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Ups & Downs of International Travel

Close up of two people with one person supporting the other
Close up of two people with one person supporting the other

Recognize the roller coaster of emotions that may arise when adjusting overseas to maintain your mental health.

Managing your mental health while studying abroad – whether or not you have a history of anxiety, depression, or other mental health conditions – is something every person must think about when going abroad.

Being away from usual stress at home can sometimes be a relief when abroad; experiencing new adventures can be a useful distraction. You will also have times when you feel confused, uncomfortable, annoyed, and many of the same emotions that you manage in your daily life at home. 

Here’s some suggestions for understanding what is going on.

  1. Recognize that some of what you will experience overseas is just part of the intercultural adjustment cycle (sometimes called “culture shock”), and it is common to all study abroad participants.
  2. Realize the low points are not necessarily attributable to a mental health diagnosis (e.g. home sickness, anxiety about understanding or speaking a foreign language, loneliness, fear of being robbed, etc.)
  3. Be aware that feeling very good is often just the high point of the cycle, which may make you feel that you no longer need medications (if you use them). Keep taking your meds and consult with a doctor first.
  4. Set benchmarks to see how you are feeling as time goes on (mobile phone apps can help track your feelings); the first days and weeks can be stressful for some and these can be normal feelings, but if you are feeling down or overwhelmed at any point in the program, reach out to others.
  5. Give it time; many of the problems that you could experience overseas will seem minor compared to the good experiences that you will have. However, if you feel that your health or safety is deteriorating, give yourself an outlet and permission to leave the program.

Read stories in the Related Resources and search “Mental Health” in our Resource Library to learn strategies used by other alumni who went abroad to make these overseas adjustments easier.  Also view the web resources in Related Links.

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