How studying abroad has helped my anxiety

Rachel is currently on Erasmus in Germany and shares her experiences

Written by Rachel O'Neill


When I first signed up to take part in the Erasmus programme, I was nervous. I had never lived outside Ireland before and I was going to complete my final year project for my degree in Neuroscience in a country where I could barely speak the language. It was nerve wracking to say the least.

I study Neuroscience in UCD, Dublin. I’m in my final year of the degree and I was given the opportunity to take part in the Erasmus programme. With this programme, I was able to go to Bochum in the Ruhr Valley in Germany for a semester. Here I would work in the laboratory for 12 weeks on a project that I would write up for my thesis. It was a unique opportunity as final year students don’t often get to go on Erasmus. I applied to go because I felt like it would create opportunities for me that I wouldn’t have access to otherwise. I wanted to experience what it was like to live outside of Ireland and I also wanted to challenge myself as much as I could. I may have gone a bit overboard when it came to challenging myself.

Erasmus is an incredibly rewarding experience but it’s also incredibly tough. The first few weeks were some of the toughest that I’ve ever experienced. The homesickness consumed me like an illness. In cases like mine, you’re unfamiliar with the language of your new home and that can cause communication problems. You’re unfamiliar with the way the system in your new institution works. You might be living alone and it can be hard to meet new people. If you have a pre-existing anxiety problem, you can find yourself getting anxious about anything and everything. This was me for the first 5 or 6 weeks of Erasmus.

You’ll be delighted to know that my time abroad has since improved. You get to know people in your classes or in your accommodation. In my case, my roommates moved in about 5 weeks after me and quickly became my best friends here. You can get involved with the Erasmus Student Network in your host institution and go on day trips to cities, visit museums or even go for a game of laser tag with them. Being alone for so long meant I had to force myself to do things like take up swimming or go to language classes to improve my German.

One of the best things about being on Erasmus is your ability to travel. The travel system connections across Europe are incredible. You can be in Paris, Berlin, Rome or Amsterdam in a matter of hours. Trains can be expensive but the buses are cheaper if you’re willing to endure the longer journey. I’ve used my weekends to explore places like Berlin, Cologne, Dusseldorf, Frankfurt and Dortmund. I’ve seen the Feure Abend in Herne and experienced Karneval in Dusseldorf. My horizons have been broadened in so many ways by being able to travel around. I’ll be forever grateful for that.

While Erasmus has not been the easiest thing to do, it has had its benefits. I feel like I’ve learnt to cope with my anxiety condition in a more constructive way. I say this because if you can move countries and settle, then you can do nearly anything. I felt like I’ve seen more of the world and am a better person for experiencing a new way of life and a new culture. It has been tough but if I had to do it all again, I probably would. 

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