Monday 25 March 2019

How to tackle perfectionism when you’re studying abroad

Charlotte shares experience and three tips for managing perfectionism whilst studying abroad. 
- Charlotte

For anyone prone to suffering from perfectionism, life at university can be a little overwhelming sometimes. Universities can provide the optimal conditions for perfectionism to thrive; whether in formal exams, essays or sports fixtures, we are constantly measured, evaluated and compared against one another. Of course, striving to do well and desiring self-improvement can be great attributes to have, yet it is important to manage these thoughts for the sake of your mental-wellbeing.

As a Modern Languages student, I found that the negative effects of a perfectionist mindset were compounded when studying overseas for my Year Abroad. This was fuelled primarily by my own expectation that my time abroad would be crucial in the journey to becoming proficient in two foreign languages. Indeed, social media also plays a role in fuelling perfectionism. Scrolling through images of other students studying abroad and perceiving that they are travelling around their country more than you, or befriending more native students than you, can induce the feeling that you are somehow underachieving. 

Am I speaking enough French every day? Have I made enough Italian friends? Am I actually making the most of living abroad? Will everyone else return from their Year Abroad more fluent than me? These were all questions I would constantly ask myself. When you are prone to setting yourself to high standards, you can begin to believe that good enough is not enough; regardless of how much French or Italian I spoke, read or listened to in a particular day, I was aware that I could be speaking, reading or listening to even more. This is a dangerous mindset; it leads to an endless cycle of over-striving and self-disappointment, where you constantly feel as though you are failing to meet your own expectations.

However, there is hope! It is possible to tackle this troublesome perfectionist outlook – this is something I know from personal experience. By implementing these three small changes to my daily routine and attitude, I now manage my perfectionist tendencies much better and, perhaps ironically, I do now feel as though I am making the most out of my time abroad.

1. Focus on each day as it comes and less so on the long term
Try to focus on your plans for each particular day, rather than letting the long-term goals consume your thoughts. Setting one or two specific goals for each day will not only allow you to feel a sense of accomplishment, but also you will feel less disheartened about where you stand in achieving your long-term aims. 

2. Plan one trip away each month
Of course, you want to make the most of your time studying abroad, so try to book a trip away every month or so to somewhere new – even if it is just a day trip to a nearby city. This will give you something to look forward to on those days when perhaps you’re not feeling so great and will also remind you that you are making time to explore wherever you’re living. A change of scenery is very often a good shout for when you’re feeling a little overwhelmed with your university workload; keeping an eye on the latest travel advice will also keep your mind at ease.

3. Stay in regular contact with friends and family
Loneliness intensifies stress levels, so keeping in regular contact with your friends and family at home should not be underestimated. A FaceTime with your best friend, or quick call with your parents will remind you how great you already are.  It’s very likely that they think that the very essence of what you’re doing is really impressive; you should already be proud of yourself for the very fact that you’re living abroad, in a different culture, and speaking a foreign language. 

To quote an Italian proverb, ‘Le meglio è l'inimico del bene’ - ‘Perfection is the enemy of good’. Making the leap and heading off to study abroad is truly an amazing accomplishment in itself. If you can take a step back and recognise that what you’re doing right now is good enough, you will enjoy your time abroad so much more. With my advice and the vast array of information available from the Foreign and Commonwealth Office’s Travel Aware website, your Year Abroad will be as stress-free as possible.

For further information, advice and resources on looking after your wellbeing during a year abroad, click here

Hey, I'm Charlotte and I'm a third-year student at University College London. I'm writing for Student Minds to open up the conversation and raise awareness about mental health. 

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