Fitting In While Standing Out.
A very peculiar choice of title for this blog entry but this is something that has been weighing heavy on my mind lately. I have spoken about this with numerous international students, both from my own year and the seniors, and I found that many people have shared the same experience as mine but did not have a platform or a person to talk to about it. Hence, I decided to write about it in this blog entry, in hopes that I can reach out to as many people who feel the same as I do.
Being an international student can be pretty overwhelming. Especially if you are coming from outside of Europe, from the warmer regions of the world, and also if this is your first time outside your home country. That was the case for me. I have never set my foot outside of Malaysia and this radical change affected me more than I thought it would. Of course, there are the obvious changes like changes in diet, changes in weather and etc but there are also much more subtle changes that we often ignore or dismiss as negligible.
In my case, I suffered from a few of these things. Firstly, my body could not adapt to the weather. This led me to fall sick often. At least, once a week, I would be down with a fever or a headache. And this headache would seem to affect me whenever the weather gets cold. So, I avoided leaving my room for the most parts because I dreaded the cold. Secondly, I do not know how to cook that well. So, I resorted to eating frozen meals for the most parts without realizing how unhealthy it could be. That is not even the main problem, the bigger problem was my appetite. Because I was always sick, I had appetite issues where I would feel hungry, but I did not feel like eating anything. I would then end up eating a very small portion of the meal for the sake of the hunger.
These few issues prolonged from October right into December. I would often go to bed with a severe headache and every morning I would feel nauseous, due to my appetite issues. Some days, I would throw up in the morning and on other days, I force myself to vomit to get rid of the troubling sensation of nausea in my chest. At one point, things looked really bad.
Along the same time, there were a couple of other things I experienced as well. For example, I struggled with the English here, not because English was a second language to me or because I was not fluent in it, my English is pretty decent to be honest, or else how would I have landed this job as a blogger or be able to be on panels or participate in speaking competitions. I struggled with the various accents that made it difficult to understand what the other person was saying. In lectures, I would mishear what the lecturer was saying due to their accent and that would make me lose my concentration and my understanding of the academic content. As I am lost in lectures, the continuous clicking sounds of my peers typing notes in the laptop subconsciously makes me feel like I am being left out. It is a very weird feeling of being lost, as if everyone around you are just buzzing past you and you seem to be involuntarily stuck in one spot.
This even extended into daily social interactions. Disclaimer: I have always been a solitary person who takes a long time to build natural friendship circles. However, as I was still adjusting to this new environment, everyone was already forming social groups and having fun while I remained stagnant. I would go for plenty of societies’ meetings and meet so many people. Yet, most of these interactions were superficial and there were no real connections or vibe to it. I struggled to establish such a connection with the new people that I met. Due to that, I developed a case of social anxiety. I would feel very intimidated whenever I am in a social setting and I would feel pressured to try to fit in, which included to laughing to jokes which I did not understand. There was also a very peculiar case of inferiority complex. During seminars, I would feel nervous to give an opinion or participate in the discussions due to the fear of not being good enough. I say this with emphasis because I have always been a loud and confident person my whole life. This feeling was completely bizarre and unfamiliar to me.
All of these reached its climax in January when I decided to visit the GP due to my growing concerns about my health. I was falling sick way too often and the headaches were getting more intense. Only after I met with the GP, I was able to make sense of all the problems that were happening to me. I had explained everything I was experiencing to my GP from my health issues to my mental and emotional as well. And that was when my GP told me that I was suffering from stress.
The image above explains the various type of headache locations and the likely causes, and mine was similar to the last picture on the right. When the GP told me that I was suffering from stress, I laughed it off because I said there is absolutely no way that I am stressed because I am doing decent in my academic work, although to be honest, at that point I was falling far below the standard of my usual self. However, what I learned next from my GP completely blew me off.
Apparently, all these social anxiety issues that I was feeling has actual tangible physical effects. Yes, mental issues can have tangible physical effects. And that was exactly what I was facing. The physical issues I was facing such as fever, headache, nausea and loss of appetite were a result of my issues such as social anxiety, inferiority complex and etc. The stress that the GP was alluding does not necessarily refer to academic stress, but stress can also be due to the pressure that we put on ourselves to fit in into a new environment. It all started making sense to me now. The GP was kind enough to let me know about Warwick Mental Health & Wellbeing and all the services they provide. He had advised me to get assistance from them if I felt like I required it because my situation did not seem serious at all, hence it was optional.
I felt a sense of relief knowing that there is an avenue for help available if I ever needed it but as of now, I am very sure of what I had to do to improve the situation. From then on, I decided to actively combat these mental issues I was facing. As time went on, I seemed to fit in nicely with community in Warwick and gradually, the physical illness seemed to fade away as well. Although, I still get a headache once in a while, but I think it is largely caused by the weather these days rather than any other factor.
I decided to write about this because I spoke to quite a number of people regarding this and I learned that I was not the only one experiencing this. Many international students do feel this way but the way they have handled this it has been different. Some international students tend to stick together with other international students of the same nationality because it provides them with a comfort zone. But beautiful things do not grow in the comfort zone. To me, it is such a shame to come all the way here for an education but to not explore the unfamiliar territories and staying closeted in a comfort zone. The point is to always meet different people and try different things to widen the horizons of our minds. Discomfort is a definite sign of growth and progress.
Also, I would have not expected myself to deal with such issues. Like I said before, I consider myself as a confident person. But this once again shows that such issues can even happen to people who seem unlikely to experience it. So, the best thing to do is to always reach out and speak to people and ask for help. Every time I speak openly about this issue, my conscience feels less burdened and the problems I face become clearer. Once you are able to identify the problems you are facing, you can then easily think of the solutions to the problem. The worse thing you can do, is to ignore the existence of the problem and pretend like it is not there.
With that being said, I would like to draw this entry to an end. On the next entry, I would like to talk in detail about the ways I dealt with the problems that I faced. Until then, Happy Easter Holidays everyone!