How To Take Care Of Your Mental Health While Abroad
Learn how to find a balance between embracing the thrill of studying abroad and taking care of your mental well-being in the process.
By: Eva Fournel
Studying abroad is often described as the ultimate lottery ticket of your young adult life, an immense privilege to make the most of. Wide-eyed, nostalgic adults often describe it as “the greatest time you’ll ever have” or remind you to “enjoy every minute of it.” The pressure to cherish the experience and ensure you’re “doing it right” can be motivating yet exhausting.
I’m currently studying in London this fall semester, and I can confidently say I’ve been having a lovely time––most of the time. I’m still learning what it means to “enjoy every minute” at my own pace and in a manner that respects and validates my chaotic and developing emotions throughout this experience.
Don’t get me wrong, I adore London. All I ever talk about is how I’m the type of person who needs to live in a big city and gets far too bored of Boston, where my campus resides. However, I can’t help it: I love familiarity. I think, to an extent, we all do.
Find a Routine
I find comfort in my usual coffee shops, study spots, and bars. I like feeling like I have a routine and know what I’m doing. Studying abroad means starting over and finding a whole new list of places and excursions that feel “usual.”
In my first few weeks, I tried to stick to the habit of never having a full day in my dorm. For example, on a Friday afternoon without class or plans, I would search for new parks, cafes, or neighborhoods to explore. Soon enough, I began finding ones that struck me and made the
effort to go back.
For the sake of sticking to a routine, I also recommend familiarizing yourself with your own neighborhood. As exciting as it may be to take the tube and venture out into all the cor
ners of London, South Kensington is my little abyss here, so I’ve found it important to become properly acquainted with it. After a long day of class, I find comfort in studying at my local Pret A Manger café and then heading over to the Waterstones Bookstore to peacefully read on the sofa for a few hours. Having a routine and local hubs to look forward to helps me feel a little less like a tiny fish in a giant pond.
Take a Piece of Home with You
Wherever you study abroad will serve as your temporary home, so it helps to incorporate elements of your home into your new set-up to combat homesickness. Whether it be your stuffed animal, your bedroom posters, or an incense that smells like your childhood house, bring it along. It’s reassuring to know that not everything has to change.
Loneliness and New Connections
If you’re like me and chose a study abroad program where you know practically nobody, the best advice I could give you is: Be open.
Studying abroad can be your opportunity to not only embrace new sites and experiences but new people as well!
For fellow students from your university whom you didn’t know prior to coming abroad, I highly suggest socializing with them because this is a unique experience you mutually get to share. They, too, are in a new place with most likely the same fears as you; if you thought you’d never talk to them back on campus, now is your opportunity! Study abroad programs may consist of only a handful of your college peers, so the connection you build abroad will follow you home.
Beyond that, meet locals! The best way to understand a place is to understand its inhabitants. Differences are often the easiest icebreaker towards connection, and interacting and befriending locals can make embracing these differences much less daunting.
For someone like me, studying abroad feels like a break or a clean slate. I came to London with an open mind, welcoming any and all opportunities with the mentality: “SAY YES TO EVERYTHING!” Yes to that night out, yes to this trip, yes to that date, yes to that job opportunity! Now, having had over a month to adjust, I’m learning that it’s great to jump! Go for it! But pace yourself. You don’t want to bite off more than you can chew and end up physically and mentally drained. There will always be another time.
Your study abroad experience is what you make of it, not what everyone else tells you to make of it. Don’t worry so much about “doing it right.” Little by little, you’ll start to find and build routines, connections, and a pace that works for you.