Whether you are studying abroad at a different university or on placement/ interning in a different city or country, being away from your comfort zone and in a new environment will sometimes come with its own difficulties. The effect of moving away on mental health is often not spoken about before departure, and this can potentially end up completely overshadowing what should be a year of making new friends, improving language skills and learning a new way of life.
So it is important to recognise that these transitions can be challenging, and anticipating being away from home and familiar support networks can sometimes lead to worry, anxiety and stress. These emotions are to be expected, especially when you’re adapting to a new environment, culture, group of friends, education system, and sometimes even a new language in a short timeframe.
Here are a few tips to look after yourself whilst abroad and a list of some resources that are available to you if you live or study in Amsterdam more specifically.
Go-to’s for the lonelier times
You don’t need to be physically alone to feel lonely, loneliness is a very common feeling and sometimes it comes with a simple change in weather. You can shift feelings of loneliness with a few routine habits.
Silence your inner critic
Stop comparing yourself to other people and instead set yourself some realistic goals – both academically and personally. Although it may sound counter-intuitive, when you do notice your negative thoughts, take a moment to actively listen to them.
Here is a link from the Headspace website to help you silence the inner chatter and find confidence in being present: https://www.headspace.com/meditation/confidence
Keep a journal
it’s simple but effective. Writing down your thoughts while you’re on exchange is a healthy outlet for expressing and managing your emotions and it can help give you a balanced perspective on your exchange. E.g, by documenting the good, the bad, concerns, positive self-talk, you can look back at your notes a couple of months down the line and realise the aspects that have improved 🙂
It’s okay to not be a social butterfly 24/7
Study abroad can feel pretty full on, especially in terms of socialising. You are constantly meeting new people and it can be hard to balance finding the time for yourself in the midst of it all. As an introvert myself, I value my own space and time for reflection, so I have really struggled with this, but at the same time, it’s important to continue to make time for things that make you happy, even when it feels like you don’t have enough hours in the day. Know that it’s okay to say no to some social events to focus on yourself instead.
Live in the present
I once saw the quote “the universe is so much more interesting than any social media alert will be”. Try to resist the urge to constantly call and message your friends and family at home. Embrace their sudden absence with enthusiasm and try see your exchange as an opportunity to connect with all aspects of your new environment. Put yourself out there and make the effort to meet new friends. Putting down your phone and taking a break from social media can also help.
Learning how to deal with stress is important, and mindfulness can help. Relaxation exercises can improve your state of mind and outlook on life. Mindfulness for students by Stella Cottrell is a book I would really recommend. Also, freemindfulness.org is a great website for free-to-download mindfulness meditation exercises.
Seeking help is a sign of strength — not a weakness.
Your university (both at home and away) are also here to help you and ensure you are well whilst on your study abroad, so do not hesitate to contact them.
Useful resources, both at the University of Amsterdam and in the city
- I have made use of the free mindfulness course for HvA and UvA students. This is a course that is free to enrol onto and lasts 6 weeks. I am really enjoying it so far and have met a lot of like minded people I otherwise would never have got to know. If you want to register onto the course or find out more about it: https://student.uva.nl/en/content/az/training-and-workshops/psychological-support/mindfulness/mindfulness.html
- The University of Amsterdam offers its students ‘contemplation rooms’ across its various campuses. These spaces are neutral and inclusive, so students can reflect or meditate in a peaceful and safe environment:https://student.uva.nl/en/content/az/contemplation-rooms/contemplation-rooms.html?origin=KRqlSCJvTWW3Nl%2FRMdykVg
- Within the UvA, there are several departments to which you can turn for help, contact a student counsellor or a psychologist here: https://student.uva.nl/en/content/az/health-and-wellbeing/themes/mental-health.html
- CREA, which is located on Roeterseiland campus is open to both the public and students and runs free mindfulness drop in sessions as well as creative activities to help you de-stress and look after yourself, physically and mentally. Check their timetable here: https://www.crea.nl/cursussen/body-and-mind/?lang=en
I’ve been stressed whilst on my study abroad but I try to keep reminding myself that these new challenges and feelings of incompetency are indicators that I’m growing both as a person and academically, and that outweighs the stress of it all really.