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Studying Abroad - looking after your wellbeing

One of the highlights of your University experience may be having the opportunity to work / study abroad as part of your studies. Whilst this may provide a great opportunity to immerse yourself within a new culture, any change (even a positive one) produces stress – particularly in cases when you are distanced from your familiar surroundings and social networks; which makes it important to plan for how to look after your emotional wellbeing during this period. 

Sometimes it feels like we should only focus on the positives and opportunities of an experience, but naturally there will be some negatives and down-sides and so it is important to recognise these too, and seek help at an early stage to make sure that they do not become more problematic. 

Before You Go

There’s a lot to do before you travel abroad and (rightly so!) there’s a tendency to concentrate on all the practical issues which need to be sorted. 

Nevertheless it’s important to give yourself time and space to prepare emotionally for the experience ahead of you. You’ll get more out of the experience if you do. Take some time out to think through the following questions: 

Where/ who do you normally turn to for support? Will you still be able to access this support from abroad and if so, how? If not, what might you need to consider as an alternative? How good are you at being on your own? What do you need to feel safe, secure, and content? Is the unfamiliar an exciting adventure for you, or a cause for anxiety? (if the latter, preparation is the key – the known is always less scary) 

What keeps you going? 

When we are on familiar turf, doing our usual activities, the things we need to achieve wellbeing can be taken for granted. 

Top tip: For one day jot down all the activities you do, no matter how small (e.g. making a cup of tea, walking to the shops) At the end of the day mark the ones that you value the most – think about how this activity, routine or feeling can be transferred to a new place. 

What do I expect?

Whether consciously or sub-consciously we all have expectations. It’s worthwhile taking some time to think through what these are, and how realistic they are. One thing you can be sure of is that things are bound to be different. Try to learn and observe without making judgements about whether things are better or worse. Accepting things as different is a big step on the way to cultural adaptation. 

Maintaining Support 

If you are accessing support prior to going abroad, then most likely you will need it also during your period abroad. If you are accessing professional support, it’s advisable to talk through your plans with the professional concerned to come up with pro-active strategies, discuss possible triggers which might indicate that additional help needs to be sought, and map out a plan of how you might access this support. 

Don’t worry! It’s normal!

Expect to feel a mixture of excitement and apprehension – it would be unusual not to. The information on Culture Shock will help you identify which stage in the process you are currently in. Be accepting of how you feel and be pro-active about seeking help (from friends, tutors or other professionals) if you need it. 

Look out for one another

Generally students will keep in touch with their friends somehow. If you’re concerned about someone and feel they may be struggling during their time abroad; talk to them about this. Remind them about the support available and be supportive of them. You’ve probably known them longer than people they’ve met during their time abroad, and might well be better placed to notice a change in their wellbeing. 

Homesickness 

Being away from friends, family and your usual routines can be challenging. It can lead to feelings of homesickness, fatigue or stress. The NUS’s research in homesickness has found that 50-70% of students experience this so you are not alone. 

You can find more information regarding homesickness on the Wellbeing Support Service Website 

  • Notice your thoughts and feelings. By allowing yourself time to notice what you are experiencing you can gain an understanding of it. Take a moment just to savour a moment. 
  • It is also key to remind yourself “this will pass”. 
  • Also notice your routine. Think about how you can create a routine for yourself, this could include something like setting a morning alarm or ensuring you put an hour in your day for a relaxing activity. 
  • Be active: Think about what helps you be energised. Exercise helps us combat stress, look for local sports centres or take time out to walk and explore the local area. Also think about how you can eat well. Make sure you have a small repertoire of healthy meals that you can cook in a few minutes. This will become invaluable on days that you are pressed for time. Don’t have caffeine in the evening. 
  • Give: Research shows that by giving you can feel better about yourself. It could be something as simple as sharing a smile with someone but also think about volunteering; it looks great on the CV and can help you get involved in meaningful work with other students. 
  • Keep learning: If you are having academic difficulties or concerned about your course then speak to your personal tutor. They are there to support you and make sure you get the most out of your studies. Don’t rush a decision and find out what your options are. Local contact will probably be the best place to start, but whether you’re a Warwick student studying overseas, or an international student studying at Warwick, your home institution will also be available to advise you. 
  • Connect with people: Make sure that you routinely keep in touch with those people you care about and who are good for you. Book in regular appointments to Skype your best friends, whether they are from home or University. Balance this with exploring new opportunities – it may take extra effort to make new friends in a new country but the pay-off may be life-changing. 

People you could ask for help

There’s a long list of people you could potentially approach, ranging from peers, family, and friends, through more formal connections, supervisors, mentors, to professional help providers, the University and local health and social services. Be open-minded and creative in thinking about potential people who may be able to help. Maybe you could test the water with a friend before talking to someone in a more formal role. 

Wellbeing Support Services at Warwick 

Warwick’s support network is available to you wherever in the world you are. Whether you are on campus, living elsewhere in the UK or on the other side of the world, you are still a Warwick student. Whilst the method of accessing support may depend on your location, the same support is available to all. When overseas, many students continue their support from Warwick through regular sessions via Skype or phone, but do bear in mind that in many instances, it may be appropriate for you to access support locally, either as well as, or instead of Warwick services. 

Contact Wellbeing Support Services for advice about the range of services available and the best way for you to access the most appropriate support for you. If you are overseas, you may be especially interested in making use of the email counselling service. 

Please be aware that Wellbeing Support Services work to normal office hours. In an emergency, it will usually be appropriate to access local statutory support.  

Once you have asked for help 

If you are unsure of the advice or options provided don’t be afraid to ask for clarification. If you think the advice or options are not the most suitable, then express this! When you have been given advice or support, think about the best way to implement it for you. Don’t be afraid to ask for help again. 

Some useful links: 

Outside Links:

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