The study abroad experience is one of academia’s most rewarding. However, it can be harder on your body and your mental state than you might expect. It is important to prepare mentally and physically for your extended trip, and to understand that things are going to be different, and that you will face challenges. However, by devoting proper attention to your needs, and maintaining a healthy environment, you can help make sure your study abroad experience is more fun than worrisome.
I am going to talk about “security” abroad. In addition to physical safety, I mean financial and emotional security. These last two are where I ran in to the most unexpected problems. American Councils does an excellent job of helping students feel physically safe abroad, but financial and emotional security are less often discussed, owing to their personal natures.
My recommendation is to devote a good amount of time to thinking about your other safety and security needs before you take a trip abroad. Most important is to make sure you have a way to communicate when you get to your new host country. Find out if you will be using an international plan, local SIM, or buying a new phone. Think about things like: How are you going to pay your bills back home while away? Do you have enough money? What about for emergencies? These need to be addressed before you get on the plane.
Second is emotional security. Everyone knows about culture shock and homesickness. But, especially for first-time travelers, you might not even realize what these are or when these hit you. The most important thing to understand is that the stress of being in a new place, away from your friends and family, may complicate your mental state if you do not realize it and work to overcome it. There are times when you will be lonely. There are times when you want to talk to your friends or family but cannot. These are the times where, being most vulnerable, you need to work the hardest to keep yourself in a positive state of mind. One thing you can do before your trip to prepare to combat loneliness and homesickness is to talk to other people who have studied abroad. Ask them for their experiences, and ask them how they dealt with it.
My two recommendations would be: First, seek out your fellow students–these are people who are going through the exact same things you are–and second, make sure to give yourself a break every once-in-a-while. The rigors of academics abroad can take their toll if you do not sometimes take a step back and relax. Get your homework done, but do not feel guilty if you want to stay at home once a week and watch Netflix, instead of going out with your host family or friends. The most important thing I want to say is this: Please take your mental health abroad seriously. If you need help, and you are having trouble dealing with anything, please reach out to someone. By realizing all the challenges of studying abroad, and properly preparing for them, you will be able to devote much more of your time and energy to learning and having fun in your new country!
By: Jesse Wesso
Term: Summer 2018