Don't suffer in silence
When you’re studying abroad, it’s normal to feel a little stressed or homesick once in a while. Sometimes, you might feel you need a bit of extra help – and that’s okay.
Some of the common areas that can cause some anxiety include:
- Academic demands
- Pressure balancing work and study commitments
- Financial difficulties
- Relationship problems
Compared with domestic students, research has identified international students as being at higher risk due to extra challenges and stresses faced when living abroad, away from home.
With that in mind – let’s discuss mental health!
Common stressors faced by international students
In research conducted by Forbes-Mewett & Sawyer in Australia, international students were interviewed about the most common transitional stresses they faced while adjusting to life in their study home and many of these apply to all our study destinations:
Culture shock & off-campus living pressures:
Upon arrival, international students face ‘culture shock’ and a string of new responsibilities – including navigating language barriers, searching for accommodation, finding housemates, paying rent, learning to manage a household – not to mention studying!
Students also reported initial worries about English language barriers when making friends, voicing opinions during group assignments and/or utilising professional health-care services (due to fears about miscommunication).
Financial & academic pressures:
In addition to the financial pressures of budgeting and handling household finances, international students must adjust to unfamiliar academic environments, study styles and course-structures.
Some students – especially those receiving financial support from home – reported feeling intense pressures to succeed or achieve academically whilst studying abroad. Students who reported feeling their academic work was ‘below expectation’ experienced higher levels of anxiety and depression resulting in poorer academic performance.
Managing stress and homesickness
Some students may experience homesickness a few days after arriving at their new home and for others it may take a few weeks. Feeling homesick is common and may involve the experience of the following:
- low mood
- feeling unmotivated
- feeling you don't belong
- generally feeling unwell
- pre-occupation with thoughts of home
- nothing feels familiar
- feeling like your new life does not meet your expectations
- feeling alone and lonely.
If you are feeling homesick or stressed, here are some tips to manage these normal and common emotions:
Stay socially connected in your study country
Build your local support network or swap stories with other international students sharing similar experiences. Use social networking sites/apps like Meet Up to find international student groups, or people in your city who share similar hobbies.
Reach out to friends, family and/or personal support networks
Talk with someone close and trusted. Still, try not to contact home too often – you’ll want to focus on your current experiences as an international student too.
- Scheduling weekly/monthly Skype sessions with family or friends
- Traveling and sending postcards back home
- Writing emails or letters
- Switching off social media for a while
- Be open to new experiences
Get to know your new city
Make an effort to get to know your new surroundings and what’s happening in your new city. Familiarizing yourself can lessen feelings of everything feeling strange and new and it helps you feel connected to your new life. If you were involved in a club/church/group back home, then find out what your new neighbourhood has to offer.
Do a little research about where you’re living and find a few places you absolutely have to explore –- the ten best coffee shops in the city, the favorite locations for local street artists or all the different places you can go hiking. Make a list of these places or activities and challenge yourself to do/see all of them before you leave.
Exercise regularly, eat healthy and look after yourself
Exercise improves both physical and mental health – so stretch your legs. Eat nutritional meals. Rest well.
Talk to others about how you’re feeling
You might feel a lot of pressure to be positive about your whole international study experience, especially if you had high expectations when you arrived, or feel the need to put on a happy face when you talk to folks back at home, but there’s no shame in being homesick. It happens to almost everyone.
Seek help from a professional if you feel that you need additional support to work through your stress. A range of individuals and organisations provide support for people experiencing mental health concerns.