Maintaining Mental Wellness While Studying Abroad

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Studying abroad can be an intimidating and mysterious, albeit exciting, adventure. However, there are many steps you can take before and during your time abroad that can have a positive effect on your mental health and immersion in the culture you have chosen to experience. Studying abroad can be fast-paced and busy, but taking time for yourself is just as important as it is back home. The following are some choices I pursued in my time abroad that helped during my initial adjustment and curbed some of the homesickness that came to me throughout my time away from home:

Start a journal

Starting a journal is a great opportunity for self-care and reflection at home or abroad. Journaling abroad, however, presents a unique opportunity to log all the places you go, people you meet, meals you eat, and any other experience that is noteworthy to you. Not only could this method be beneficial while you are abroad but could also be a great way to get your memories down for when your time abroad is up, and you want to reminisce over this once-in-a-lifetime experience. Writing in a journal could also be a great way to document and track the personal growth and shift in perspective that you undergo while immersing yourself in a new culture and environment.

Communicate with fellow study abroad students and program heads

This is one of the most important and readily available resources to get support for whatever you are working through. Your peers and colleagues are in the same position you are in as a student in a new place, and the heads of your program have experience helping students adjust and hit their stride during their study abroad experience. Communicating your needs, hesitancies, and goals for your abroad experience can be very helpful for you, but also for the heads of your program that want to support you and help you get the most you can out of your time abroad. You can even get in touch with the heads of the program or other students before you go abroad to establish relationships and common ground right from the get-go.

Schedule times to talk to friends and family back home

One of the best ways to deal with homesickness throughout your time abroad is to make a habit of talking to your friends and family back home. Navigating the time difference can be difficult, but if you schedule times where you are both available, this barrier should be easily surmountable. Your family and friends want to hear about all the new things that you are experiencing during your time abroad just as much as you want to share those things with them. Maintaining communication with people back home can keep you grounded in your life and provide you with tremendous relief if you ever get lonely or overwhelmed by all the novelty.

Take photographs

Taking photos of your new environment may be the first thing you do once you arrive in the place you chose to study abroad in. Taking pictures of everyday things that would be meaningless to any one besides you, like the grocery store you shop at or the street you take to get to class, is another great way to preserve memories and gives you incentive to be more mindful of your surroundings and your daily activities. These photos could accent your journaling and could be a way to share your memories with friends and families without divulging information that may be more personal.

Find a café or restaurant where you can be a regular

Going to a place where you do not speak the language and do not know anyone can be a daunting concept. Finding a café, restaurant, or local spot and going there regularly can be a great way to meet some locals and learn basic components of the language. Seeing familiar faces regularly can make you feel much more at home, while also helping familiarize you with social norms and less obvious components of living in your chosen study abroad location.

Establish an exercise routine

Exercise is a great option for self-care and could be very beneficial in bolstering your mental wellness. Depending on where you are studying abroad, you may have limited access to exercise equipment or a gym. Finding a route to walk, jog, or run with a buddy, could be a way to get some exercise while bonding with a peer or colleague. Developing a workout routine that you can do without weights could also be helpful if you like to have variability in the way you exercise.

Immerse yourself in the culture on your own time

While the heads of your study abroad program will have an extraordinary itinerary already developed for your time abroad, culturally immersing yourself on your own time could be equally as rewarding. Immersing yourself in the culture on your own time could allow you to focus on areas of interest that are still relevant to your study abroad experience, such as art, history, or cooking. You could do this by trying some new recipes native to your region, listening to popular artists from the area, picking up a book written by a famous author from your host country, or even just reading the Wikipedia page for the area you are visiting.  

Listen to your body

During your first couple days and weeks while abroad, it is important to pay attention to your body and let yourself adjust to the time difference, in terms of your sleep and eating schedule. Readjusting to a new environment, diet, or climate can take time and having patience with oneself is essential when being faced with such a unique and pertinent task.

Adam Bernard
Senior, majoring in psychology
Counseling Services Student Advisory Board (SAB)