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Managing Depression on the Other Side of the Pond

Portia stands by the river at her U.S. campus
Portia stands by the river at her U.S. campus

As a visitor from England to the U.S., Portia recalls striking differences in U.S. culture and the academic accommodations she received for depression.

When I arrived in the United States to study business as part of my degree in International Management, I had a bit of culture shock; I thought England and America would be similar but found that they are actually quite different.

Contrasting Academic Cultures

First, after completing two years at my university in the UK, I discovered that I liked how the U.S. university was run. It was a lot more interactive, and the professors actually work in their field of instruction as opposed to only doing academic research.

I found that the classes were also easier in the U.S. than at home. In England, everything builds up over the entire year from September to June, and in June you have two weeks of absolutely horrendous studying and cramming to prepare for exams that cover the entire year. But in the U.S., the work was more continuous, which meant that if I had some weeks where I felt really down, it would only affect perhaps one quiz and one paper.

Overall, it was a low stress year because my grades didn’t count towards my degree. I only had to pass, which means it was a lot easier and I didn’t feel any pressure.

Differences in Disability Culture and Accommodations

I have used disability services both in England and in the U.S. I started seeing a counselor in high school, when I got to be 16. At the time, you weren’t really supposed to talk about mental issues, especially the older generation. My mum really struggled when it came out that I had depression; she had the idea that I should just get up and get over it.

Although there are counseling centers at my university in England, I knew that the U.S. was more geared up for mental health issues, since Americans are more openly emotional and there’s a lot more talking about feelings.

I spoke to my counseling center at home and they checked and emailed the disability services at the U.S. university. I didn’t personally tell my study abroad office, but I had my disability office forward them my accommodations letter so they were aware of it.

For quizzes, I received extra time and a separate room in the disability office or in a university building. If I had an issue of not handing in work on time, I spoke to the lecturers, and my absences were excused if I saw a counselor about them. I didn’t see a counselor in the U.S., and I was not using medications. I found that I was okay without them, so I decided to stay off them. My plan was that if if I wasn’t feeling well or if I was getting down again, I would speak to my parents and then go into the counseling center and the doctor.

Feeling More at Home in the U.S.

It was quite hard to make friends to begin with. For one thing, I’m a junior but was was living in dorms with freshman, who have different attitudes. The hardest time of the week was Sunday evening because you come down from a weekend and you have school on a Monday.

I find that my depression gets worse when I’m lonely or bored, and it’s better if I’m continuously busy.

So I made myself go out with some international students through a club, and I also joined a sorority. Then I moved to an apartment with four girls who were closer to my age. I had support systems – close friends and my parents – as well.

Coming Out Ahead

Even though studying in the U.S. meant having to face culture shock, I learned a lot about American business and how America views the rest of the world. In that sense, I got even more than what I expected.

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