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Tips for Studying Abroad with Mental Illness

by Jada Jefferson
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Studying abroad was one of the most life-changing experiences that I could have ever experienced. The road leading up to study abroad was a tough one, and one of the toughest things I had to deal with was the issue of going away to London for five months with a mental illness.

I have had severe depression for as long as I can remember and I have tried my best to use it as ammunition to work twice as hard for the things that I want. I wanted to make a post about this because I was reminded that I didn’t have anyone to talk to about my looming mental health, my fear being abroad, and possibly going through a rough period without knowing what to do.

I want to provide a few personal tips and pieces of advice to not only prepare yourself for going abroad, but to ensure that you get through those tough times.

1. Do as much preparation before you depart as you can.

This is the most difficult and strenuous part of the process, but once you do so, whatever you go through during your time abroad will be that much easier. Preparation is letting your doctors know where you’re going and how long you’ll be gone, making your study abroad provider aware of your condition so that they are able to accommodate you and, most importantly, making sure you have enough medication to get through your trip. That might take a few extra steps so make sure you investigate all of the proper channels to make sure you get that done correctly.

2. Find your mental health resources in your study abroad location.

I was made aware of the wonderful AIFS Resident Director who would be able to help me on-site and accommodate me as needed. You too can do this through email and phone calls. I also took time to research therapists and psychiatrists in my area just in case I needed a little extra support. This can also mean finding a gym or yoga studio, or even a park that you can go to for some relaxation time to think and gather yourself. Thinking ahead will help so that if you’re in a panic, your relief will already be readily available to you.

3. Give yourself time to breathe and take time for yourself.

Once you arrive abroad, it can be tempting to do everything at one time. Your peers will be ready to move quickly and try their best to take in the excitement of being in a foreign country. The best thing to remember is that you have to take your time and remember that excitement doesn’t get rid of mental illness.

From personal experience, I did everything I could think of those first weeks, but I found myself exhausted and feeling down. I was having a great time, but I forgot to breathe and take care of myself. When you feel like this, refer back to tip number two. Make that appointment with a therapist. Check out the yoga studio you researched. Get some gelato and sit in the park while reading a book for an hour or two. You have to remember that you have to be your best self so that you can also be the best student.

4. Try not to be hard on yourself.

The last tip I will offer is to make sure you are not being too hard on yourself. You will become stressed out, frustrated, and even homesick from time to time. This doesn’t mean that you’re failing and not experiencing your study abroad the way that you are meant to. It means that you are human and that you require a little extra kindness.

If you find yourself getting too caught in the slow moments, remember to take time and breathe. Even students without mental illness struggle during their study abroad experiences, so it’s fine that you get a little down. What’s important is that you use the resources in place to pick yourself back up and continue to enjoy your experience.

Without the support and preparation from the team at AIFS, I know I wouldn’t have been able to be successful during my time abroad. Everyone’s mental illness is different, but the common thing we all share is that if we work hard to take care of ourselves, we can do anything we set our minds to, like living in England for 5 months. Your mental illness cannot stop you from experiencing life and the world around you. With program providers like AIFS, it makes studying abroad with mental illness a little easier and more enjoyable.

As an Alumni Ambassador for AIFS, if there are any questions you have about studying abroad with a mental illness, please feel free to reach out.

Good luck and bon voyage!!

This post was contributed by Jada Jefferson, an AIFS Alumni Ambassador who spent a spring semester studying abroad with AIFS in London, England.

Pin image: Tips for studying abroad with a mental illness from an AIFS Study Abroad alumni who speaks from personal experience.
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