Let’s face it, studying abroad isn’t always non-stop fun. Sometimes, it’s hard. Add all of that on top of the normal day to day stress of being a college student are all the realities of being abroad. You’re probably in a culture different from your own, and may experience culture shock, a progression of feelings that includes both euphoria and aggravation with your newfound home. A foreign language, different social norms, and new food can amplify everyday frustrations until you feel like you’ve had enough. ]Making matters worse, there’s a lot of pressure added to your time overseas. You or your family have likely spent a lot of money, and for many, there will only be one chance to study abroad. A study abroad semester may also be a once-in-a-lifetime opportunity for international travel. All these can cause you to feel stressed- out. To help you deal with these stress, here are some suggestions you should try:
One way to overcome that is to reconnect with the place you’re in and why you chose it in the first place. Check out that museum you’ve been meaning to see, or relax at the little cafe that caught your eye when you first arrived. If you’ve been darting throughout the country or region, take some time to really appreciate the city or town you’re in.
Rest and don’t try to “do it all”
It’s amazing how often being overtired can turn small annoyances into big problems. Spend a weekend in with some much-needed R&R, and keep an eye on when you turn in for the night when you have class the next day. Sometimes it stinks to be the one staying in or heading home early when others are going to the next club or headed out to a concert, but if you’re exhausted you won’t have much fun anyway, and you’ll pay for it in the morning. So pay attention to your own needs and rest up so you can get back out there with more energy.
Don’t underestimate the power of exercise either. Even if you’re feeling down, exerting more energy can raise your mood in a big way. Even just going for a walk can help clear your head. If you’re used to playing on an intramural team or visiting a state of the art gym back at your home university, one quick way to start feeling like yourself again is to get active. Ask around on campus to see if there are any teams you can join, pickup games or running groups.
Indulge in thoughtful hobbies
Other hobbies can help you feel good again, even if they don’t come with an endorphin rush. Reading a good book that takes place in your host country, blogging about your experience, and taking photos of your study abroad location can all be great ways to connect hobbies you love to your study abroad experience.
Eat some comfort food… from home
Food can also affect us in dramatic ways. If you’re feeling particularly homesick or your stomach is having a hard time with the local food, cut yourself some slack and indulge in food that makes you feel good. Eating vegetables can really help. Even if you’re feeling down, exerting more energy can raise your mood in a big way. If you’re used to a university with a meal plan and find yourself responsible for all your own meals, it can be quite an adjustment. Try getting friends together for a meal and trade recipes.
Find others who relate
Of course, there’s no reason to go through this alone. Try talking to roommates, classmates or friends in your program. Find someone you can be open with, but try not to get sucked into a cycle of negativity, especially if you’re talking with other study abroad students. It can be easy for blowing off a little steam to turn into a very unpleasant conversation that reinforces your concerns instead of alleviating them.
While friends and family back home may not understand exactly what you’re experiencing, they still know you well and will want what’s best for you, so don’t be afraid to reach out. You can also find meet experts and travelers. This will help you connect you to people who know what it’s like to leave home behind. Sometimes, just talking with someone else who gets it can make all the difference.
Another great resource is the program or university you’re studying abroad with, as well as your school back home. You’re definitely not the first student to have some tough times, so they’ll have experience with this. Your on-location staff can help you connect to other students in your program, or suggest events to get you excited about where you’re studying. If you’re having a more prolonged issue, like a class that’s a poor fit, an internship that wasn’t what you expected, or not getting along with a roommate, they’re the person who can suggest adjustments to resolve the situation. While you may be tempted to go it alone, there’s nothing wrong with asking for help, and sometimes shouldering too much of a burden can make things worse.
Take Action When You Aren’t Too Well
If it starts to feel like the burden is becoming too much to bear or is lasting too long, you may be experiencing something more serious than homesickness or burnout. Your program or university administrators can help connect you to someone if you think speaking with a counselor may help.
If you’ve had emotional health issues in the past, studying in a foreign country can exacerbate them, especially if you’re not prepared for it. Some students mistakenly think travel will make their problems go away, or that the early excitement of study abroad warrants going off of medications.
Be sure to always follow your doctor’s instructions, and don’t hesitate to get in touch with them if you think something’s wrong. Many people struggle with mental health, and there’s no reason for it to hold you back from enjoying your study abroad experience, so please seek assistance if you think you may need it.
Remember, study abroad isn’t perfect, and that’s okay. The important thing is to take care of yourself and to remember you’re not alone. Everyone has bad days, and culture shock is a well-documented phenomenon that even the most seasoned and culturally-aware travelers experience. The sooner you give yourself a break and try to figure out what’s at the root of your unease, the sooner you can come to terms with it and get back to enjoying your life-changing semester abroad.