Art by Peau Porotesano
Before I went abroad, I was warned that everyone tends to experience a sort of “aha” moment at some point during his or her time away. Once the end of my second semester started to approach, I decided that perhaps this wasn’t the time for my moment. I’ve since realized I was wrong.
The end of a semester, an ending that might seem trivial but is nevertheless an end to something, had brought out a lot of heavy emotions in the London house.
That being said, I experienced the death of a family member exactly two weeks before my set date of departure from London. This loss was sudden and unexpected, and being so far away from home, my immediate instinct was to feel sorry for myself and for my family and to feel guilty for not being in the one place where I thought I was supposed to be at a time like this: home.
When I began my grieving process, I didn’t allow myself the validation to feel sad. I had made the decision to go to a school that’s 3,000 miles away from my home, New York, and I made the decision to study abroad in London despite the already substantial distance. I assumed that my consequence was not having the ability to run home during times when I think I need to most, and thought I had to live with that and force myself to move on as quickly as possible.
Along with this came the guilt of being somewhere that was supposedly fun and life-changing while my family was at home making the appropriate arrangements and comforting themselves and those around them. Somehow I was supposed to be having the time of my life while my family suffered. I didn’t think I was allowed to be sad, or that I was allowed to grieve in the same way people normally do, because I was so far away from those I loved and because I was in a place in life where I thought I was supposed to be happy.
For obvious reasons, this mindset didn’t make the grieving process any easier. I decided I wasn’t happy with the way I was letting myself address this situation, so I sought out advice and guidance from one of Pepperdine’s greatest resources: counseling. Even in London, we have access to free sessions with professional psychologists who are readily available to help us students during our times of need, whether that’s to recover from a horrific test grade, to grieve an accident, to mourn the loss of a loved one, or anything at all, really.
Seeking professional help during times of difficulty shouldn’t warrant guilt or shame. There’s a stigma that’s usually attached to any sort of association with mental health that is destructive and detrimental to any sort of growth or healthy mental state. Yet instead of being embarrassed or ashamed that I saw a psychologist (gasp!) at a time when I didn’t think I was properly equipped to help myself, I’m proud of my decision.
Something the psychologist I saw impressed upon me was that I’m allowed to feel sad over my loss, not just for myself, but for those who I love and couldn’t be with. She validated what I was feeling, which allowed me to process what I was experiencing better than I ever could if I’d tried to deal with this on my own.
Therapy may not be the solution for everyone, but for me, it was likely the difference between my ending my year abroad on a high note versus the lowest of lows. I experienced a loss and sadness that I never thought I would have to; that’s scary, even for those who consider themselves to be strong, which is too often misconstrued with being equipped to handle anything alone.
There isn’t anything wrong with asking for help. Under no circumstances should you feel embarrassed or ashamed to seek professional guidance from someone who is specially equipped to help you through any situation. Pepperdine isn’t a perfect university by any means, but it has a lot to offer us that we might not even realize, including free, beneficial counseling services.
This was most certainly my “aha” moment, and it’s one I’m very proud to share with anyone who cares to listen.
Pepperdine Counseling Center
Location: TCC 270
Hours: Monday to Friday, 8 a.m. to 5 p.m.
Phone: (310) 506-4210
For after hours emergencies, call Public Safety at 310-506-4441.
Contact your program director for information regarding counseling services while studying abroad.
Follow Rachel Ettlinger on Twitter: @