Reclaim 2018: mental health during my year abroad


Louise is currently on a year abroad in France. Here she shares her top tips for taking care of your mental health whilst living away from home

Deciding to do a Year Abroad is really exciting. The thoughts of your potential Instagram shots, with everyone poring over them with jealousy whilst they are sat in the library writing essays and doing deadlines, whilst you’re watching the gorgeous hues of a sunset on a white, gold sandy beach in Australia. And I’ll confirm, Years Abroad are great experiences in every way, shape or form.

But firstly, just tell you a little bit about me. My name is Louise and I have been suffering with anxiety and depression for a few years now.

I am currently studying for a year in the South of France.  I’m living in a beautiful city, where I am half an hour from the beach, where the sun shines most days even if it isn’t particularly warm out. Whilst nowadays, many students choose to add a year abroad to their degree, my year abroad is compulsory as I study French, meaning I have to study or work in a French-speaking country.

So whilst I know that embarking on your Year Abroad can be a great adventure, here are my three pieces of advice for how to cope with these issues whilst you’re away...


1. Put Support systems in place.

It’s really important to have things in place to support you whilst you are abroad. This may be speaking to your therapist or setting up a therapist appointment in your new home, speaking to your university’s mental health team, speaking to mentors, Rabbis, friends and family. All these different individuals can help you feel settled in your new home for the year/semester. These people often know you better than you know yourself, so it is therefore really refreshing and comforting to have them there for you during the good and the bad days.

2. Know your limits.

Whilst being on a Year Abroad is all about new experiences and putting yourself out there, it is massively important that you know yourself, you know what affects your anxiety, depression, highs and lows.  Know how to help yourself. Before you leave, write a list of self-care activities you know are effective for you so you know how you help yourself when you feel triggered. Build these aspects of self-care into your daily routine, so you can begin to get settled.

3. Be kind to yourself.

Living in a foreign country can be the most amazing experience ever. You get to travel, experience the culture first-hand and you get to meet some really diverse people. However, you have to remember that the whole experience isn’t simply full of highs. So, please know that it is okay to have some bad days. It is normal to experience some difficulties when you’re living in a brand new place and also if the language spoken there isn’t natural to you. It may be a good idea to pack a crisis bag to help you if you are feeling overwhelmed. When this happens to me, I tend to listen to some music and find a quiet café to read my book.

All in all, when you’re making the decision to do a year abroad, it’s important to remember that when you’re scrolling through people’s social media feeds, you are seeing their Year Abroad through a very filtered lens. You’re not seeing the culture shock. You’re not seeing the difficulties they have experienced. You are simply seeing the great bits. This is not me saying that doing a Year Abroad isn’t a truly gratifying, exciting experience, it’s just important to note that there are ups and downs like there are in any stage of your life.

So, make sure to take care and have fun at the same time!

Louise Aron, Leeds J-Soc

About UJS

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