How to Practice Self-Care While Studying Abroad

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Studying abroad can be exciting, exhilarating, and full of adventure, but if you are always go-go-go, you can quickly wear yourself out. That’s why it’s more than okay to take a break and practice some self-love.

We asked our IES Abroad Ambassadors what advice they have for self-care while abroad. From all of their answers, one thing is for sure: self-care looks different for everyone.

Read on to find out what they suggest and take time to figure out what loving yourself looks like for you.

Know That Not Everything Will Be Perfect

  • “Realizing that not everything has to be perfect allows you to take the time to look after yourself. We all need different things – some need to get more sleep, others need to spend more time with friends, others need to speak to family and friends at home. But listen to yourself, and take the time to do things that will make you feel better. Admitting that your experience isn't all perfect all the time is the key to having the best experience most of the time.”
    –Jake W. (IES Abroad Berlin, Spring 2017 | Tulane University)

Student sitting on bench in foliage

Find a Time & Place to Be Alone

  • “Remember to take breaks, and drink lots of water! I can't stress this enough! Although adventure awaits outside your door, please remember to take care of yourself. I made sure to plan out my trips and set aside breaks that I focused on my well-being. In my breaks, I read books in a café, took naps throughout the week, or even just took a small stroll to clear my mind.”
    –Gina B. (IES Abroad Madrid, Spring 2017 | University of Rochester)
  • “While I was abroad, I tried to meditate for at least 10 minutes a day. This helped me to clear my mind and to turn my anxieties into positive energy, which allowed me to remain present and enjoy the life-long memories I will never forget from abroad.”
    –Sarah C. (IES Abroad Nagoya, Spring 2017 | Bates College)
  • “Although you might feel like you should make the most of every second, you will get tired out sometimes! For me, I knew that I should take advantage of the siesta on most days. I arranged to eat lunch with my host family every day because that is the most important meal of the day in Spain. After lunch, I would nap from 1-2:30 p.m.! That really helped me enjoy all of the time I was out exploring without getting too tired or worn out.”
    –Regina D. (IES Abroad Madrid, Summer 2017 | Penn State University)
  • “My dorm room became a kind of sanctuary for me. If you start feeling overwhelmed, I suggest making time (even a half an hour each week), when you know your roommate won't be there, to focus on yourself. Make some tea, listen to music, look out the window. Once you feel recharged, you can head back out into the city and explore once again!”
    –Angela P. (IES Abroad London, Spring 2017 | American University)

Book at the Alhambra

Connect with the Local Community

  • “It's important to take the time to care for yourself, whether it is going for a short bike ride each day or finding a quaint park you enjoy. Make your own home in the city you're spending so much time in. You will be amazed at how much self-love you will experience and will cherish it when you return home!”
    –Anthony M. (IES Abroad Amsterdam, Spring 2017 | Skidmore College)
  • “For me, being abroad was all about taking the time to do what I love. This meant volunteering at a local primary school, joining a choir, going hiking, attending Zumba classes, and eating plenty of gelato.”
    –Savannah S. (IES Abroad Granada, Spring 2017 | Amherst College)
  • “I enjoy following a vegan diet and am a regular runner, so while in Auckland, I found a club that did vegan lunches three times a week, and I found a beautiful park to run in. Therefore, when things got a little hectic or unfamiliar, at least I had these activities to ground myself.”
    –Sadie D. (IES Abroad Auckland, Fall 2017 | University of Rochester)

Student posing with younger students

Embark On Solo Adventures

  • “It is important to partake in activities and go places that interest you. If you only agree to trips or outings your friend suggests, you may later have regrets. Although safety is the first priority, I went on solo adventures all the time, and they are now some of my favorite memories from abroad.”
    –Marisa N. (IES Abroad London, Academic Year 2016-17 | University of Tampa)
  • “As an academic year student, something that I experienced while abroad was culture shock (x10). I had to leave all of my friends and family back at home and make new friends the first semester. But then the following semester I lost all of the new friends that I had made while studying abroad. Something that I learned was that it is okay to be alone. It provided me with: an option to travel to wherever I wanted to, no exact plan (plans could change any minute), reflection time with exploring what it is like to be independent, and amazing skills at making new friends.”
    –Gabrielle G. (IES Abroad Vienna, Academic Year 2016-17 | University of Hartford)

Student standing by love lock fence overlooking lake and mountains

Enjoy Your Favorite Foods

  • “[One] thing I did was to buy myself one product from home that I missed in order to treat myself. This for me was Jif Peanut Butter, since peanut butter in Germany is subpar at best. This purchase from Amazon wasn't necessary but a total treat-yo-self, self-love purchase, which also helped a bit with my homesickness.”
    –Spencer A. (IES Abroad European Union, Spring 2017 | The George Washington University)
  • “Finding and having a favorite restaurant that's close by that you can always rely on is a great way to make sure you're eating local food and eating enough. Food makes a huge difference in your mood and eating great food with good friends only makes the experience better.”
    –Samantha M. (IES Abroad Beijing, Spring 2017 | Penn State University)

coffee and crossaint

Keep Exercising

  • “I dedicated time to the gym and running, where I could relax and focus on something that wasn't related to school or travel. Keeping up physical shape while abroad allowed me to feel refreshed and prepared for everything else in my experience. It just so happened that my running introduced me to a mass of new friends with common interests.”
    –Reid M. (IES Abroad London, Spring 2017 | Indiana University)
  • “I joined the gym down the street and continued to take exercise classes just like I do at my home university. It was super important to me to find an exercise community abroad because I knew it would help me adjust if I had it scheduled in my days, and I met so many locals, which was a great way to feel even more immersed in the language and culture.”
    –Mel R. (IES Abroad Madrid, Spring 2017 | University of Michigan – Ann Arbor)
  • “Surround yourself with people who push you to stay healthy while abroad. I was fortunate enough to meet people who encouraged each other to eat healthy and keep active while being abroad. We took advantage of our university's 7 a.m. group workouts and held each other accountable for making it to those, sometimes dreadful, workouts.”
    –Camille N. (IES Abroad Christchurch, Fall 2017 | Indiana University)

Students running

Spend Time with Friends & Family

  • “Leaving the country on your own for the first time can be quite an adjustment, so it is important to take these adjustments at your own pace. One way to care for yourself while abroad is to have scheduled times to talk to loved ones you left behind.”
    –MollyMaeve L. (IES Abroad Dublin, Spring 2017 | University of Iowa)
  •  “While studying abroad in Freiburg, I met some incredible, caring people who I am still in contact with. I took advantage of opportunities to try new things, pushed myself, and participated in two marathons with friends. I put my mental, spiritual, and physical health first, as well as surrounded myself around people who reminded me that you must love yourself first before you can love others. Self-love and self-care are not selfish; they are a priority.”
    –Yolanda A. (IES Abroad European Union, Spring 2017 | University of San Diego)
  • “It's okay to relax! The first month studying abroad in Cape Town was so hectic between classes, hiking, traveling, sightseeing, and getting to know the city. We had a day off from school for a national holiday, so all of the girls on my program found a deal to visit a spa together. While I loved every busy day in Cape Town, it was so nice for the girls on my program to have a day to chill out.”
    –Sally D. (IES Abroad Cape Town, Spring 2017 | Washington University in St. Louis)

Two students in garden

When you are taking good care of your relationship with yourself, it’s that much easier to grow your relationships with others.

Check out more thoughts from our Ambassadors about relationships and friendships:

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