It was typical for Jennifer Smith* to meander through different wards of the nearby hospital in Ghana where she volunteered after the day’s classes. But on one less-than-typical day, in the children’s ward, she saw her post-college plans snap into focus where they had once been hazy.
The humid heat in Malaysia, lack of air conditioning, and cold showers made adjusting to the first four days of her study abroad program difficult for Stephanie, a student from University of South Florida. She also had to get used to wearing long skirts and pants in the heat, as is customary for women in this predominantly Muslim country.“I have depression paired with anxiety and once I got there, it spiked. I don’t know what it was. Leaving a lot of the luxury that you take for granted played a part. It was like the realization that you are definitely not home.”
Then by the fifth day, it all changed. The experiences she had been exposed to in Malaysia began to make the journey worth it, despite some discomforts. She had put in place different strategies to make adjusting to living abroad easier: journaling her feelings, maintaining her medication, and finding a way to connect by Internet back home.
Travis Gunn has been told that he is missing out on life, that his fear is allowing it to pass him by. He spent years trying to change himself. Others have spent years trying to “fix” him. And after four years, four continents, eight countries, and a countless number of cultures, he found what he needed most. And, it was his Global Studies degree from the Global College of Long Island University in New York that helped him achieve it.
When it came to the day she was dropped off at the airport, Yanin’s concerns that had kept her up at night, turned into tears and nerves. She was leaving familiarity behind in order to study abroad. Actually, Yanin, who has anxiety and depression, found the courage to study abroad, twice.
The first time a scholarship attracted her to spend a summer in Slovakia at the University of Economics in Bratislava. It was a group program with other Americans.
Talking through her concerns with others helped study abroad student Amanda let go of her anxieties over the summer she spent in Florence, Italy.
I have always considered India to be one of the most vibrant and fascinating areas of the world. The idea that I could study in Bangalore seemed like a remote dream to me until I received the Gilman Scholarship. In India, I observed how people deal with poverty and adversity and am attempting to incorporate my findings into conquering my own personal struggles.
It’s a really big transition to go from high school to college, and I really needed a year off from academics to go out and see the world. In high school or college, you are expected to do what people tell you to do; I was suffocating in high school and just needed to get away.
With a gap year it was more about advocating for myself on what I wanted to do based on my needs and what I felt comfortable with. I enjoyed the independence I got during my gap year, and by doing volunteer work, I was accomplishing something and being helpful to those who needed it.
At a recent study abroad conference over 250 professionals chose to attend our panel session on mental health. Why was there so much interest?
People attended our session largely to find out how to avert or deal with a crisis. After we did our best to relieve some of their uncertainty and shared suggestions for improving the design and preparations of study abroad programs, we had a chance to end with this message:
For every student with a mental health-related disability who experiences a crisis abroad, many more will succeed.