Studying Abroad - The Mental Health Challenges
Studying abroad is one of the most exciting and beneficial experiences you can have as a student. Many universities and educational institutions offer the opportunity to study in a foreign country, allowing you to see the world, expand your outlook, and embrace a new life away from home.
You may find that completely immersing yourself in the education system of another country is a great way to truly experience and understand the people, its traditions, its culture, and the language.
Deciding to immerse yourself in another country is courageous. Whatever way you look at it you are leaving your old life behind – your friends, your family, the places you grew up. You stand to gain a great deal too – independence, a different perspective and appreciation for people and places, new friends, and experiences, not to mention your qualifications. It is these moments of change that define who we are and who we will become.
Mental Health and Wellbeing Challenges
Change can be a good thing, but it can also generate challenges for your mental health and wellbeing that you may not have even considered until stepping onto the plane. Taking care of your study abroad mental health is as important as knowing what to pack or how to speak the language, but it isn’t so easy to anticipate what low points will look or feel like.
It can be difficult adjusting to a new country. It’s natural and healthy to be wary when entering a new place, but it can sometimes go from caution to fear in such an unfamiliar environment, especially if it’s your first time abroad or if you’re alone.
According to Psychology Today, many international students today are facing mental health challenges, elevated suicide rates, and a lack of wellbeing resources to support their needs. Here are the most common symptoms to look out for:
- Cultural shock
- Financial worries
Practising self-care during your study abroad year is very important, especially for students who suffer from anxiety disorders or depression. In between the whirlwind of new experiences, make sure to find the time to check in with yourself and evaluate your wellbeing.
Simply talking about your feelings will help remove the study abroad stress and normalise the conversation around mental health. After all, we cannot be our best selves without taking care of ourselves.
Self-Care when Studying Abroad
Here are some self-care tips to help you cope with the inevitable ups and downs of studying abroad:
1. Invest in mental health days
Everyone has different self-care needs and different ways of expressing themselves when things get tough. Take at least one day a week to practice self-care. This could be meditation, journalling, going on a long walk in nature, or trying online therapy – there are many ways to decompress and make sense of things.
2. Find a community
Although the initial weeks can be hectic and may feel like fresher’s week all over again, be brave! You’ve made it this far, maybe you can go a little further. Most people will be feeling the same way and will appreciate you reaching out to them.
Making friends is arguably the best way to make a place feel like home. When you’re so far away from family and friends back home, the new friends you make will inevitably become your family.
The mental and physical benefits of exercise are well-known, but it’s one of those things that’s difficult to keep up at the best of times – even harder when you’re halfway around the world and you understandably forgot to pack the tennis racket.
Most universities and educational institutions have gyms and health facilities that you will be able to access – many at discounted rates. Regular exercise, even for short spells, will help reduce stress and help you feel more relaxed in your new surroundings.
4. Go outside and explore
You didn’t travel all this way to experience studying abroad from your bedroom. One of the best ways to reduce stress is to get away from the busy campus and find solace in nature.
Depending on where you have chosen to study abroad, there will likely be beautiful parks, landscapes, and scenery within travelling distance that you’ve never seen before. Explore those places with your new community or by yourself and see how your mental health begins to improve.