It’s no secret that the pandemic has had an impact on all of us and has made the past year one to remember. Fortunately, many students were able to make international education happen this spring, and we’ve been celebrating our return to study abroad. However, we understand that the past 12-ish months haven’t been easy and the choice to study abroad during COVID-19 is not to be taken lightly. Whether you decide to study abroad in 2021 or are waiting for 2022 to be your year, keep your mental health in mind when making your decision. Here are our tips for managing your mental health abroad during COVID-19.
Get Your Information From The Right Sources
It is important to keep up to date with the pandemic and local safety guidelines, so ask your Resident Director (RD) about the most trusted local sources of information regarding COVID-19. Your on-site staff will keep you informed of any major policies or changes in safety that will affect you, but if you want to stay on top of things yourself, be sure you’re reading from a trusted source. Knowing that the information you are absorbing is accurate should help ease any feelings of stress or anxiety over the current situation in your host country and can help you feel prepared to handle the situation properly.
Limit Your Newsfeed Doom-Scrolling
Today, it’s nearly impossible to avoid the news. It’s everywhere, and you’re likely to hear about the current big story whether you’re actively searching for it or not. The pandemic is still very much a part of the media and continues to play a big role in our daily conversations, especially online. That’s why it’s important to know your limit and put your phone down when you’ve had enough. Absorbing information, especially negative or scary information, 24/7 is not healthy. So, while it’s important to stay informed, it’s equally important to give yourself a break when you need it.
Find Coping Techniques or Activities
We understand that committing to living outside of your regular home routine can be stressful, and that stress is likely amplified when you throw in the fact that life abroad isn’t feeling “normal” right now. However, that doesn’t mean you can’t take the necessary actions to manage your mental health. When you arrive, spend some time getting familiar with the local COVID-19 safety guidelines, and learn what types of coping activities you can participate in while abroad.
It might take a while to find what works for you, so don’t get discouraged. USAC alumni recommend journaling, going for walks or runs and cooking your favorite meal from home as quick and easy ways to curb homesickness, anxiety or stress and those common study abroad blues.
Check In With Your Support System
Remember that it’s okay to miss your friends and family back home, even if you’ve made a ton of great friends abroad. Your support system at home knows you best, so don’t hesitate to reach out to them when you’re struggling. Sometimes we all need a long talk with our best friend!
Keep in mind that your support system can mean professional support, too. If you see a therapist or other mental health professional while at home or school, talk to them about continuing that during your study abroad. It’s important to stay on top of your mental health check-ins in general, but we’d argue that it’s even more important while studying abroad during a pandemic.
Embrace The Uniqueness Of Your Experience
Study abroad looks a little different this year (and it will likely look this way for a while), but that doesn’t mean you can’t enjoy your time abroad. In order to keep our students safe and stay compliant with local COVID-19 guidelines, our programs are constantly changing to adapt to the situation at hand. Your study abroad experience will likely have different activities, field trips and opportunities than programs have offered in the past. We know it’s hard not to compare your time abroad to that of our alumni, but it’s important to go into your experience with an open mind and embrace it for what it is. For example, if your travel restrictions won’t allow you to take that dream weekend trip to Barcelona, that’s okay! Spend the weekend exploring a new neighborhood in your host city instead and soak up more local culture at your new favorite café or restaurant.
Make a promise to yourself that you will approach every day of study abroad with an open heart and take advantage of all the wonderful opportunities that are available. Don’t waste precious time stressing about what you can’t do or feeling sorry for yourself about a missed opportunity. Focus on the positive and dive into your local culture however you can.