Wednesday, 16 March 2016

Thoughts on "The Dark Side of Studying Abroad"

Screenshot from 66 News

I saw this blogpost making the rounds on Facebook, and I felt like talking about it, so here's a different blogpost from the usual.

The Summary:

You can find the actual post here, but if you want a summary, here's what I understand it's saying:

Problems faced by people studying abroad include: a lack of a support system, a fear of not fitting in, and general homesickness. It is, however, made worse by the fact that people generally only post positive things on social media, so everyone feels the pressure to be upbeat.

I thought this was a thought provoking post, and basically, I want to talk about why this blog is so positive, and what I think are the dark sides of studying abroad (well, studying in Japan).

Why I'm (mostly) Positive:

If you're a regular reader here, I think you'll have noticed that I'm basically positive about life and study here. I think I can count on one hand the number of non-positive Japan-related posts there (mostly when I do badly in exams). I complain a bit more my Dayre, but I think generally, I'm positive about life here (certain aspects of the culture, not so much but whatever).

For me, I do this more or less intentionally. At first, it was because all I could find about my scholarship was this long three part post that was basically complaints about the scholarship (and probably inaccurate), so I started my blog to give a truthful and more positive picture. For me, I really do have more positive experiences than negative experiences.

After a while, I found that I had one more reason to be positive. I realised that wallowing in self-pity is not the way to go. True, I have moments of homesickness, but ranting on it only makes me feel better momentarily. After a while, it comes back, worse than ever. So for me, I see no positive effects in talking about how homesick I am and all that.

To sum, I do my best to be positive because:

a. I really do have a generally positive experience, and I want to be encouraging, not discouraging
b. Being negative is bad for my mental health.

The Dark Side of Studying Abroad:

Obviously, life overseas is not 100% positive. Some negative aspects that instantly come to mind are culture-specific (like honne and tatemae, which drives me crazy when I think about it - solution: don't think about it, or women in the workforce).

And some of it is about home. Life is Japan is great, but I do miss home all the same. I try not to miss the big events (flying home for my cousin's wedding), but I've had to miss my sister and cousin's 21st birthday. And I'll be missing my bro's PSLE year. Those are big events that I want to be present for. Of course, when I focus on the positive side, this tends to go away (like what I said, I'm not the type that can afford to be negative for too long). For example, if I'm missing home and start contemplating job hunting, I start feeling discouraged and defeated. But, when I'm at events with companies that I'm genuinely interested in, I find that the prospect of staying longer excites me.

So yes, I agree with the article that there is a dark side to studying abroad. Homesickness and fear of not fitting in is no joke.

But, I think that this is where the bright side of studying abroad is too. It's precisely because I'm so out of my comfort zone that I'll even consider doing things that I normally wouldn't. Like finishing school - even if we had something comparable in Singapore, I wouldn't have signed up for it.

And about the rose-tinted social media thing, well, I may be contributing to that, but that's because of the previous negativity leading to more negativity effect I talked about. Making a conscious effort to be upbeat is my way of reminding myself that this is fun. I'm trying to scare away the shadows, so to speak. And the best way of scaring the shadows is to shine a light on them.

And now that I've written about the "dark side" of things, I think it's time to listen to "Dark Side" by Kelly Clarkson.