Academic and grad school burnout are #TooReal. Every student has felt it before, especially those that like to cram in lots of extracurriculars and extra courses (silly over-achievers…). This probably happens even more so for graduate students abroad, as you’re even more likely to burn the candle at all ends in order to get the most out of your time in school PLUS being abroad. The hardships of having to choose between studying for that exam or going on a safari, right?
Degree programs abroad are usually shorter than at least those in the U.S., so you pack a lot into one year. How do you prevent graduate school burnout abroad when you have two or three years of courses packed into one year, AND you’re being pulled in a hundred different directions because you’re abroad and supposed to do a bagillion fun and “once-in-a-lifetime” things? Let us, the masters (no pun intended) of international education (translation: procrastination), help you!
This one is first on the list and in caps for a reason: your sleeping habits are always the first to take a hit when you’re feeling overwhelmed, even though they are the most important to maintain in order to stay (somewhat) sane while in school. We know cramming those extra flash cards and trying the new drink specials with your new friends are both important, but if they are going to cost you hours of sleep every night, you are jeopardizing much more important things. No one wants to end up in a foreign hospital from passing out on the subway, so do your body a favor and take care of it! Just try the new drink and forget the studying! (Just kidding, bring your flash cards to the bar with you! Problem solved!). Take that, grad school burnout!
2. Experience your host city
The whole point of taking your education to the international level is to experience something different, right? (And avoid crippling student debt, but that’s for a different day…) Take some time to explore more of your host city than just the public library. Even if it’s just going out once a week with your friends or doing a few free walking tours in between classes, it’ll help clear your head and immerse you more into your host region.
3. Join a club
From social groups, clubs based around a shared interest, and sports teams, there are a lot of options to participate in activities that involve more than just you and your textbook (sexy, we know). Outside of the U.S., most schools do not offer extracurricular clubs or sports teams that are connected with the university. Instead, you will have to join a regional group, club, or team. A lot of international students prefer this, as it gives you the opportunity to meet all types of people instead of just fellow students!
4. Pick up a new hobby
There is nothing like a new environment to trigger a new passion! Maybe you’re studying in Argentina and have always wanted to learn how to tango? Or maybe you have always thought it would be fun to dabble in snowboarding but have never had the guts to try it until you met your Swiss host sister? Whatever the hobby might be, it is sure to help de-stress you and take your mind off of your piles of homework!
5. Bond with your cohorts
The only silver lining to feeling stressed is that you’re never alone in that stress, especially as a student. Find a way to connect with your fellow overworked classmates and manage the pain together! Maybe it means getting together once a week for a binge session of The Office UK or just making fun of that one horrific professor together over drinks, but whatever your method is, you shouldn’t suffer alone.
6. Say no (sometimes)
You can’t do it all, and sometimes you need to say no in order to do what you need to do (ie sleep, do some yoga, work ahead a bit to be more productive next week, etc.). You shouldn’t get in the habit of saying no all the time, as everyone needs their free time regardless of how busy you are, but it’s always ok to prioritize yourself and your own needs over what other people are doing. Except, of course, if your friends have tickets to that Beyonce concert in the city over. There is nothing in the world that should keep you from attending that.
7. Read for fun
Reading is the best way to escape the world of textbooks and final exams and just enjoy a nice story. If your schedule allows, try to set aside a little bit of time each day to give yourself this time to escape reality. Having just a few minutes to bury your mind in something fun is always a good thing, even if it’s just reading on the bus to class instead of scrolling through Facebook (and making yourself more miserable looking at all the pictures of your friends having fun while you’re stuck inside studying). We even made a list of best books to read while traveling to help you with this!
8. Volunteer abroad
A great way to avoid international grad school burnout is to give back to your host community. Not only will you be helping those around you, but it will also keep you grounded and remind you of how fortunate you are to be pursuing grad school abroad. Plus, it will look nice on your fresh-out-of-grad-school resume! Regardless of where you’re studying, there are always people who need help, so be sure to use our volunteer abroad resources to get started!
9. Keep an eye on your mental health
The most important thing to do while studying your butt off is to remember that your mental health comes first. Being dedicated to your studies is important while attending grad school abroad, but not so important that you risk your health. To avoid academic burnout, do something that focuses specifically on your mental health: hike that nearby mountain and meditate at the peak, go for a leisurely swim at that always-empty lake just outside of town, or splurge on seeing the latest blockbuster hit in English just to make it feel like you’re at home.
10. Travel! Duh!
The best way to avoid grad school burnout is to experience something new and exciting whenever you have the opportunity. Not only is this sort of the whole point of studying abroad, but it will do wonders for your rejuvenation needs. Pick a weekend when you won’t have a ton of work to do and hop on a cheap flight to some exotic place for a few days, or grab some friends and book a trip together during your next school vacation. Even grad school students have spring break, right? Right???
11. Take more time
Grad school programs abroad can often run at a much faster pace than programs back home, as they try to cram everything into one or two years. Always know that it is ok to take more time than other people...there is (usually) nothing written in stone about having to graduate at a certain time. If you need to stay through the summer to complete something or even take an extra semester, it is worth it if it’ll help you maintain your mental health. Nothing, we repeat, nothing is more important than your health.
Speaking of health...to quote the ultimate problem-solver, Elle Woods, “Exercise gives you endorphins. Endorphins make you happy. Happy people just don’t flunk out of grad school.” (or something like that…) There is a lot to be said for the kind of mental clarity you get from burning a few calories, so if you’re feeling stressed or overwhelmed, strap on a pair of sneakers and move! Join a gym in your host city, take a salsa dancing class, or just grab a couple friends and run around the block a few times. This is probably not what you want to hear as you’re surrounded by all types of new and decadent food, but all the more reason to exercise!
13. When all else fails, drink
Just kidding. Although a local craft beer fresh out of the keg will always do wonders for your emotions…
The best way to avoid grad school burnout?
Simply put, the best way to avoid grad school burnout is to not focus all of your time on your work. Take this lesson from the man of the hour, Alexander Hamilton - if he had learned to “take a break” once in awhile, he probably wouldn’t have ended up in a deadly duel. All that pent-up aggression has to get taken out on something!
On a serious note, remember that what you’re doing is something that very few people have the guts to do, so reflect back on what made you decide to pursue grad school abroad and channel that inner motivation and excitement. For more tips on ways to spend your time outside of the classroom and avoiding international grad school burnout, talk to your academic advisor, reach out to program alumni, and for goodness sake, go join that pub crawl you can hear forming downstairs. You know you want to.