Taking Care of Your Mental Health While Abroad

By: Rebekah Powell

Moving to and living in a new country comes with its fair share of challenges. The drastic changes that come with studying abroad can affect your emotions greatly. While you may get busy traveling on the weekends, exploring your city, and studying, it is important to continue to take care of your mental health. Despite American laws and regulations preventing many mental healthcare providers from treating clients abroad, there are plenty of local resources provided by CIEE to take care of your mental health.

First, it is important to know that a lot of the emotions you may go through are the same emotions that your peers are going through and that people before you have experienced too. Understanding what to expect when it comes to feelings and emotions during different phases of your study abroad experience is helpful in processing and coping with these emotions. I would also like to mention that the process I am about to describe is NOT universal. While it is common, everyone experiences things differently and it is ok if your emotions do not perfectly align with this process – I know mine sure didn’t! Because of this I will also share my own personal experience regarding emotions and mental health. 

What to expect:

During the first week or so you may feel the initial high of living in a new environment and exploring all sorts of different foods, places, and activities. After a while, it is normal to feel frustrated as cultural differences become more apparent, especially with language barriers. You may then start to feel the initial low characterized by homesickness, sadness, and sometimes depression. As time goes on, however, many people work their way through these challenges and out of this low. 

While I did experience a couple of these points, my emotional process looked a little bit different. I did not experience the initial high. I was sad, homesick, scared, and stressed right off the bat. I immediately wanted to go home and started to convince myself that my feelings were invalid and I should be feeling the same excitement that all of my peers seemed to be experiencing. I stressed myself out about making friends because it felt like people had already found their own groups. (If you’re catching on, the first couple of weeks are basically freshman year all over again). Slowly but surely, I began to find my friends and become more comfortable in this new environment. 

Taking care of yourself:

You may go through many ups and downs throughout the semester as you deal with traveling, schoolwork, socializing, etc. It is important to make sure that you get plenty of sleep! It may seem like there simply isn’t enough time in the day to do everything you want and still get a good 8 hours. I found it helpful to take a couple weekends off from traveling to rest and reset. Secondly, make sure you are staying active. It should be fairly easy in a new city as you may do a lot more walking than normal. If you can find the time, go for a run or try out a gym or workout class near you. Exercise is a great way to boost your mood. If you tend to get more down during the winter months, I highly recommend a light therapy lamp and vitamin D. Try to get as much sunlight as you can!

While these are a few things you can do on your own, CIEE also offers some great resources when it comes to taking care of your mental health. CIEE offers referrals to several counselors and therapists with different specialties. Here in Prague, CIEE provides referrals to both Czech and American mental health professionals. Along with this, CIEE offers weekly excursions and activities to help you stay connected with your fellow classmates and explore different hobbies. Lastly, I highly recommend reaching out to a trusted professor or staff member. They are here to help you along this journey in any way that you may need!