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.
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.
"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.
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:
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, Singlecare.com, 21 January 2021
Mayo Clinic staff, Exercise and stress: Get moving to manage stress, Mayo Clinic, 18, August 2020