YOU ARE ABROAD! It’s so wild! You are literally in another country right now, out of your own comfort zone. Whether you are familiar with the culture or not, it is a big accomplishment, so give yourself a pat on the back. You’re doing great. You’re probably spending your days in class (hopefully) or exploring the city, and your nights are likely filled with some much-deserved fun. While it’s easy to get caught up in the magic of being in a new country, you need to remember to take care of yourself first. This is a once in a lifetime opportunity and you want to be able to enjoy it!
Your first few weeks are going to be filled with new adventures in your study abroad destination. However, as someone who has been diagnosed with Persistent Depressive Disorder and Generalized Anxiety Disorder, these constant adventures and socialization can be very draining and a threat to your mental health. So one of the things that I encourage all of you to do, whether you have dealt with mental illness before or not, is practice S E L F - C A R E.
Here are 5 tips I have for practicing self-care while abroad!
1. Have enough medication.
It’s important to note that it may be difficult to find the same medication in the country you are studying in. This is something you have to do before you leave for your semester or year abroad. Let your physician know that you are going abroad and ask them to prescribe you enough medication for your stay abroad.
2. Stay calm and get yourself oriented.
Orientation week is any socially anxious person’s nightmare. For me it seemed like days of endless socializing and fake laughing in a desperate dash to make friends as soon as possible. Stay calm, and really take the time to get to know people. Don’t worry about trying to be friends with everyone, but work on building relationships with people that seem genuine and have the same interests! It’s likely that people will be going out a lot during orientation week. Indulge if want, but know your limits.
3. Know when to go out and when to stay in.
This is college. College students party. It is a fact of life. Combine this with a new country, new people, new clubs and you’ve got yourself some excitement. If you have 4-day weekends like me, then it is easy to get pulled in with people to go out every night of your weekend. Though this might be fun, take the time to get to know what your body really wants. Sometimes mine doesn’t want to go out clubbing, it just wants to order an 18-piece McNugget combo with large fries, seaweed seasoning and a large Coke Zero and lay in bed binge-watching Netflix until I fall asleep with leftover McNuggets on my chest. Who am I kidding? There were NO leftover McNuggets.
4. Look towards the staff and faculty in your program for support.
It’s easy to think, “I’ll only be here for a semester, I don’t really need to get to know them.” A HUGE part of self-care is having support systems. You are in a new country so you probably won’t have regular access to the support systems that you had before. When I got to the Chinese University of Hong Kong, I made an appointment with a therapist to check-in and let them know that I am on medication for depression and anxiety, just so they know that there is an exchange student here that may need extra support. I made sure to let my ISEP Student Advisor and my on-campus advisor know as well. It’s hard to speak openly about mental illness, but when you take steps toward breaking down that stigma, you are helping more than just yourself.
5. Understand the effects of alcohol.
This is one of the harder topics to talk about but there definitely needs to be a discussion around it. While I cannot legally buy and drink alcohol in the U.S., I can legally buy and drink alcohol in Hong Kong. This is common for many countries, and students will take advantage of this when studying abroad. For some people living with mental illness, you will be taking medication to rebalance the chemicals in your brain. For some, you won’t be allowed to drink alcohol. In my case, I am able to have some but not too much. It’s important to take the time to understand how alcohol is affecting you and your medication and find middle ground. Have fun, but don’t go overboard. And if you do, forgive yourself and try again. I am abroad to learn about myself and medication has become a recent development in my life and I need to learn how to live with that as well.
P.S. Success isn’t linear and your journey to better self-care doesn’t have to be either.
Aaron is studying abroad with ISEP at The Chinese University of Hong Kong from Chapman University in the U.S.
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