Coping With Anxiety Abroad… And From Home

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.

Continue reading “Coping With Anxiety Abroad… And From Home”

Doing everything vs. staying sane

By Nooa Karlo, (University of Hong Kong, Hong Kong)

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Not a stereotypical exchange student.

There’s a common and stereotypical image of exchange students as these endlessly spirited and energetic creatures that will take every and any chance to find new experiences and opportunities. They’re people who are always smiling, going out, organising and participating in activities, partying, exploring and experiencing. Sometimes this also includes studying hard, sometimes not. In any case, it has been clear to me from the beginning that I did not fit well into this image. Continue reading “Doing everything vs. staying sane”

Till It Happens To You

There is an inescapable bubble that absorbs you when you study abroad. Everything is exciting, everything is new – new friends, new classes, new experiences. You quickly adapt to living at three times the speed of real time, where a week goes by in a day and a month is over before you’ve had time to process yesterday’s reading for class. But I’d implore any potential ‘go abroad’ student to just, if only briefly, think back to that very distant lecture in Manchester that was ominously titled ‘It Won’t Happen to Me’. I admit, it escaped my memory as soon as my suitcase fell off the baggage claim in RDU airport. However, it’s really important to know what your options are if you receive news from back home that temporarily bursts the study abroad bubble.

Last month, I received a text at 3am that reminded me that life at home is not left in a state of perfect paralysis as soon as you leave the country. The death of a loved one hits very hard, regardless of your geographical proximity to them. Being told that I could not statistically make the journey back for the funeral was very painful and frustrating and for the first time since arriving in the States, I felt quite deserted.

Trying to process this news whilst preparing for my first midterm exam that very same day was another challenge in itself. I chose to sit the exam, I had already prepared for it and didn’t want it looming ahead in an already hectic university schedule. But I also decided it might be worth contacting the Study Abroad Office back in Manchester. It did feel slightly awkward and somewhat useless (what could anyone do about the situation?) but it actually provided me with protection for my academic standing both at NC State and UOM. It seems an odd thing to consider during such a period of shock, however it helped to alleviate the stress of working and provided me with some mental space to grieve.

With this in mind, I cannot stress enough how crucial it is to consider your mental health, especially as a student. Thankfully my family and friends at home are all available for me to contact whenever I need to. I am also lucky to have superb friends over here in the States who I’m extremely grateful to for looking after me. Going abroad can be stressful, things can go wrong and sometimes we just can’t be where we want to be. But being out of my comfort zone has prepared me in many more ways than I imagined. Having global support has bridged the distance between here and home, and I am now aware of having a strong support network wherever I may be in the world.

This blog post is addressed to any student who ever finds themselves getting THAT phone call or text. To anyone who is caught in a national or local emergency, or who is struggling, for a short period or every single day, with mental or physical health. It is so important to have open communication between you and your academic institution. Any stress-inducing situation that hinders your academic capabilities is not just your burden to bear. There are mitigating circumstances, there is support and advice available to you, and you are absolutely not alone.

Erasmus, disabilities and long-term health conditions

As a former exchange student and a student with a disability, I thought I knew all there was to know about the funding and support available to disabled students, but alas I was wrong.  Indeed, there are more options than I first thought.

When I decided I wanted to go on exchange, I was adamant I did not want to study in Europe and instead wanted to go as far away as possible, as I felt this would make the most of my time away.  Since I have been back, I have found out more about the options available in Europe, which are particularly helpful to those who feel they would be unable to study abroad due to their health condition, without the help of additional funding.  Whilst I am fortunate that my disability proved fairly unproblematic, as I didn’t have to transport equipment or copious different medications, had I realised the benefits to staying in Europe, I might have given it a chance.

What benefits?

Firstly, is the additional funding available through Erasmus+.  Not only are you entitled to the Erasmus grant, but you are also able to apply for a higher amount to help cover additional costs arising as a result of your health.  Whilst there is no absolute guarantee that you will be awarded this additional sum, it is worth considering, especially as there is no set limit of funding through this avenue.

Secondly, is ‘other funding’.  This is quite difficult to access information on but worth exploring. For some courses, it is possible to obtain funding from private bodies, notably Google have scholarships for technology-based degrees, but there will be different options available to you, depending on your course.  It is also worth contacting different societies (e.g. the Epilepsy Society) and charities to see if they are able to help. It isn’t always possible, but you may find they are able to help, especially if you are willing to promote their cause.

Thirdly, is proximity to home.  As I have already mentioned, I wanted to get as far away as possible and it is absolutely possible to do this with a disability or health condition.  This said it is worth thinking about the likelihood of problems with your health- if you are really unwell its much easier to fly home for the weekend, or for a hospital appointment if you are in Poland compared with New Zealand!

Finally, is the law (sorry, I am a law student, so it had to be said!).  Although the laws in European countries do differ, there is a greater consistency when compared to other parts of the world.  There are some clear benefits of European laws, including the prohibition of discrimination on the grounds of disability (EU Charter of Fundamental Rights) and the protection of rights of persons with disabilities (UN Convention on the Rights of Persons with Disabilities).  Interestingly, the EU is currently contemplating a European Accessibility Act, which aims to increase accessibility for all, but with a particular focus on education, which could make a huge difference to those with disabilities and health conditions studying in Europe. Of course, there are many countries with disability legislation of their own and so this maybe be unproblematic, but I would really recommend having a look at the protections legislation can offer you in your desired country.  Remember, what is considered a disability in the UK may not be considered a disability in another country!

My Advice

There is definitely more to consider when applying to study abroad when you have a disability or long-term health condition, but it doesn’t make it impossible.  The greatest advice I can offer to students thinking of embarking on an exchange is to first disclose your condition to the university and more specifically the exchange office and secondly, to really consider all options.  I have friends who studied in Europe and absolutely loved their time there- it doesn’t really matter where you go, it is what you do with your time that will shape your exchange.

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