Preparing to Study Abroad With Mental Health Concerns

Audrey O'Donnell
February 21, 2018

As a senior preparing to spend my last college semester abroad, I’m feeling a little bit of anxiety, some excitement, and a whole lot of nostalgia. I spent the previous semester abroad as well, in Dublin, so I said a final goodbye to my home university in Tulsa, Oklahoma many months ago. But as my final semester draws closer and my abroad plans grow more concrete with every passing day, the fact that I will never be returning to the University of Tulsa as a student grows more poignant. While it’s unorthodox for a college student to spend their senior year abroad, this has been and continues to be a great experience for me. I have been fortunate enough to have completed all of my degree requirements up to this point and, as a result, I’ve been able to work with my home university and IES Abroad to add and complete a Spanish minor during my final semester. I am intimidated by the sheer number of Spanish courses I will be taking and by the full immersion to come, but it’s an opportunity I wouldn’t give up for the world.

At the moment, I am sitting in my room staring at the piles and piles of clothes, shoes, and books around me, wondering how on earth I’m going to reduce them to only two suitcases worth of stuff in the two days before I board a plane for Buenos Aires. But I remember thinking the same thing last semester and virtually every other time I’ve packed to go anywhere. Regardless of how much storage space I have, I always seem to fill it to the brim. The packing, though, will get done, and for someone with mental health concerns, it’s not the most important task to complete before I leave. And bringing too many pairs of underwear and not enough socks is not the biggest mistake I can make. So, I want to take a little bit of time to talk about what it’s like to prepare to study abroad with mental health concerns.

I live with depression and anxiety, and I am currently in my fourth year of recovery from anorexia. I have reached a point where these things no longer affect every aspect of my life and I can go long periods of time without really thinking about them at all. However, they are not confined by state or country borders. Having moved from Connecticut to Oklahoma to attend college and having studied abroad last semester, I’m quite certain of this. No matter where I go, the things I struggle with at home always seem to find me. And while this can feel discouraging at times, reminding myself that trying to run from them is as absurd as trying to run from my own dysfunctional knees, proves helpful in putting things in perspective.

There are a few things that I’ve found are important to keep in mind when preparing to study abroad with mental health concerns:

Medication: If you take any kind of prescription medication, whether it be for mental or physical health, it’s important to determine how you are going to be able to bring or obtain enough for the duration of your studies. This always proves to be somewhat of a pain for me as it requires phone calls with the insurance company and multiple doctors’ offices, but it’s key to my ability to have a successful study abroad experience.

Support System: Whether it’s a therapist, a significant other, a sibling, a parent, or a best friend, talking to the people in your life on whom you rely the most about your upcoming abroad experience is helpful. Telling these people that you’re going to be abroad, what your concerns are, and that you might need a little extra support in the coming months will help ease your mind. Briefing my loved ones before I leave for study abroad makes me feel like I can much more easily call on them in a moment of need while I’m away.

Self-Care: This is always important, but it’s especially important in high-stress times such as preparing to study abroad. In the midst of packing, doing laundry, running last minute errands, and saying goodbyes, it’s hard to remember to set aside time specifically for self-care. For me, self-care looks like practicing yoga, reading for pleasure, watching Gilmore Girls or SVU on Netflix, or snuggling with my dog. When I have a million things to do and not enough time to do them, these can seem significantly less important, but this is precisely when they are most important.

These things are going to continue to be important as my study abroad experience progresses and the ways in which I care for myself and my mental health will evolve as well. In preparing to study abroad though, the thing that I have found most important has been talking honestly with the people I trust most about my upcoming experience. This is true about mental health as well as how many pairs of shorts I actually need for four months abroad.

More Blogs From This Author

View All Blogs

Audrey O'Donnell

<p>I'm a senior at the University of Tulsa in Oklahoma, with a major in English and minors in Creative Writing, Psychology, and Spanish. I started training psychiatric service dogs as a junior in high school and continue to do so on school breaks when I return home to Connecticut. Much of my time is spent reading, writing, practicing yoga, and playing with my dog, and I'm a big fan of peanut butter, early 2000s television, and the Oxford comma.</p>

Home University:
University of Tulsa
Harwinton, CT
Creative Writing
Explore Blogs