Hello everyone! So nice to finally meet y’all. I’ve officially been in Singapore for about 7 weeks now, and wow has it been a whirlwind. I was planning on giving a comprehensive list of all the awe-inspiring things that I’ve seen and done to wow and impress you, but I can’t even remember what I did last week, so don’t worry, I won’t be putting you through that.
Oh, and I’m Kelsey, sorry I didn’t say earlier! I’m a Genetics and Genomics major in the class of 2020 at UT Austin, and I’m studying at the National University of Singapore on exchange for the next academic year – I’m also doing research in a faculty lab (working on a project that I’m super excited about and hope to get into more in another post) while I’m here! I’d better buckle on up.
I’ll be honest, the first couple of weeks were jam-packed full of raw excitement. I was in China learning Mandarin before coming here, so I had already been out of the USA for a while before arriving. I’ll let that also be my excuse for moving across the world for an entire academic year with only two carry-ons: my 40L backpack and my guitar. Oh, and a suitcase full of food that I later acquired shortly before arriving. I was excited to thrust myself into a new world of people and experiences. Beyond that, I wanted to get used to Singapore and to turn my empty room and this foreign island into my new home.
While I know that I will constantly be surprised and will never quite feel like I fully belong, as I’ve had (and still have, technically) two different Singaporean SIM cards, tried over 30 different working/hardly working locations, and now only crave vegetables with rice in the mornings, I feel like I can say that I’ve done a pretty decent job of figuring out the whole settling in thing. I’ll tell you now, it wasn’t easy.
With all the excitement of new people and new places, I was having a difficult time trying to transfer my positive routines from college life in Texas to college life in Singapore. It really doesn’t help that the whole island stays up until dawn every Wednesday night for ladies’ nights. They must all have a death wish and Thursdays off – or incredible metabolisms. Anyhow, I was always down to go to new places and to try new things, which was amazing, but also incredibly exhausting. Back in Texas, if you know me, you know I go to bed at 9:30 on weeknights and stop being productive by about 7. That, for example, simply wasn’t happening here.
And, with that, I have come to really appreciate and understand the importance of having a routine, of creating a new normal, even (or maybe especially) in a foreign country. It helps exponentially with mental stability and productivity. I am so happy to say that I love my new routine here! And that’s why I wanted to make this post about the tips I have for creating your new normal during your time living abroad. Let’s get started!
1) Let Yourself Feel and Breathe the Excitement
You’re in a brand-new place! There are many people to meet and many places to see. Let yourself experience it, and let the new jitters energize you. I would recommend getting started on this early too, because school can hit you hard deeper into the semester if you’re not careful. The most time you’ll have to try and scratch some things off your bucket-list is at the beginning of the semester and before classes start – now whether those items on your list are traveling, trying every coffee shop in the city, or making other practical business/school choices, that’s all up to you.
2) Once Classes Start to Hit, Make a Sleep Routine
This might just be my most important tip. For me, I know that I wake up early and am most productive in the mornings (or right before a deadline). So, to get my full night’s sleep while still waking up at the time my body wants, I need to make sure that I go to bed early enough to fit that schedule. This will look different for everyone. Adjust to your personal needs, but this single element is not only incredibly simple, but in my opinion, also the most effective part of beginning to settle into your new life.
Bonus question: is my stuffed animal a chicken or a duck?
3) Begin Getting your Newfound Hobbies in Order
Study abroad is a great time to try something new! Here, a lot of people choose to join cultural activity clubs like Lion Dance, Indian Dance, or Dragon Boat, to name a few. Many also take up the title of amateur foodie. Me? In addition to reading, sketching, wandering, and what I’ve otherwise mentioned, I’ve been using various exercise classes as my excuse to get out, see the city, and make friends with locals.
Now, don’t just choose activities. Try to think about how you will divide up your time to the different priorities you have. It may help to imagine what days you will devote to what activities. With scheduled clubs, they make this really easy. Lion Dance meets every Tuesday? Cool, that’s when you’re doing that hobby. Simple as that.
I mention this one not just because it’s fun to get out there and try new things, but because I believe that keeping up with hobbies is a great way to help maintain your mental health as you transition into this new change in your life. Don’t forget to devote time to the things you already know you love or know you want to try.
4) Remember How You were Productive at Your Home University, and Apply It Here
The most exciting thing about living in a new country is realizing that you can do it – that you can live a normal, fully sufficient life in a completely different corner of the world. That you can find a dance studio you like just as much as the one back home; that you can memorize the subway map; that you can organize time to travel when you have time off. The simple act of existing effectively in a foreign country is unbelievably gratifying in and of itself.
The first step is to brainstorm what it was that helped you be productive at your home university. Back in Texas, I was most productive when I worked in my lab, outdoors, or at an artsy café. Having set “extras” to do at night helped me to refresh for the next day. At home, these “extras” were mostly club related involvements and responsibilities; here, my “extras” are the hobbies I make time for at night.
Once you’ve identified what it was in your routine at your home university that helped you be productive, try and find replacements for these abroad. My advice is to find things the way the locals would find things – the internet! And a little bit of chance. My new favorite study spot was found when I needed a new set of guitar strings and searched for shops online. Likewise, a simple online search told me where and when free weekly exercise classes are – and I learned about even more through word of mouth. The internet is a terrific starting point for finding things you want to do or that you used to do back home.
5) Stick to It!! But Cut Yourself Some Slack
While it is important to maintain a certain level of consistency with your routine, make sure you’re not too hard on yourself. Be your friend, not your enemy. If you’re having an off day, don’t sweat it. Give yourself the same understanding you’d give your best friend, and set yourself up for a better next day.
It can be easy to get overwhelmed in a new country. There’s so much to do and to see and so little time; it can be easy to overextend yourself and to do too much too fast. There can be little to no sense of familiarity, and maybe you haven’t had to make new friends since back in grade school. Even something so familiar as ordering and eating food can become an added stress.
It can be chaotic. But a terrific way to combat this sense of chaos is to create a sense of order within yourself – and a routine is a terrific way to do just that.
Whether you are studying abroad or living abroad now or in the future, I just want to let you know that it is completely normal to feel a lack of stability, and that whatever reaction you have to this change is completely valid. But I want to reassure you that you are fully capable of thriving in this once in a lifetime journey. You’ve got this. 加油。
(I’m super honored to be one of the new Global Ambassadors! I will be writing at least four more upcoming posts about my experience studying abroad, so stay tuned for those 😊)
This post was contributed by Kelsey Moreland, a 2018 Global Ambassador.
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