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.
By Imogen Henry-Campbell, Case Western Reserve University, USA
Studying on a year abroad is one of the best opportunities that you will ever have in your life. Meeting new people, being in a different culture and learning to be completely independent are incredible skills to have, but studying abroad can also be extremely tough, especially if you get ill. I, unfortunately found myself in the hospital after a month in and although it was hard, I am feeling much better.
As a student who has also suffered from anxiety and stress-related problems, year abroad can be especially tough on your health. So these are my tips for coping with the mental and physical strain of being abroad:
If you are feeling sad or homesick, speak to someone about it. I can’t stress how much better I have felt after just explaining to someone how I feel. If someone asks ‘how are you’ and you are feeling homesick tell them! Chances are they will make you feel better and offer empathy. Don’t be afraid to tell new people how you are really feeling.
Listen to your body! If you feel unwell please go and see a Doctor, you know your body best if something does not feel right then go and see the Doctor as soon as possible.
Make sure you have health insurance. I am on the student health plan here and although it is expensive the care I got whilst in the hospital was incredible and so efficient.
Speak to a good friend or family member. Most people are only a phone call away. I have sometimes avoided ringing people as I thought it would make me feel more homesick but it was the complete opposite.
Do not isolate yourself. It can be easy when things get difficult and lonely to isolate yourself further by staying in your room. But get out there! Explore the area, go for a coffee on your own, be brave and text a new friend. It is really important to spend time with people.
It is okay to have bad days and to cry. (even if it means crying in the food hall whilst eating your waffles) Sometimes you just need to let out the emotions you are feeling.
Write down your feelings. I have been keeping a diary and been trying to write it in as much as possible, especially when I am finding it tough. It is good to look back on the times you felt bad and realise they are just days and you have got through all of them.
Fuel your body with good food. It is easy to forget about simple things like eating when you are so busy especially if you are missing home-cooked meals. However, your body needs fuel and energy
Spend time in nature. I have organised to go hiking and escape from the city and campus for a day.
Use the services your university provides. At Case, we are so lucky to have a walk-in counselling service where you can be seen immediately if you need someone to speak to. There is also a service called ESS who can help you time manage your week and prioritise your work.
Switch up your work environment. Working in the same place every day can quickly become boring. Maybe work in a coffee shop, or form a study group with friends.
Join a society or club. It is definitely an easy way to meet like-minded people who share the same interest as you.
Get active! Doing exercise has definitely helped me, but remember to also have breaks.
Study 45 minutes on and 15 minutes off. This method has helped me especially when I have put off starting work. 45 minutes doesn’t seem too daunting and taking regular breaks is important.
Most importantly, take time out to yourself. Have a day to just do absolutely nothing and unwind when you need it.
Studying abroad for me has been a great opportunity to learn a lot. It can be hard and lonely at times and especially so if you get sick, but for every bad day, there are plenty more good days.