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Managing Mental Health Abroad

Managing Mental Health Abroad

During each stage of the study abroad process, managing your mental health is important. Review this resource to develop a checklist for addressing your mental health needs, understand key study abroad stressors, and learn about common travel myths.

Before Applying to Travel Abroad

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Pre-Departure Preparation

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While Abroad

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Returning Home

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Common Study Abroad Stressors

Acculturation Stress

Acculturation stress emerges from conflicts when individuals must adjust to a new culture of the host society. Some of the significant forms of acculturation stress stem from (1) difficulties assimilating to host country’s norms, (2) language barriers, and (3) perception of your identities in host country.

Homesickness

Another source of stress when traveling abroad is homesickness. Homesickness is defined as a longing for one’s home during a period of absence, often including missing family members, friends, pets, home cooked meals, etc. Even the disruption of daily routines can result in homesickness.

Amplified pre-existing mental health concerns

Traveling abroad can amplify pre-existing mental health concerns due to acculturation and homesickness stressors. When adjusting to your new environment, heightened stress is especially common during the first few weeks of travel.

Common Travel Myths

Myth #1: Seasoned travelers don’t deal with acculturation stress or homesickness.

False! Homesickness and acculturation stress can affect even the most experienced travelers on the shortest of trips. Even if you have never dealt with mental health concerns, the unique experience of traveling abroad may trigger its development.

Myth #2: Any level of anxiety is not normal and is cause for concern.

Recognize that there will be stressful moments throughout your experience, such as the effects of time zone changes, homesickness, and new environment adjustments. Culture shock is not a psychological disorder but a developmental phase that is expected when one adjusts in a cross-cultural context.

Myth #3: Traveling can help me escape problems at home.

While traveling has many benefits, it is important to remember that it should not be used as escapism or a “new country, new me” mentality. Any pre-existing mental health concerns will follow you.

Myth #4: My mental health diagnosis will make my travel experience less enjoyable.

False! Having a particular mental health diagnosis does not mean that your experiences will be less enjoyable. Still, it does mean that you need to be proactive with travel planning to get the most out of the experience while meeting your mental health needs.