Global study can be an amazing experience, but any new experience and environment can present challenges. Especially when you are immersed in an unfamiliar setting, it is also important to prioritize your mental and physical wellbeing.
As you first adjusted to life on Gettysburg’s campus, you likely developed strategies and practices for supporting your mental health. This may include walks on the battlefield, utilizing the counseling center, regular exercise, and/or finding support through your friend groups or clubs. Even if you are in a new environment, it is important to remember that you’re still you during global study semester. The things you find stressful or challenging on Gettysburg’s campus will likely exist off-campus as well. In a new environment, you may also encounter additional stressors or challenges. Well before your departure, you should take time to think ahead about ways that you can continue strategies that keep you well on Gettysburg’s campus throughout your global study semester.
Questions to ask yourself before choosing a program and/or departing for your program:
- What are my biggest academic challenges on Gettysburg’s campus?
- What are my biggest challenges outside of classes on Gettysburg’s campus?
- When I am feeling stressed, what healthy strategies do I utilize to relax?
- What sources of support do I use on campus, and will my program support the continuation of these supports?
- Are there new/additional stressors that may be unique to my program (ex. changes in academic structures, climate and environment, foods, etc.)?
Finding Counseling Resources On-Site
CGE staff can work with you as you choose your global study program to ensure that you have access to continued resources to keep you well. Please note that if you regularly see a counselor on-campus, Gettysburg’s Counseling Services cannot provide therapy appointments while you are off-campus. However, Gettysburg’s Counseling Services in partnership with CGE can support you in finding local resources in your host city.
In addition, if you regularly see a counselor on Gettysburg’s campus, you are strongly encouraged to share that information with your program provider early in your planning process. Program providers and host institutions are knowledgeable about counseling resources available to students during their global study semesters, and some offer counseling services on their campus or within their study centers. Contact your program provider directly to learn more about resources in your host cities.
Lastly, Gettysburg College partners with International SOS as a part of our Medical Evacuation and Repatriation Insurance policy. Students are welcome and encouraged to contact ISOS in the months prior to their departure to inquire about counseling resources in their host cities. ISOS can be reached 24/7 by calling 215-942-8478 or visiting their website.
Prescription Medications and Global Study
If you take prescribed medications to support your mental health, it is important to continue this treatment during your global study semester, and plan ahead before you depart. Students who take prescription medications are encouraged to reach out to International SOS to ensure that their prescriptions are legal in their host country, and if there are rules surrounding bringing that medication into that country. These rules may include what medications are/are not permitted, how much one can bring in, and if there is any documentation students should carry/be prepared to show upon entry to that country. Students should not plan for medications to be mailed to them during their semesters.
In some cases, students have been able to bring enough of a medication to last the entire semester. In other cases, students can work with their doctors, insurance providers, program providers/host institutions, and ISOS to determine a plan for continuing this prescription in their host country.
Creating a Plan
Before departing for your program, it can be helpful to think through three plans: A self-care plan, a treatment plan, and a crisis plan. These plans will be unique to each student.
- A Self-Care Plan
What strategies will you keep in mind to support your mental health day-to-day? This can include techniques for maintaining a regular sleep schedule, maintaining a healthy diet, and ideas for clubs or organizations to join/hobbies to continue during your global study semester.
- A Treatment Plan
Working together with your doctor, your counselors, your program provider, and/or your insurance provider, take some time to develop a plan for how to continue counseling sessions, prescription medication, or other steps to maintain health. This can include a review of your personal insurance as well as insurance provided by your program provider and/or Gettysburg College.
- A Crisis Plan
While you hopefully won’t experience a crisis during your global study semester, it is helpful to gather resources you could use in an emergency before you depart for a semester. This can include information for your local hospital, emergency resources provided through your program provider/host institution, and/or internet-based 24-hour hotlines.
When Studying Abroad Isn’t Fun: Encountering Challenges and New Stressors
Even if you haven’t experienced challenges with your mental health previously, it is important to be knowledgeable about mental resources before your departure. A lot of rhetoric around global study can seem to focus exclusively on the positive parts: tackling new challenges, meeting new people, and learning to feel at home in your host culture. But a lot of those positive aspects are related to and originate from potentially stressful experiences: You have to encounter an obstacle to tackle a new challenge. You may feel alone before you meet those new people. You may experience culture shock before you feel at home in your host culture. It is important to remember that feeling stress during your global study experience doesn’t mean that something is wrong with you or your global study semester. In fact, many of the most insightful or powerful learning moments come from moments where you are outside of your comfort zone.
Even if you have developed plans to maintain your mental health during your global study semester, be cognizant about new stressors you are experiencing and how you are reacting to those stressors.
Here are a few strategies for maintaining your mental/physical health during your global study semester:
- Maintain a consistent sleep schedule
Many students will experience jet lag after their arrival. Too little sleep or irregular sleep have widespread impacts on a lot of areas of your life: your attention span, your mood, and your immune system. Do your best to maintain a regular sleep schedule and prioritize regular sleep.
- Maintain a consistent medication schedule
Keep to a regular medication schedule, and follow the guidance of medical professionals. Time differences can prove challenging at first as you figure out the best and most consistent time to take your medications. Even if you are feeling great in your new environment, don’t stop taking your medications unless directed to do so by your attending physician.
- Pay attention to what you eat
Just like sleep, your diet can have far-reaching impacts on your health. Especially if you are cooking for yourself for the first time, be sure you are prioritizing healthy options rather than relying on what is most convenient.
- Find times to reflect on your experiences and your emotions
It can be tempting to fill your days with activities—there is so much to see and do and so little time! However, be sure you set aside regular times to be alone and to reflect on your experiences. Even if you don’t regularly keep a journal, this can be a great outlet to reflect on your experience and preserve the way you feel about your global study semester in the moment.
- Find people to share your experience with
If you are struggling or stressed, it is important to remember that you are not alone. In fact, many students on your program may feel the same way. Reach out to your friends on your program, your host family, and your on-site program staff. They may have great advice, resources, and perspectives that you haven’t considered.
- Recognize if you aren’t doing well
Stress can manifest itself in a lot of different ways. As you reflect on your experience, it is okay to have bad days now and again. However, if you notice that bad days are becoming the norm, be sure to reach out to other resources at your program to see if there are steps that can be taken to address your concerns. Your program staff can’t help you if they don’t know you are struggling.
- Be patient with yourself
Give yourself time. Many students experience an adjustment curve during their semester. When you arrive, everything is exciting and new. But then maybe you catch a cold. Or it rains nonstop for a week. Or you’ve gotten lost five times now. Suddenly, everything just seems harder and the cultural differences you were excited about now seem like inconveniences. Be patient with yourself, and give yourself time to learn more about your experience.