How To Navigate Anxiety While Studying Abroad

If you’ve made the exciting decision to study abroad, it’s time to get prepared. You’re thinking about what you need to pack and how you’ll navigate your new city and school. Maybe you’ve already studied a foreign language, or you’re learning a new one. You’re thinking about how things will be different, and no doubt, you’ve got some natural anxiety that comes with a sea change like this. But here are some ways you can get ready, minimize your worry and get the most out of your study abroad experience.

Test time

Taking exams and writing papers are stressful enough when you’re at home—and while you’re studying abroad, the anxiety can increase. This may sound simple, but make sure to avoid common test taking mistakes during your time overseas. Get prepared ahead of time. If you’re used to stuffing your syllabus into your book bag, now’s the time to change that habit. Knowing what’s expected during the class—and during test
time—in your new overseas school or university will help ensure you’re ready. Know what supplies you need to bring (and leave in your room). Talk to your classmates about what to expect—it’s also a great way to make new friends and connections, and maybe even get some extra study help. Talk to the instructor if you have any questions about the test material—will it focus on class discussion topics, or also draw from a textbook? Remember, while their job is to challenge you, they’d like to see you succeed. Prepping from multiple angles will ensure you’ve got things covered.

Finding support

When you study abroad, you might be living far away from home for the first time. Even if you’re looking forward to the adventure, being untethered from home can leave you feeling out of your element. The stress and challenges of living in a foreign country can make you long for your old bedroom and a hug from mom. You will create a network of friends among your fellow travelers, and among new friends who will be excited to help you with the nuances of their culture.

In the meantime, be sure to schedule regular Skype or Facetime conversations with your friends and family to keep that home connection. Try setting up a blog or regular posts on social media about your new adventure so they can experience it with you and
offer supportive comments and encouragement. And when the cultural differences get overwhelming, make sure you take time for yourself to recharge, maybe with a favorite book or movie that reminds you of home. Just remember to get back out there again after you’ve turned the last page or watched the credits roll.

Getting cultural

While it’s important to keep a focus on your coursework, if there ever was a time to ensure you’ve got a healthy balance of academics and a social life, this is it. You chose to study in a foreign country for a good reason—it will build your understanding of the world and enhance your ability to interact with people from different places.

But it’s not always easy to dive into another culture, even when it seems to not be that different from your own. You may experience culture shock, which is simply a readjustment to your surroundings. After you experience the initial thrill of being overseas, you might start more homesick, irritated or even depressed. You may have anxiety that these feelings will continue throughout your stay, but in truth, they’re very common and usually temporary. You may need to ask more questions to ensure understanding, and remember to be realistic about your expectations for yourself. If you develop ongoing physical symptoms like headaches, talk with your program director or university contact to look for ways you can ease the stress.

Be a minimalist

Likely your school or university has provided you with a packing list for your study abroad experience. Stick to it—don’t overthink it, and definitely don’t overpack. Bring simple sets of clothes to cover different modes of your overseas life: School, physical activity, sleeping, relaxing. That means a few mix-and-match items like long- and short- sleeved tops, pants or skirts, a favorite comfortable outfit and a sweatshirt or two. Bring comfortable shoes and jackets. Choose one nice outfit for parties and other occasions. Most importantly, bring all of your necessary documents and prescriptions. Beyond that, don’t sweat it. Everything else you need (or have forgotten) can be purchased in your new host city, and you might even prefer to add an item or two so you can dress more like your fellow students.

Anxiety can happen during any time in your academic career, and adding a foreign experience to an already challenging time can undoubtedly make it worse. Remember the reasons why you decided on this adventure, and know that the extra worry and stress in the short term will result in rewards that last a lifetime.

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