Listent to the Podcast about Studying Abroad
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 a coping person will notice these too, and seek help at an early stage to make sure that they do not become more problematic.
Before You Go
Prepare yourself emotionally!
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. Vow 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.
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.
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.
Here are some top tips for dealing with homesickness based on the wellbeing 5 from the Foresight Project
1) 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.
2) 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.
3) 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.
4) 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.
5) 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.
What are the indicators that you need to ask for some support?
We sometimes expect the initial emotion we experience to last. This could be excitement of novelty, anticipation, fear of the unknown or even boredom! Regardless of what emotion you experience this will pass. If, however, you are starting to feel stuck in a negative emotion, then this may be time to think about looking for some support.
There may be lots of indicators that things are not going so well. What have you noticed at these times?
Some common indicators are the following:
Changes in sleep, energy, appetite, routine, motivation.
Changes in mood – feeling anxious or stressed, worrying, or feeling depressed or lonely.
No longer enjoying activities that used to give pleasure.
You find yourself repeatedly saying “I don’t have time”, “I should…” “Why always me”.
All your efforts focus on one aspect of life at the expense of the other areas.
Finding that you are not as efficient or effective at your work or you are struggling to understand
If you have these indicators it may be time to think about what you can do to give yourself a little ‘Tender Loving Care’. Often we can find ways of overcoming these things ourselves. However we can sometimes get stuck in our own perception and it can be useful to have another’s perspective. If you have tried unsuccessfully on your own or others have information that may be helpful to you then don’t be afraid to ask for help.
There are common barriers to asking for help which include:
I should be independent (Sometimes getting some advice or support can actually enable you to maintain independence as it will ”nip it in the bud”).I will wait until somebody notices (Sometimes we can be surprisingly good at covering up or people are waiting for you to ask)I don’t deserve help / there are people who have a bigger need (this isn’t about other people – it is about you)It’s not that badIt will go on my record (The University is bound by strict data protection laws around confidentiality and the Equality Act. Future employers do not find out.)Worries that the person won’t know how to help or will judge
Accepting the need for help:
"Have I already tried to solve my problem, without success?" "Am I unsure of how to proceed?""Am I worried about how things will turn out?" “Will bad things happen if I don't solve this problem?“ Tell yourself you need help!
How to ask for help
Be confident in asking. Asking for help shows insight and reflection. Have a think about what the desired outcome would be, also be prepared to be flexible as this may not be an option but other options may present themselves. Think about who you can ask!
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, such as Student Support at 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.
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 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 University Support Services work to normal office hours. In an emergency, it will usually be appropriate to access local statutory support (but see further information in Travel Safely Abroad about accessing the University in an emergency).
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:
Third year abroad.com - Lots of useful information and blogs on issues whilst abroad such as; being a vegetarian, coping with depression, coping with an assault, keeping fit, planning for emergencies. (the University of Warwick is not responsible for the content of external websites)
https://www.student.com/articles/depression-at-university-studying-abroad/ article on studying abroad
Other information for British students wishing to study abroad:
The University of Warwick cannot be responsible for the content of other websites