…by Sinéad / from Ireland / PhD Psychiatry / 4th Year
Dear little sister,
In just a few short months you will step on an airplane and begin one of the best adventures of your life. I know, because I did it a few years ago. Now obviously our situations are different, and our experiences will be as unique as we are. Nevertheless, indulge me as I offer you some of my sage advice (as only an older sibling can).
First of all, work hard. Graduate school is very different from undergraduate. It’s the difference between learning someone else’s theories and coming up with your own. It’s scary and exciting and as hard as it should be. It’s a time to open your mind, challenge your own views of the world and learn how to form your thoughts into a cohesive argument.
Be open. This was much more of a challenge for me than it will be to you (as you tend to like people more than I do). Allow yourself to be open to new situations and, if you’re lucky, you’ll meet some incredible people who you’ll be friends with for years to come. It’s easy to stay alone but it’s important that you don’t. There will inevitably be time spent alone (see next point) but there will also be countless opportunities to step outside of your comfort zone, meet a room full of strangers and try lots of new things. Embrace it and it will be wonderful.
Be alone. You will be lonely and that’s okay. Regardless of how familiar the culture you’re moving to will be, and regardless of how many friends you will make, there will be times that are isolating and lonely. It will catch you off guard the first time and it will be a kind of quiet unlike anything you’ve ever felt. You’ll miss a taste from home that you never really noticed before and something as small as the word “sorry” will make you long for your Canadian allies.
Nevertheless, now is the time to learn how to be alone. Now is your opportunity to form a relationship with yourself that will serve you for the rest of your life. Take yourself out to a movie, or dinner or for a walk and give yourself the credit you deserve. People in general are far too hard on themselves. You included. You’re in graduate school! On your own! In a foreign country! That’s amazing and brave and you should let yourself be proud of you.
Don’t underestimate the importance of self-care. While some days will inevitably involve nothing but toast, it is important to look after yourself. Get some groceries, do some cooking and give that big brain of yours the nutrients it needs. You should also get outside and go for a walk as often as possible. I can’t think of a single situation or emotion that isn’t improved by a long walk. You have to learn to listen to what your body needs; some days that will be yoga or other forms of exercise, and some days it will be cake. Both are good. Both are important. And balance is key.
Long distance takes work. Long distance relationships with anyone, be it a partner, a parent or a friend, take work. This is so much easier now with Whatsapp and Skype but you still have to put the work in. You have to master the time difference, schedule in times to chat, and keep in touch. If these relationships are important to you then there is absolutely no reason why they should falter. Communication is always key but it becomes even more important when you’re three thousand miles away and can’t rely on face to face interactions.
Before I left, Mum told me that some days will be amazing and some days I’ll have to take it 10 minutes at a time. That has stuck with me to this day. Some days really are great; they fly by and seem a series of endless adventures and accomplishments. And some days are hard and you really do have to take it 10 minutes at a time. That’s okay. The latter are fewer than the former.
This is one year of your life my friend. Just a year. A year to be brave and bold. To learn things, to struggle and to be independent. You’ve got this. Go forth and conquer.
Oh and if in doubt, make a list of all the movies that make you feel good and watch one while hiding under a duvet eating cereal. Like a proper grown up.