Going away and living abroad on your own for a year can seem like an incredibly daunting prospect - especially if you experience mental health difficulties. This section gives you some ideas and tips for preparing for your year abroad including making sure that you have the support you need should you ever want it during your time away.
For more tips from students check out our blog.
For more tips from students check out our blog.
You can remove some of the stress of anticipating your year abroad by sorting out the practicalities as early as possible before you go. Prioritising the most important things such as currency cards, funding, an EHIC card if you're spending the year on the continent, will really help put your mind at ease. Here are the main types of preparation you can do:
- Making sure you've got everything you need to take with you - on Third Year Abroad you can find useful articles on what to pack, books you should take with you, apps to download, and how to fit everything into your suitcase.
- Understanding year abroad insurance and knowing what to do in an emergency - check out these articles on year abroad insurance, what to do in an emergency abroad, the essential medical kit, and how to cope with potential catastrophes.
- Knowing what to expect from your destination - it can help to read case studies by students about the place you're going to!
- Make sure you take a look at Third Year Abroad's official pre-year abroad guide as well!
Getting support networks in place
- Whether or not you're experiencing mental health difficulties before you go on your year abroad, it's important that you find out what kind of support is available on your year abroad. In a Guardian Education article, a large number of students reported that they received little or no support from their home universities while on their year abroad, and many of these universities replied that support services were available, if only students asked for them. It's useful to know who you can get into immediate contact with if you need to speak to someone, what kind of services you can access and if there's anything your tutor can do for you - e.g. paying you a visit.
- You can start thinking about the support network that you want in place now. Who currently supports you when you are having a bad day? Do you call your parents or text a friend or perhaps meet up with people on campus? It may help to create a list of your current network.
- Once you've done this, you can have a think about how your contact with these people might change when you are on your year abroad. Today there are many different ways that make staying in contact really easy, whether it is using Skype, Facebook, emails or WhatsApp. You can create a plan for how you will stay in touch with your current support network when abroad. It can really help to maintain this contact whether or not you are finding things tricky, so that if things start to get harder, you already have a network of people you are in contact with regularly.
What if I want to go home?
There may be times when your year abroad feels more challenging, or you may start to miss home, family and friends. Here's a few things you can do:
- Don't worry if it's not feeling like the best year of your life - it can be demoralising when your experiences don't meet your expectations, especially if it looks like your friends are having a brilliant time where they are. The reality is that everybody has ups and downs on their year abroad, and the likelihood is that you'll have even better years ahead.
- Work out what the differences are between your life abroad and your experiences at home - what makes you happy at home which you are not getting in this current placement? Thinking through what these differences are might help you pinpoint a few specific things that you could build into your life abroad to make it easier to manage.
- Try some of these coping strategies.
- If you really don't think you can stay, talk to your university - find out what happens if you return home early. Policies differ from university to university, but in many cases they will be quite flexible.
I'm worried about my friend
It can be worrying when a friend of yours is on their year abroad and seems to be struggling as being abroad will create limits on the amount and type of support that you can give them. If this is the first time you've felt they might need your support, it might be useful to look at our Support for a Friend page, which has lots of suggestions for how you can be supportive, and how to understand their condition if they have specific mental health difficulties. Here are some key things you can do:
- Talking really does help - being able to encourage and engage in conversation about how things are going is likely to be helpful. This might include talking through the thoughts and feelings your friend is experiencing or even simpler conversations about day to day life.
- Help them to remember the good times - if your friend is struggling a lot, especially if they are experiencing mental health difficulties, it can feel to them that the difficulties they're experiencing take up the majority of their life. At times like this it can be really reassuring to know that there are other things going on in life, to remember positive experiences, to hear about current exciting news and to think about future positives.
- Encourage them to get support from university - this can be really important if your friend is struggling on their year abroad and needs further support. At times, supporting a friend can feel overwhelming, especially if you're living in different countries, so it's really important that you make sure you're looking after yourself too. Signposting your friend to further support is a great way to ensure that they can build a strong support network to help them through any challenges they're facing.