Full disclosure: this isn’t something I’ve been doing a good job with. However, I’ve been thinking about it a lot and think that it’s worth some reflection. Clearly studying abroad is so much fun – we’re meeting all these new friends, seeing all these beautiful new places, eating great food, having fun nights out, all the fun. However, just like at school or home or any other time and place, there are inevitably times of struggle. This includes homesickness, getting sick, just feeling down, etc. and I think that it’s particularly hard navigating where and how to get help when you need it as a study abroad student. To be honest, my mental health has not been at its prime and my physical health has followed suit, landing me in urgent care just a week ago. While I am definitely feeling so much better than I was when I was sick, I’m trying to explore ways in which I can better maintain my wellbeing in my last few weeks abroad.
It was hard enough for me navigating mental health services back at school in Minnesota – I just started therapy at Boynton last semester even though I probably should have started day 1 of freshman year or even earlier. This was a combination of shame/embarrassment, lack of information of where to go or how to afford it. It was also hard to fit in prepping healthy meals and going to the Rec back at school in Minnesota. All of these same barriers exist when studying abroad, but I’d argue elevated even more.
I think this because when you’re abroad there’s this added pressure to be “on” all the time and have fun all the time. I feel this need to prove to everyone else back home, on social media, etc. that I am having a great time. I feel this need to prove to myself that I’m making it worthwhile and that it was worth the money and hassle. There are all of these pressures to travel as much as you can, go out as much as you can, etc. all while still attending class (which has mandatory attendance) and working 20 hours a week (to meet our internship hour requirements). There isn’t time to do yoga, meal prep, journal, etc. However, that’s just not sustainable. Traveling and going out is so fun, don’t get me wrong. But for me, at least, it is not a source of recharging and I find myself working and living at a constant deficit.
Another point is navigating a new foreign healthcare system. Where do we make an appointment? Does our insurance cover it? Do we have to pay out of pocket? Will it be reimbursed? What hoops do we have to jump through to get the reimbursement? This hoop has been the main reason that I haven’t continued attending therapy during my semester abroad. I had to navigate the healthcare system just a couple weeks ago when I got really sick. I had a severe case of tonsillitis that was paired with some lovely flu symptoms that forced me to stay in bed for 3 days straight. It was the absolute worst sore throat that I had in my life and it wasn’t going away. I emailed my program student support service staff asking where I could go to the doctor if it got worse or wasn’t getting better in the next few days and so I could get a doctor’s note if I continued to miss class and work. They directed me to a private doctor, that was 130 pounds (over $170) just for a consultation. I didn’t really feel comfortable paying that much when I really suspected that it was viral and that a doctor wouldn’t be able to do anything about it. After the sore throat still hadn’t improved after 6 days, I finally went to urgent care. The only reason I opted for urgent care was that it was a Sunday and the private doctor wasn’t open. However, urgent care is free for everyone in the UK and I was able to see a nurse practitioner for free. She confirmed that it was viral tonsillitis, that I was dehydrated, and that I’d need to take at least 2-3 more days of bed rest to fight it off. Seeing a doctor or therapist 1) costs a lot of money upfront, 2) is hard to fit into a packed schedule, 3) and is unfortunately kind of embarrassing.
Being that miserably sick really made me realize how I’ve been putting my wellness on the backburner. But apart from that, I just haven’t really been feeling 100: I’m tired and stressed all the time, I’m not eating very well, I haven’t been on top of my exercise game, the list goes on and on. It’s really challenging to balance wellness with the grind of work and school at home, and I personally am finding it even harder to fit it in here. However, I’m taking that horrible illness (which still hasn’t cleared up 100% yet) as a wake up call to start taking better care of my physical and mental health for the last few weeks that I’m here. Taking any and all wellness tips for studying abroad. How can you fit little bits of taking care of yourself and your wellbeing into your absolutely jam-packed days? Relaxation, mindfulness, exercise, cooking nutritious meals, etc. Let’s hear it.