Welcome back everybody and for those of you who are here for the first time, thank you for stopping by. I hope the following piece will be to your liking and remind you of some of the bright colors that you all can bring to your new living spaces.
I wanted to name this second chapter “Our favorite colors”, for I was inspired by one of my favorite songs, Colors by Black Pumas. As I was listening to the song, during my daily walk in the park, I realized how many other international folks, just like me, must have gone through quite some hard decisions to be at the place where they are now (whether that is the Netherlands or elsewhere). With “hard” I mean difficult, life-changing decisions that will affect and shape your future. You decide to select your favorite study program even though it comes at a cost. The latter refers to being away from our beloved ones. Some of us choose to go overseas, thousands of miles away from our families, and others go to countries nearby. It’s a matter of luck and chance!
During all my years of living abroad as a student, I have come to realize that the more time you spend on your own the more you start loving your family and your beloved ones. It’s almost like the phrase “you don’t know what you have until it’s gone”. You grow in ways you never expected to. There were times when I felt so out of place in a nordic country like the Netherlands, where local customs and habits differed so immensely from mine. I thought of myself as a plant that craves for its original soil. It takes a while to get used to new terrain, to stabilize your roots in new soil, but eventually you learn how to find a strategy, and just like the plant you start to grow and bloom.
When winter arrives in European Nordic countries it tends to get gloomy and chances that you’ll get affected by it are – how to put this nicely – considerably high. Personally, it took me a while to get adjusted to it, for I come from a Mediterranean country, where the sun shines throughout the whole year. So, you can imagine it was very depressing for me to have only one month per year with sunshine. I believe quite a few of you can relate when I say that adjusting to a whole new climate isn’t easy. It certainly took me a while to overcome the melancholic feeling and come up with strategies to make myself feel grounded and positive again and in this blog, I will share some with you 🙂
You will notice throughout these blogs that I like structuring my thoughts in bullet points, because it’s easier to make a logical connection among the written paragraphs and to memorize them, hence I compiled a list with some of the most helpful strategies that I developed throughout my years as an expat.
Keep it bright and shine on the light. It is so important to have proper lighting in your working/ studying desk, so try to avoid working sitting in dark spaces. Good lighting truly makes a tremendous difference, in your productivity and in reducing your sleepy mood. Make sure to sit near the window or spaces which are exposed to sunlight. During the gray, wintery days consider going for a short walk and appreciate the natural light. Even if it is only for a few minutes, it will bring a smile to your face and relax your eyes.
Flowers are a girl’s – no wait – a person’s best friend. I don’t know why there’s a stereotype that only girls keep flowers and plants in their rooms, but I’ve heard it a lot of times. I mean, why do you think office spaces always try to make room for some plants? Do you think it’s merely for design purposes? Think again. There’s actual proof that explains the health benefits of having a green companion on your working desk. Consider buying a small one and look after it. Or maybe start propagating plants – it’s easy! Here’s an interesting video you can check out and learn more about plant propagation. Plant Propagation for beginners
Meditation and mindfulness. I chose the orange color for this category because it is a motivating and encouraging color which I think resonates with the meditation process. This has become one of the most grounding habits for me and my mental health. At first, I thought it was sort of useless, for I am a very energetic person and have difficulties sitting down doing nothing. But to my surprise, being left alone with my thoughts was quite the engaging process. The benefits are long term and you will see how calm and collected you will become as time passes by. A true miracle maker has grown me a lot when it comes to self-reflection. A good place to start would be meditation apps such as Headspace, Petit Bambou, or Calm. Once you master the basics you can then continue developing your favorite mediation routines.
A photograph of your beloved ones. I always keep a family portrait pinned on the wall near my working desk because every time I look at it I get extra motivated to perform and put more effort into my work. Seeing your family happy, isn’t that a contagious feeling? I imagine them smiling when they see me succeed in the journey that I’m designing for myself. A photograph like that it’s like a green light especially during the moody days. Give it a try.
Time for a feel-good playlist. I know for a lot of folks Spotify is the go-to place to compile playlist but of course you can also make them on your phones, laptops, etc. When you listen to your favorite feel-good, cheerful songs, you’ll notice a significant change in your overall mood. I’ve had those gloomy days when I felt alone, and without a single person to understand my situation but then I remember to turn to my happy songs list, the place where happiness starts with lyrics and ends with me dancing. I’ve got all sorts of songs in there, childhood songs, favorite movie theme tracks, motivational ones, and many others. I pay extra attention to lyrics because it feels like I can relate to it. They remind me of my happy days, my joyful memories, my inner strength, or the things that I have accomplished. But this varies per person, some are into lyrics, some into the rhythm, etc. so even if they are songs whose tunes make you happy, have a playlist on standby and listen to it whenever you can.
Push yourself but don’t feel ashamed of failing. It’s hard for me to put this into words because I fall into the category of a perfectionist and pleasing others type. I remember when I first left for my flight to Sweden (the place where I began my first studies) I had tears in my eyes and I thought I’d make my family proud, I’d justify all the sacrifices that they had to overcome for me. It almost felt like I wanted to finish that degree for them, the journey to get there didn’t matter to me, as long as I made my family happy. Now that’s where the paradox began. Hmmm and I still find it funny how I found out that my original plans would let me down and turn against me. It is crucial, with capital c, to make this study meaningful for yourself. It’s you who is doing a degree not your parents, nor your siblings, or anyone else that comes to mind. You’ll be the one spending the coming three, four, or more years of your life dedicated to a study, not the people you want to make proud. They will be there to celebrate the end of the journey with you, but you have to design the path to arriving at that destination. So my advice would be: Make it count and do your best and remember that you don’t need to push yourself to the extreme to stand out or to be successful.
A reminder goes a long way. Find a quote that triggers you and that catches your attention every time you notice it and place it somewhere near your working desk, on the wall or hang it on your door. Make sure to place it somewhere visible, so that it catches your eye and triggers you. I used to hang the mainstream quotes such as “don’t settle, be bold”, but lately I have become aware that they no longer trigger me as much. That is the reason why I decided to place new ones, most of them are quotes from my favorite stoic philosopher Marcus Aurelius. The idea behind these reminders is to use them to build productive habits, not to have them as cool decoration, even though yes you can use them for that purpose as well. However, most importantly they are there to remind you of your goals, never lose sight of your vision, and the place where you want to head next. You will like having a picture like that laying around, believe me!
Here’s one of my favorite quotes: “You have power over your mind – not outside events. Realize this, and you will find strength”, Marcus Aurelius.
You probably noticed the colors I used throughout the paragraphs, and that was intentional. You see, the colors here represent the diversity and the various strategies we can implement to make ourselves feel better and develop a happy lifestyle as expats. When you are a student, it is easy to lose track of your overall health for you are young, inexperienced, and prioritize your studies above everything else. (at least that’s what I noticed in myself and among my peers). Yep, that’s what uni life does to you. However, to be successful and finalize your university journey you don’t need to quit on yourself and your health, after all, that is the most valuable asset you have. Remember that you are the reason you are doing or completed a degree. I believe your reason to go abroad was to either discover or continue to nourish your gifts, your skills, as well as your intellect. So, all you colorful souls out there, keep doing what you’re doing without neglecting to check in with yourselves.
I would love to hear back from you and see how you have developed your strategies to overcome your difficult moments and challenges. Don’t hesitate to contact and share your thoughts with me via the following email address: firstname.lastname@example.org
I am looking forward to hearing from you.
Till next time y’all!