Hello, precious readers! Today I will be answering a question about abroad (which has been slightly edited).

“I am currently studying abroad and I can't help feeling that pressure to make the most of it (whatever the hell that means). I see posts on social media of my friends traveling and making friends. Do you have any advice for a Polar Bear away from home? How do I shake this sensation that I'm not doing enough?
Anxious Abroad”

Dear Anxious,

There are few things that ruin abroad more thoroughly than the feeling that the entire world is taking you by the shoulders, getting really close to your face, and shaking you while it screams, “MAKE THE MOST OF THIS.” I’m not sure where this pressure comes from, or why it exists at all.

And yet you are not, due to this unspoken social pressure, supposed to say that abroad is hard. You are supposed to be a traveling, binge-drinking, foreigner-kissing machine. God forbid you should feel lonely or wonder why everyone you love is thousands of miles away, you ungrateful, inadaptable cretin!

I’m going to tell you a secret: abroad is really hard. Anyone who tells you otherwise is lying. There is nothing natural or authentic about leaving your entire life and friends and family behind to gallivant around the planet willy-nilly for five months. But that’s also why it’s worth doing. If going abroad is ever easy, the world has become homogenous and boring and probably covered in K-Marts.

You might not make Czech or Australian or Cameroonian friends. You might not like the haggis. You might not travel, you might travel every weekend. You might, like me, never adjust from coffee to espresso (honestly though, why would you).

I’m going to tell you another secret: none of this means you are doing abroad wrong. The only way that you can do abroad wrong is if you let the expectations your or others set for your experience make you unhappy. The happier and more fulfilled you are by your own experience, the less you will worry about what your friends are doing.

Here are two tangible things I’d suggest doing to increase your daily happiness:

1. Find a place that you love, make it a part of your routine, and cultivate it as a familiar space.
There is a café on Drury Street in Dublin called Kaph where I squatted almost every day in between classes. Many of you may know it from my incessant, Wifi-grubbing check-ins. Aside from the fact that Kaph makes you sell your social media soul in order to access the Internet, it is a great place, and it’s a place I love. The baristas knew me because I would never leave them alone. Once, while I fastidiously perused Buzzfeed, one of the baristas brought me a free latte, “for my writing.” Find your Kaph and mark it with your personhood. Being non-anonymous for a few hours a day can do wonders for your psyche.

2. Do what you need to do to be comfortable, even though it’s just five months.
The worst thing about Ireland was my mattress, which was actually just a pile of metal springs. I should have just sucked it up and bought a mattress pad or put soft clothes between the mattress and the sheet or something. Instead, I bitterly envied the girl had bought one. I hated her for it. Do not hate people over mattress pads. Take the time and energy to make yourself comfortable.

If you look back at your abroad experience and say “it was worth it,” if you take from it some fond memories and good stories and a stronger sense of self, then it doesn’t matter how many new stamps you have on your passport or how many of your Instas got over 100 likes. For the record, I’ve never had an Insta that got over 100 likes, and I’m doing just fine.