7 Ways to Stay Mentally Healthy During Study Abroad
Study abroad can be very daunting, especially when you have to simultaneously juggle so many things: staying on top of your academics, making time to explore the country, trying to cope with the cultural differences, making new friends, etc. I find that being a first generation student adds extra layers to the challenge and countless other responsibilities. As studying abroad is expensive, I feel guilty for putting more financial responsibilities on my parents when they are already having a hard time back home. I feel pressured by everyone’s high expectations. It is the high pressure to succeed, on top of being a student from low-income family and constantly dealing with the sense of imposter syndrome, that makes me so overwhelmed and vulnerable. In addition to these struggles, there are times when I feel like no one understands me, even my own family. My parents have never left Cambodia and they did not have the privilege to finish high school. They do not speak English and much less have any idea about the academic system here. I could not ask them for help when I struggled academically. They could not relate and understand the culture shock I experienced as they do not know much about Ireland. From time to time, I find it really frustrating to have to navigate everything on my own. This is why I believe that as first generation students, we all need to take extra care of ourselves and prioritize our mental health.
Here are some tips that work for me and I think everyone could benefit from this too:
- Stay connected with your family and friends. It is sad and challenging not being understood by families and this disconnection can feel very lonely. Despite this, I still talked to my mom one every other week to check in and stay connected with my family, especially during this pandemic. I think that the disconnection should not make us shy away from our own family because at the end of the day, they are the people that will be by our side no matter what. This is important because when we feel like we need someone to listen to us, we can always count on our family. They might not totally understand our struggles and pain, but they will be there to support and love us. I think that just knowing that would help lift our spirit and pull us up during some of our bad days.
- Go out with friends. Grab a cup coffee or dinner in the city centre and enjoy quality time with your friends. Staying opened and making new friends during study abroad make all the difference in your experience. They are the one that can understand and support you the most during your time here. Some friendships come unexpectedly which is why I think we should go out there and meet new people. My friend and I met on the first day of the program because the bus dropped us off at the wrong place and we got squeezed in a car together. We are still friend to this day and I share most things that bother me during my time abroad with her. We hang out a lot and I think this really makes my abroad experience better.
- Go out for an evening walk, alone or with a friend. It’s true that it rains a lot in Ireland, but there are days of sunshine and I would walk along the path behind campus with a friend. It’s nice to get some fresh air, enjoy the green, and ,most importantly, get some muscle stretch. It often helps clear my mind. Even if it rains, go out. I did.
- Time Management!!This is a very important factor because I think that sometimes you can get overwhelmed with the workload. As a result, you cannot enjoy your time here and it affects your mental health. I created a task checklist and when am done with it or halfway through, I give myself a “ reward”: going out for a walk around the campus or socializing with friends, and watch my favorite shows. I make Saturday my adventure day and Sunday to catch up on work
- Don’t keep everything to yourself and try to deal with it alone. There are times when I thought I can handle things by myself or that I will just keep it to myself. But it does not always work. During my time here in Ireland, I always tell my friend about any complaints I have or when I am stress so I could get it out. It is always nice to have someone that listen to you.
- Talk to your study abroad advisors if you are struggling or need someone to talk to.
- Give yourself space and time. I think there is a misconception that when you study abroad, you HAVE to go out there, talk to people, and make new friends all the times. That you should not just stay inside your room. Yes, it is important to do all of that because the time you have here is short, but I think it is important to know that it is also okay to stay in your room and have the time and space to yourself. When I am stress and feel overwhelmed by my academics or everything that’s going on here, I just stayed in my room and have time to myself. It helps me digest things, calm my minds, and just the feeling of being in my own space makes me feel peaceful.
These are just some of the most important tips and reminders that really help me during some of my stressful moments and I have seen work for others during my time abroad in Ireland. Sometimes we feel like we are on our own, but it totally okay to ask people for help. You come first!
Kimyan Moeun is a Business Major at Franklin & Marshall College. She studied abroad with IFSA at the National University of Ireland, Galway during the Fall of 2021. She is a recipient of the IFSA First Generation College Student Scholarship.