Get Well

Staying Sane Overseas: Mental Health Abroad

It’s easy to feel stressed and overwhelmed while abroad. You’re thousands of miles away from home in a city where you don’t know anyone and don’t speak the language—and you’re expected to do a mountain of schoolwork on top of that. Here are some tips on how to maintain your sanity, stay focused, and protect your mental health while abroad:

Talk to someone

Does your school have someone professional that’s available for you to talk with? Or maybe a teacher? Most teachers abroad are familiar with loneliness and homesickness, and many probably have tricks and tips to keep those feelings at bay. Even getting a “I miss my family” out to someone can feel like a hundred pounds being lifted off your shoulders.

Find something that reminds you of home

Does your host family bake a cake just the way your mom does? If you squint, does the sunrise over Madrid remind you of the sunrises you used to watch back in LA? Does your new Chinese study-buddy remind you exactly of your best friend back home? Find something in your city that you can relate to. The world isn’t as big as it seems, and while there are differences in cultures, it’s up to you to find the parallels.

Set up a routine time to call or Skype with friends and family

Time zones can be a bitch. As you’re waking up, your friends on the other side of the globe are usually falling asleep or are heading out to parties. However, you can always find a time when the both of you are awake, and set up a schedule. For example, you might do it at 10 p.m. every Friday, or just as you’re waking up on a lazy Sunday. Whatever you agree on, make the schedule and stick to it.

Keep a journal

Writing out your heartaches and worries can do wonders for your mood. Plus, you’ll be able to look back on all of your positive experiences that you’ve written about too! Keep a notebook handy and figure out a style that works for you. You don’t have to write a play-by-play of your day; you might want to just bullet, or write three nice things that happened, regardless of how bad your day was.

Volunteer

Volunteering allows you to connect with people while keeping your mind and body occupied. That little Italian soup kitchen might need a hand every weekend, or maybe you want to pass out water bottles for those running in a 5K in France, or maybe you just want to knit blankets and scarves for the elderly while you watch Netflix. Ask your school if they know of any places that are looking for an extra hand, and get to work!

Explore the city

However long you’re studying abroad for is never enough time. Instead of missing friends and family back home, grab a friend and explore the city. Be sure to take lots of pictures so you’ll have stories to tell when you get back home. Also, try to talk to locals as much as you can, even if you don’t speak much of the language. They’ll definitely appreciate the effort and you might learn something about your host country!

Keep in Mind:

  • Never drink too much when you’re sad, especially if you are unfamiliar with the language, area, or the way drinks are prepared in your country.
  • Always keep emergency numbers for your host family, apartment, school, and city with you at all times.
  • Carry emergency medications/epi pens, etc. with you wherever you go.
  • Always go out with friends at night, and don’t leave them alone.
  • Keep a small amount of cash in a safe place separate from where you keep your wallet, in case something happens to it.
  • Charge your cellphone before going out, and always tell your host family where and how they can reach you. Give them an ETA of when you might be back. If your plans change, always let them know.

By Madeleine Fournier

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