Students preparing to study abroad have a lot to organize before leaving for a new country. Between packing and other physical steps needed before studying abroad, it is also key that students consider their own mental health before departure.
Sophomore year, before departing for my study abroad trip to Italy, I thought about how I anticipated responding to such a big change. Knowing I have anxiety about new things, I was worried I would get there and freak out, so I wanted to do everything I could to prepare and develop coping mechanisms.
Traci Belanger, senior counsel in the Wellness Center, echoed this intention, sharing how important it is for students to take the time to self-reflect and assess what their needs might be.
“Anyone traveling who may have any kind of medical or mental health questions should take the time to check in at the Wellness Center prior to their departure,” Belanger said. “Health Services and Counseling Services both have a team of helpful professionals who can answer most questions and find the answers for any they do not have. If someone is in treatment with services – health or mental health – outside of SNHU, then it is worth the time and effort to talk with your treatment team prior to traveling to make sure you have worked through such issues as medications, seeking help in the area where you will be living and how the health systems work in the country where you will be traveling.”
This is exactly what I did, as I spent the fall semester before leaving working with the Wellness Center and going to counseling to determine what sorts of things might be anxiety-inducing and how I could alleviate some of those stressors (e.g. travel, homesickness, culture shock, etc.)
For students getting ready to go, either in the fall or the spring semester, looking into counseling or researching other on or off campus resources can help to make this transition abroad, and back home, easier.
Belanger also highlighted how these resources can be beneficial upon returning to the United States, due to the potential difficulty transitioning back to “normal” life.
“Reverse culture shock is a real thing,” Belanger said. “You return from one of the most exciting times in your life, only to find your friends are blasé about the whole experience and are more focused on their homework and the new cutie on the floor. Both Study Abroad and the International Student Services offices can help with this issue with suggestions of how to present some of your wonderful experiences and how to keep your excitement about travel going forward.”
My study abroad experience allowed me the opportunity to better get to know myself and grow. If you experience anxiety or are worried about the study abroad experience, here are my three tips for your mental health.
Breathe. Whether you’ve missed your connecting flight or you forgot the word for the tiny, cream-filled pastry, just take a breath.
Balance. Remember to balance home and your new country. Homesickness will hit and it will be hard, but know when you need to call home and also when you just need to tell everyone you don’t have Wi-Fi.
Enjoy. Take time to appreciate even the small things. Take days just to sit outside. Remember even the bus ride can be beautiful.