On International Student Group

12/02/2017: Mental health is kind-of key. Especially for an expat who takes on a pile of difficult tasks every day. That's why I was really keen to discover this group support scheme I'm going to talk about.

This post is something I suggest any introvert planning on studying abroad to read. I struggled with my mental health throughout the first year, here in Plymouth, as you may or may not know. I mean, it is hard to make friends for us and to seek a place to ventilate our thoughts. As much as we enjoy solitude, we begin to fall deep into our own minds and step by step lock ourselves in there with our problems. And this is where we need other people. Just one person who is physically with us and cares enough to listen is enough. Unfortunately it is tough to find someone who will be given a privilege of such position as we might have a bit too high standards.

For this reason, going abroad on your own while being socially inept is a bad, bad idea, unless you are self destructive or as resilient as Nokia (The company, not the legendary 3310 phone). Now, don’t get me wrong, I am not regretting my decision to go or stay here. I did have some expectations, which have proven too high, as they usually do, but I never fully regretted the choice. Even though there are aspects (or people) which I really miss here and would possibly prefer to spend time with them.

So, in short, being alone on an island full of British people will likely make you lonely and homesick as hell. And you will need to have an opportunity to seek someone who will eventually become your friend or at least someone who will give you the space to speak. Universities provide various services, which attempt to facilitate this, starting from listening posts all the way to short-time counseling. But one that I find most helpful, and I am convinced it is not just me, are International Student Support groups, which Angie Smith started to run here at Plymouth uni… this year. And I wish it was in place last year, because it would make my life so much easier.

These are weekly drop-in sessions which act as an oasis for people of all nationalities who study at the uni. And no, it is not just the majorities with established social structure who live here more like unified tribes than individuals. (By this I mean most of Polish people in the UK, Vietnamese people in Czech Republic, Algerian people in France, and so on.) One week, you meet a guy from Iraq and a friendly girl from the US, next week you get to chat to a smart Indian girl with her silent and stubborn friend, and the week after, you have a conversation with an Italian and an Indonesian at the same time.

Not only is this far better for discovering the varieties in mentality of all the countries of the world than clubbing but also, it gives you one of the best opportunities to stop judging people based on their nationality. Because that is one of the nasty things the X-genners taught us to do and that has lately started to make things crumble. But finally, such group gives you the space to vent things you need to vent in front of people who are definitely closer to your situation than the weird English housemate who studies computer science and is afraid to restart a router.

The group always starts with a round of introduction of oneself to others while answering one very well thought-out question, such as “What is one thing you love and one thing you hate about your country?” or “What is one common festive day in your country?” By this, you learn far more than by browsing Wikipedia or even going for a one week vacation.

There is this guy from Faroe Islands named Olaf, an INFJ, whom I especially like, because he always says interesting things about his country, not being corny or pusing into anybody’s personal space. “Ha! Gotcha! You started making friends there!” one would say. I mean, not really. I can’t consider him my friend, because I barely see him and I have no idea how to invite him for a bucket of chicken wings or anything like that. But yeah, it is someone I care about is some sense and it always makes me happy to see him there.

And I could go on. Even though I never really went out with these people, they are there for me and I am here for them. And although they are continually changing, I would never miss a session. Because it is the single social connection even the most hidden introvert can easily gain. I could go on about its benefits, but I think that is it for now.

When you are thinking about your university choices, try to remember this and write an e-mail to a university advisor. Ask them about this. It can spare you a lot of nights in tears of loneliness and your plushy animal a lot of hysterical hugs.