How to look after yourself on a year abroad

A year abroad is something to look forward to, to enjoy, and to cherish in your memories for the rest of your life. During preparation for a year abroad, it’s likely one will talk to previous students who share their experiences – mostly, overwhelmingly, positive. However, it’s important to remember that not everyone has the same experiences, and more importantly, your health and mental health can be affected in ways you didn’t expect. Being abroad whilst feeling stressed, anxious or depressed can make your situation feel worse, being far from home, in unfamiliar surroundings. However, these are some tips I have found that have helped me feel better and generally improved my outlook on my year abroad.

These methods that have helped me whilst living away and certainly aren’t the only things you can do/should do – if your situation is severe the first thing you should do is go to a doctor.

  1. Keep talking to people around you

This can seem difficult. However, talking to your friends who are away with you will mean someone will be there to physically be there: to watch films with you, go for a run with you, go to university with you. Whatever you feel like doing, it’s a good idea to let someone know who’s nearby, so you don’t end up feeling more isolated.

  1. Keep talking to your home university & people at home

Letting your Leeds/home university personal tutor know what’s going on is helpful as they are the experts on spending time away and how your experience should go. They can give advice and contact your foreign university if you want them to, plus if your work is being affected they’ll understand why. Another important point is to maintain contact with your friends and family at home. Depending on how close you are with them, it’s a good idea to let people know you’re not having a great time so they can support you and talk to you about it.

  1. Find things to look forward to

Whilst it’s important to continue going to university/your job so you don’t fall behind, it can seem like the last thing you want to do when you’re struggling with the language or workload. A way to get through this is to find things to look forward to – book trips away to another country, go visit a friend in another city or spend a day exploring somewhere new. Trips away give you something to look towards, are relaxing and can take your mind off problems you’re experiencing in your normal routine; hopefully, you should be coming back refreshed and ready to try again.

  1. Try to maintain a routine of exercise, eating well and sleep

If you’re feeling low, wanting to lock yourself away from the outside world is common. But a better way to get over low moods is to take yourself outside, whether it’s to exercise or simply go for a walk – you can return home feeling like you’ve accomplished something more than just your normal routine. Doing regular exercise will also help you sleep better if you’re struggling to get to sleep at a normal time. Eating well can be difficult in a different country with a diet you’re not used to, but it’s important to maintain eating healthily instead of relying on unhealthy delivery food.

  1. If you need to, just go home

This seems harder for students studying further afield than Europe, but it’s still very much do-able. It’s not giving up, and as someone said to me – it’s not an endurance test. Going home at some point is a great way to have a break and regroup yourself before another period of living abroad. Don’t deny yourself a trip home because you think you must stay away for a whole year – you’ll feel much better by not forcing yourself to stay away.

Written by Kate Price – Pontificia Universidade Catolica Do Rio de Janeiro, Brazil

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