Mental Health and Wellness
While studying abroad is often one of the most exciting times in a student’s life, it can come with challenges. Adjusting to a new culture, a different academic environment, and a new system of support services can cause some unexpected and overwhelming reactions.
It is important for students to evaluate their motives for wanting to study abroad as they begin the process of deciding whether or not they would like to go abroad. Studying abroad should not be viewed as a way of escaping current circumstances in the U.S., but students should instead be mentally and emotionally prepared for a challenging and life-changing time. In addition, it is important to bear in mind that living in a foreign culture often intensifies preexisting mental health and/or emotional difficulties.
In order for students to maintain their emotional health when they study abroad, UConn Education Abroad recommends that they consider doing the following things before the start of their programs:
- Inform your mental healthcare provider of your decision to study abroad; work together to create a plan for you to continue your care abroad
- Check with your international insurance provider to see if they offer coverage in the country where you will be studying
- Familiarize yourself with the culture of your host country so that you have an idea of what to expect
- Talk to members of your support system in the U.S. about mutual expectations regarding keeping in touch while you are away, so that you continue to have access to established support systems
- Identify and practice realistic self-care and stress management techniques that you will be able to use when you are abroad
- Keep an open mind and try to be flexible when things don’t go as planned
- If you have experienced or are currently experiencing a mental health issue, consider disclosing this information to UConn Education Abroad. Disclosing mental health issues will not necessarily prevent you from participating in a program.
Students traveling abroad may face challenges in accessing medical care that is not comparable to the standard of care routinely available in the United States, and/or managing chronic medical or mental health conditions. Mild physical or psychological disorders can become serious under the stresses of life while abroad. Although you have the right not to disclose your medical conditions or disabilities, we strongly encourage you to do so. It is important that the program be made aware of any medical or psychological health conditions, past or current, which might affect you in a foreign study context. Any disclosure of a medical or psychological conditions will not impact your participation in an education abroad program.
The information provided will remain private and will only be shared with any necessary program staff, faculty, or appropriate professionals. UConn Education Abroad will do our best to accommodate students who disclose individual needs or circumstances. If you are managing a condition that has the potential to significantly impact your capacity to function in a foreign study context, we encourage you to discuss and assess the impact of your education abroad program with your current care providers, your family, and this office with regard to the context of your trip, the anticipated course of your conditions (e.g. stable, degenerating, improving), the severity of the symptoms, the need for resources and the level of available resources within your country of study.
Culture shock is the feeling of disorientation due to being in an unfamiliar cultural environment. Experts often describe culture shock as being a linear process with four stages:
- Honeymoon stage: You have just arrived in your host country, and you are excited and hopeful about your new school and home
- Dissatisfaction stage: Usually after a few weeks, this excitement wears off. You may feel overwhelmed by the new environment, and/or feel unhappy or anxious.
- Negotiation stage: Eventually you begin to adjust to the new culture and not feel so lost.
- Adjustment stage: By the adjustment stage, you will realize that the new culture has pros and cons, and begin to feel a greater sense of belonging.
You may not go through all of these phases, nor are the timelines given set in stone. Some students may skip the honeymoon phase and become frustrated within days of their arrival; others may experience these feelings towards the end of their program.
While everyone experiences culture shock differently, there are some common characteristics for many people:
- Feelings extreme homesickness or loneliness
- Feelings of incompetence due to communication barriers with locals
- Sleep disruption
- Resentment of cultural differences between home and host country
- Stereotyping of or hostility towards locals
There are many ways to handle culture shock:
- First, remember you are going through a normal experience
- Keep in touch with family and friends at home
- Remind yourself of why you decided to study abroad
- Get involved at your new campus and explore your new surroundings
- Find supports in your new location/someone to talk to, rather than becoming isolated
UConn Counseling and Mental Health Services is limited in its ability to provide care to students abroad. To the extent possible, students should attend to their routine care and medication needs prior to departure. If students are in need of care abroad, they should consult with program staff to locate urgent and routine resources for mental health and medical care prior to or immediately upon arrival. Students should check with their international health insurance provider to see if they offer coverage in the country where they will be studying.
Most students who study abroad through UConn Education Abroad are covered by Cultural Insurance Services International (CISI). CISI provides a) up to $2,500 for outpatient treatment; or b) up to $5,000 on an inpatient basis for students who need mental health care abroad.
Visit this page for information on medications abroad.
Students may be tempted to use drugs or alcohol as a way to cope with stress or reduce anxiety in new social situations. This could result in legal problems and may be a threat to physical and emotional health.
In addition, is important for students to remember that the University of Connecticut Student Code of Conduct follows them even while they are abroad. Illegal, irresponsible drinking and/or misbehaving while drinking are violations of the University’s policy.
This information was adapted from University of South Florida’s Mental Health and Wellness Abroad Guide, Temple University’s Education Abroad website, and NAFSA’s Guide to Education Abroad.