How To Stay Mentally Healthy Abroad As An International Student

For some, the thought of traveling to a foreign land for school and spending months or years there is exhilarating; while for others, the idea frightens them into complacency. When thinking about studying abroad, we rarely focus on the psychological portion — which is as (if not more) important than the financial part. 

It's essential to focus on and prepare your mental health before leaving the country and surroundings that have been familiar to you your entire life. In this post, we'll explain why paying attention to your mental well-being is critical, how you can obtain growth through facing your fears, and five tips for staying mentally healthy abroad as an international student.

What is mental health, and why does it matter? 

By definition, mental health is a person's condition concerning their psychological and emotional well-being. Maybe it's something you talk about with family or friends, or perhaps the concept is foreign to you. Either way, it's something that needs to be taken into account when venturing to a land without a familiar support system. It is predicted that anxiety is the most common mental illness globally, affecting 284 million people. (Our World in Data, 2018). Experiencing anxiety when catapulting yourself into a new land is normal and exciting. Some in your life may attempt to discourage your newfound journey if you struggle with depression or anxiety. But this type of adventure may just be the type of healing and growth that can only happen when you face your fears head-on. 

Obtaining growth through facing your fears

"Do what you fear, and that fear is gone."—Charles McDonald. 

Those are simple words that hold so much truth. Facing your fears is something you'll have to do throughout your life. You'll do it when deciding where to study, picking a school, deciding on a major, deciding on a partner, a job, where you want to live, etc. With every significant decision you make, fear can find a way to creep in. Again, this is normal, but that fear shouldn't paralyze you into not making a decision. 

There is wisdom that comes from the experience of working through fears. Knowledge comes from all of life's experiences, but the fearful ones, in particular, teach us great lessons. Wisdom is always the by-product of facing your fears, and that's an important quality to develop, especially so early in life. Directly facing your fears also helps you build resilience. Studying abroad is just the beginning; life doesn't get easier per se, but we become more resilient. You can transform yourself above the fear and rise to face whatever is in front of you. Make yourself a priority, push for what you want, and practice self-care.

5 tips for staying mentally healthy abroad as an international student

Vowing to face your fears, focusing on your goals, and leaping oceans in some cases to study abroad will undoubtedly leave you feeling enlivened at first. But if your positive outlook takes a turn to gloomy town, here are some useful to stay mentally healthy while abroad:

  1. Form a support system early on.  Most universities offer mental health and counseling services for students, and if they don't, you can search for nearby counselors in your area, and of course, there is always a virtual counseling option. Another excellent resource is your advisor; they're there to help make your transition as smooth as possible, so be sure to reach out and tap into their insights and suggestions. 
  2. Socialize. This will help you stay mentally fit, and a healthy social life goes a long way in preventing depression and anxiety instances. So take out time from your studies to hang out with peers and friends as this will rejuvenate your mind, which will also help you focus better on your studies.  
  3. Exercise. Now that you're working on your mental fitness with socializing, you can work on your physical fitness with any activity type. It doesn't matter if it's weight-lifting, yoga, walking, etc.; they're all great stress relievers. Working out also increases the endorphins in our bodies, which are responsible for producing positive feelings. 
  4. Try a social media detox. Social media can be great to keep you connected to friends and family back home, but it can also be the source of depression and anxiety if you feel like you're missing out [FOMO]. Try to live in the moment and experience this journey in real-time, away from social media distractions. If you can't cut it out completely, try to set a time limit for how much you're on it a day (e.g., 30 minutes). 
  5. Accept that it's okay not to be okay. No matter what, you're going to have days where you feel sad for no apparent reason (which goes back to the initial mental preparedness of studying abroad). When this happens, you can remind yourself of all the reasons you have to be grateful: you're getting an opportunity that a lot of students wish they had, this experience is appealing to future employers, you get to learn all about yourself and your strengths, you get to explore and meet new people, and you get to push yourself out of your comfort zone and conquer your fears. 

Studying abroad comes with its fair share of emotional ups and downs, but if you really lean into every occurrence, you'll undergo a journey that will positively shape the rest of your life. Making an effort by doing the things above and staying mentally healthy while in a new country will expose you to new adventures, people, and experiences. Everyone has a different study abroad experience; just remember to listen to what your body and mind tell you and to take care of yourself — you've got this!

Research and resources:

Marissa Walsh, Pharm.D., BCPS-AQ ID, Mental Health Statistics 2021,, 21 January 2021

Mayo Clinic staff, Exercise and stress: Get moving to manage stress, Mayo Clinic, 18, August 2020

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