By George Davies – The University of Calgary, Canada
The topic of mental health is commonly discussed in the realm of studying overseas. So whilst I may not be contributing anything new to this topic, I wanted to share my experiences with anxiety during my year away. As well as the coping mechanisms I tried to deploy and useful links available during your time away.
I don’t claim to be someone who significantly suffers from mental health issues, nor do I feel that my personal anxieties are comparable or representative of the many issues people find with anxiety disorders. What this post intends to highlight is some of the mental struggles a student may come across and possible methods or support to cope, in order to make the time spent abroad a smoother ride.
With parallels to entering the first year of university, studying abroad places you in a new and unfamiliar environment. Although it can feel like a backwards step with regards to making friends and continuing the flow of your studies from Manchester, I found comfort in familiarity. In particular, this familiarity came with reading up on the city’s culture and history before my arrival. This allowed me to transition over to Canada with a greater ease than I did when I moved up to Manchester.
Knowing where services were, sites of interests and the general layout of the city made my arrival in Calgary a notably more streamlined process than crashing into Manchester, as I did during the start of first year. Given the independence and often feeling of isolation of going abroad on your own, researching and gauging the environment may ease things when settling down.
Sustaining a healthy relationship with your partner during your time away does not come without its hurdles. There are various posts on this site and around the internet that can help to prepare and guide you through this period of your relationship: how to survive long distance relationships, how study abroad changed my relationship and how to survive a long distance relationship whilst abroad. I found myself in good luck with my better half beginning her own undergraduate studies back in the UK. We found this allowed us to keep ourselves busy and set dates for when we would be able to meet. I found it helpful to keep this mindset. By booking flights in advance and planning trips for Christmas and Easter breaks, we both knew that we could catch up then as well as relieving ourselves from the pressures of ‘constant’ communication.
Prior to my departure, we were both pretty clueless as to how to cope with being apart for up to four months at a time. Whilst the first couple of months involved shaky conversations from either side of the Atlantic, it became clear that being separate and pretty independent was actually a good thing. Although we both had many doubts, the reality of being long distance was not as awful as we had previously thought. Having time apart made our relationship grow into something that was the polar opposite of our initial thoughts. Once our paths crossed again, a sense of reassurance and calm were able to overcome us, due to the feelings we shared. Overall, taking away the pressure and constant FaceTime calls we were able to experience a year full of love, but also adventure and independence.
During my time away, I often struggled with finding the balance between keeping up with my Canadian adventures, as well as not wanting to miss out on events happening at home. The self-prescribed ‘parallel universe syndrome’ sometimes became overwhelming. By trying to organise internships, plan family/friend holiday’s or trying to solve disputes from 5,000 miles away, it sometimes took away from what is waiting outside my front door.
One of my take-home pieces of advice is that when you may feel like you’re not in the right place, or what you want to be doing is not happening where you are, take a walk around the block without your phone or laptop. Recall all the hard work you put in to being where you are in that moment, and try to appreciate the landscape you get to call home.