure out what works. Often times exercise and doing enjoyable things are good places to start.

Dealing with this while abroad is hard. No one talks about their depression while abroad- they only share the good memories. It makes you feel like the only one having a ‘bad’ time during the ‘best time of your life’. It gets in the way  of truly enjoying your experience. You are with a whole new group of people in a whole new culture. Your loved ones are far away, and its easy to feel as if you are dealing with it on your own. Its good to remember that plenty of people go through this, loved ones are easier to reach than you think (and they want to listen, even when its hard for them to understand), and that even when you are feeling this way, you are still experiencing something amazing and taking a brave step in life.

Please note if your depression has gone on for a long period of time or at any time feels unbearable, it is best to seek professional help.

 

 

 

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Weekend Trip Through Tuscany

Coming to you a bit late.

The weekend started in Montalcino and Pienza. We stopped to see the panoramas of the Tuscan earth around us, and the old crumbling churches in each small town. Each city has its own charm, and it became hilariously repetitive to say that each town is known for its wine.

Eventually we made our way to Bolsena. A large lake with a mountainous view behind it laid before us. The sun shone brightly and welcomed our feet into the water. While it was too cold to swim, it was perfect for lounging, taking photos, and playing frisbee. The sun began to set and the chill started to come through. We watched the stunning sun set and made our way to explore the dusk of Bolsena. We found a small outdoor bar overlooking the lake- the perfect spot for an aperitif.

Starving, we returned to the hotel for a three course meal. Our table was strangely American- with a bottle of coke and plates of fries. It was funny to look around at the other tables were these items were absent.

We wandered to the top of the city to overlook the evening setting. On our way back, we stopped for a drink at a local bar. As one could easily guess, the night life was not exactly the main draw of this town. The town was quiet and calm as we made our way back to turn in for the night.

The next day we said our goodbyes to the lake and drove to a few small towns to see more grand views and stunning churches. We ate lunch at the sea and basked in the sun.

The best sight of the day had to be giordino dei tarocchi, however. This sculptural garden was modeled after the 21 tarot cards. A towering statue of a woman was the location where the artist had lived during construction of the project. Mirrored sculptures shined down on us. The place was perfect for pictures and exploring.

20171001_151624.jpgWhile it will be a while before we go on another organized trip, I have been trying to plan more for my weekends ahead. We have ten, and they already seem to be flying by. It seems impossible to fit everything in!

Day Trip to Montepulciano and Lake Trasimeno

Our day started with a drive through the hilly, winding roads of Tuscany. It left us finally in Montepulciano in front of an old chapel and a grand view of the mountains rolling across the country. As we passed the door of the chapel to view the interior, we saw a young couple saying their “I do’s”. Turning around, we found the path before us was a hill leading us to the center of the small town. Quite the hike for the first thing in the morning. We visited the old, unfinished church in the center and appreciated the view from the very top of the city. Montepulciano is most known for its wine, and well we didn’t have the chance to try any, we visited a well preserved historical wine cellar. The interior smelled of old grapes, wood, and dirt. The tunnels were ruggedly carved out, and lead us eventually to a former Etruscan tomb in the depths of the tunnels.

We finished our visit to the small town by picnicking next to the chapel, and playing frisbee next to its history.

Finally we visited the town where Lake Trasimeno is. A castle once in the middle of the lake many years ago greeted us as we drove in.  We were reminded of the history of the town with tales of a swamp consuming the area many many years ago.

We took a trip into Castiglione del Lago’s exhibition of Pablo Picasso’s ceramics. Not only were there the ceramics, but beautifully painted ceilings from the buildings former use. The museum lead us through a long tunnel to the castle. We passed over the former prison, were prisoners were lowered into the ground and left with no escape. Climbing the jagged, rocky steps to the top of the wall, we overlooked the lake and took in its magnificence. Sail boats passed over the calm water. We moved along the wall and climbed again into the towers to get a better view. We ended our time in the city by visiting a small beach on the coast of the lake. Peaceful and stunning, it ended our day out wonderfully.

Beginning My Life in Siena

I have been in Siena for almost three weeks now. So far I have been meeting a group of all new people, settling in with a host family, and immersing myself in Italian.

Meeting my host mom was a little scary. I remember the only thing I was able to mention to her was “Ciao” and that I recognized that porcupine key chain she had was her contradas ‘mascot’. Dinners have been a mix of confusingly trying to explain something, using google translate, and long silences. Slowly, we have begun to communicate more efficiently. While I understand a lot of what she says now, I hesitate to speak. Its so encouraging, however, when I do speak, because it is welcomed with a wave of encouragement from my host mom.

As I’ve been learning Italian, I’ve also been exploring the medieval city of Siena. Its strange walking on the modern streets and passing something so ancient. You can feel the time that has passed in a way you rarely get to experience growing up in the US. The streets are gorgeous, and I am constantly casually passing something incredibly beautiful and barely being able to give it a second thought. Its interesting how the recognition of where I am comes and goes. It just hits me every so often how incredibly lucky I am to be here, how much I’ve waited to be here.

Meeting people has been fun and hard. So many people came already knowing others and I keep feeling like I am starting from scratch. It feels like I have reverted back to the first few weeks of freshman year sometimes, except that the group is a hundred times smaller than my class back home. It is like a roller coaster of missing home and loving here. Of feeling included and feelings of isolation. It gets better everyday, but I really notice just how interesting and unique it is to be placed in a small group in a foreign country like this. Terrifying, thrilling, intriguing, and beautiful.

I am excited to see what the semester has in store. Growing as a non-art-major artist. Exploring my creative side. Sharing my work with others and getting over that fear. Truly seeing the world like I have always dreamed.

And now for my Italian exam.. wish me luck.

 

One Day In Florence

Travelling here was a little nerve wracking as I left my friends behind for my first experience travelling alone. I stayed a short walk away from where my airport shuttle dropped me off- at a nice, small hostel called Ostello Archi Rossi. There were sizeable lockers to lock all of my belongings, a bathroom en suite, and a cute garden. I spent my first afternoon going through the San Lorenzo mercato, unfortunately finding it quite overwhelming and aggressive. The city is gorgeous, though very touristy, and you had to be careful where you chose to shop so as not to be charged a tourist price.

Top 3 Sights:

  • Cattedrale di Santa Maria del Fiore Duomo: The most stunning sight- not only for the details of the exterior, but the sheer size of its magnificence. Luckily, this is hard to miss whatever you choose to visit.
  • Ponte Vecchio: Actually going on the bridge is not too exciting, but its stunning to see from further down the river.
  • Piazzale Michelangelo: Climbing up here was a task, but you receive the best view overlooking the entire city.

For Next Time: 

  • Accademia Galleria 
  • Uffizi Galleria 
  • Boboli Gardens 

The city holds so much art, history, and architecture. Everywhere you walk you find something stunning. Being so walk able, it isn’t hard to see everything in a shortened amount of time. Great views, great food, great wine!

Exploring Madrid

I had the opportunity to stay with a friend here in Madrid. Not only did I have a place to stay, but I had an automatic tour guide for the city. I got to see all of the ‘unknowns’ and had the chance to eat with his family- lots of homemade food including paella. Visiting here gave me a much more intimate look into the culture, and really excited me for my upcoming adventure in Siena with a host family.

Top 3 Sights: 

  • Buen Retiro Park: Boating on the small lake was incredibly beautiful. A great place for a relaxing walk or picnic, with a lot of opportunity to people watch!
  • Museo Thyssen-Bornemisza:  A great place to see a wide variety of art. The museum is organized so that its not too overwhelming to take it all in.
  • Temple of Debod: Such a strange place to see something like this, but beautiful nonetheless. Not only is the temple beautiful, but the views of the city behind it are stunning. This was a great place to catch part of the sunset!

For Next Time

  • Museo Nacional Centro de Arte Reina Sofia
  • Toledo
  • Barcelona 
  • Teleferico de Madrid 

Not only did I have the chance to walk around and appreciate the architecture, but there are hidden gems all throughout the city. Step in to almost any church and you may find beautiful paintings all along the walls. My absolute favorite was San Francisco el Grande. If you happen to be there on a Sunday, the market is a great place to find some discounted items.

Exploring London

London was a hectic city to enter- busy and much more confusing to navigate. It felt very familiar to Americans such as ourselves. After getting off of our flight, we found our way by train to our hostel.

This time we stayed in a slightly more obscure area, though still close enough to main attractions. Our hostel was called Baggies Backpackers Angel. It was a comfortable and homey atmosphere- with a kitchen, herb garden, and movie room. There were lockers to lock valuables and our roommates were few and friendly.

We found the best way to get around was using the tube. After getting oyster cards, we were able to navigate the city with ease.

Top 3 Sights:

  • Afternoon Tea: We had afternoon tea at a place called Candellas Tea Room. It was not too expensive to have an afternoon tea with a pot of tea, sandwiches, and a small selection of pastries for two. It was a wonderful way to treat ourselves after a long and exhausting day of walking in the heat. We felt so fancy, and got a delicious snack!
  • Sherlock Museum: The line here takes a bit of time, but it was cool to see everything set up as in the legendary tales.
  • Rose Garden: We saw the gardens at sunset. There were so many beautiful flowers and fountains. It was a wonderful place to take photos and simply wander for a bit.

For Next Time: 

  • St Pauls Cathedral 
  • Tate Modern Art Gallery 
  • Wales 
  • Stonehenge 

There was so much to see here- Big Ben, the London Eye, Buckingham Palace, and much more. Luckily, you could do more than you think in one day.

 

 

Exploring Dublin

Dublin welcomed us with open arms. We took Ryanair from our stay in Amsterdam, a relatively easy and inexpensive flight. Transportation from the airport was simple to navigate, and we found our hostel without problem.

We stayed at Abbey Court Hostel in a female-only dorm room. Being our first experience in a hostel, we weren’t quite sure what to expect. The place was cleaner and nicer than expected. The only complaints were the noise of people coming in late at night. For the price, this was to be expected. The hostel had a hammock room, clean private bathrooms on all floors, and a kitchen/free breakfast. Staff were friendly and very helpful. There seemed to be a lot of decent hostels around Dublin. We were even in walking distance of main attractions.

Top 3 Sights:

  • Cliffs of Moher: While this is slightly cheating since it isn’t in Dublin, hostels in the area offer lots of day trips and this one was simply phenomenal. The cliffs let you explore nature at its rawest, without much holding you back from the very edge.
  • Live Music at the local Pubs: Our favorite pub was The Old Storehouse. We found it by chance our first night and went back every day we were there. A small and chill atmosphere, there was always good music playing. While it may be more for the tourist crowd, it was definitely a good time.
  • St Stephens Green: This was a great place to take a calming walk or have a picnic lunch. Its a great place to people watch and just soak up the experience.

Other things to check out include the Guinness Storehouse- you get a free beer at the very top of the building, overlooking everything. We even took a carriage ride from the storehouse to lunch. Slightly a splurge, but a funny way to get through the city. The hostels in the area organize a pub crawl, which shows you around the pubs in the area. While its an awkward group of people thrown together and ends up going pretty late, it was cool to try different things and a fun night out.

For Next Time: 

  • Giants Causeway 
  • Cork
  • Aran Islands

Ireland was a wonderful place to visit with something for everyone- shopping, nature, music, drinks, and more. I can’t wait to come back.

 

Three days in the Netherlands

Travelling here, we took a bus through Belgium. With horrible traffic resulting in an awkward amount of time spent at a rest stop for a break, we found ourselves wishing we took a train instead. The whole trip was strangely unorganized, and we were unaware of where and when the bus stopped. We got in four hours late, and pulled through our exhaustion to get to our final destination.

Staying with family, we found ourselves 45 minutes out of the city. The trains and metro here was incredibly easy to navigate, though beware of the nearly unmarked tracks in Amsterdam so as not to be run into (yes, this almost happened to me).

Top 3 Sights:

  • Van Gogh Museum: For any art lovers and anyone in general, I highly recommend going here. It was surreal to see this art and also learn so much about his life.
  • Canal Cruise: Relatively inexpensive and a great way to get a feel for the city of Amsterdam. The tour helped us learn a lot about the structure of the city as well.
  • Biking: While not technically a destination, I loved biking along the paths. The amount of biking here is insane, and it is truly an experience to ‘drive’ along these roads and get a feel for the life here. I do recommend, however, finding a smaller city to bike through. I really liked biking in Leiden, much calmer than biking in Amsterdam, but still wonderful. We took a long trip to bike to the shore for the day.

To see next time:

  • Giethoorn
  • Rijksmuseum
  • Anne Frank House

Amsterdam was very walk able and relatively easy to get around in. I highly recommend getting tickets in advance for any museums you wish to visit. The culture here is so comfortable. Some hidden gems included eating on the top floor of the library to overlook Amsterdam and finding a deer park in The Hague. There are so many small, incredible cities to explore here, and I definitely will need to come back.

Two Days in Paris

My trip abroad started in the beautiful city of Paris. Getting in in the afternoon, I found jetlag was easiest to beat off by napping on the overnight flight and drinking coffee in the “morning” (despite it feeling like midnight).

Top 3 Sights:

-Dinner cruise on the Seine river: free champagne and views of the Eiffel tower made for a wonderful way to spend an evening

-Versailles: Despite the long line, the garden was breathtaking from every spot.

-Saint Chapelle: Everything here was absolutely stunning, and the line never got too long throughout the day. A relatively quick place to see, and far from disappointing.

Whats on my List for Next time:

  • Monet gardens
  • The Louvre
  • Musee D’Orsay