Choosing to study abroad is an exciting adventure for high school and college students. Looking at the “to pack” list, there may be clothing, personal items and money – have you ever wondered, “What’s missing?”
What about all the “unknown unknowns” out there? It feels exciting to travel to a foreign country, but remember travelling can be stressful, both physically and mentally. Going to school in a foreign country can feel like freshman year on steroids, only without the local support. It’s important to have a plan for coping with stress and anxiety to avoid pitfalls like alcohol, drugs or other unhealthy behaviors. Prepare and pack the right tools in your backpack – what will you do if stress and anxiety become overwhelming?
Learn more than the basics
When researching a potential country to study abroad in, students and their families should look beyond the Wikipedia page. Learn about the culture, languages and laws of prospective regions before making a final decision. Don’t assume people WILL speak English – instead, if you are able, practice the local language before your trip. Some countries have legal systems which are far more punitive than America – study up on how each potential host country handles jurisprudence.
Prepare for emergencies before leaving home
Remember every country has a different emergency telephone number – know your host country’s version of 9-1-1. Have a go-to local healthcare option – as well as contact info for the ones back home. You need to know how to ask for help in the local language. Calling a doctor is no use if they cannot understand you. It’s smart to have personal health information in the foreign language. Always register your trip with the U.S. State Department’s Smart Traveler program in order to receive up to the minute information on evacuations or other important scenarios. You’ll also need a smart phone with digital data that works in the country you’re visiting.
Make sure you research current prescriptions and related laws
You might need to know if the medication is allowed in the country before departure. This is vital in case you need a refill – if the pharmacy in your host country doesn’t carry or allow certain medications, it could lead to illness or even withdrawal symptoms. The United States has laws on prescriptions considered to be controlled substances, meaning your new host country has them too.
Learn about coping with mental stress and anxiety
Depression and anxiety appear in people in varying ways. Feeling at ease most of the time may not equate to how you feel overseas. An article published by Education Abroad, notes young people don’t always know how they’ll feel once they actually arrive in a host country. This means new life experiences, such as culture shock and home-sickness, may introduce new or worsening mental health symptoms, including depression, anxiety, sleeplessness, racing thoughts or nausea.
Many travel medical insurance providers do not cover or have resources for students suffering from mental health issues like Travel Anxiety. An ounce of prevention amounts to a pound of cure – keep this in mind prior to departure and upon arrival. Do your homework and make an action plan should something occur. This Frontier’s Journal article is a great resource for learning about what causes depression abroad and ways to prevent it.
Depart with evacuation insurance
Did you know that if you’re in danger abroad, no mandate requires your school or program to assist? It can cost you and your family upwards of $50,000 to get you home. It’s vital to purchase evacuation insurance prior to your trip. Look for a policy that includes illness, injury, emergency evacuation, natural disaster, civil unrest and potentially petty ransom. Read the fine print, stress and anxiety are often not included. What’s your plan? Do you have a counselor you can lean on?
Ensure your family and the State Department know where you are
One of the best things students can do while they’re abroad is to make sure their U.S. embassy, families or points of contact back home know their whereabouts. They can’t assist if they don’t know where you are. Having a smartphone with global data is a must have to receive alerts and get help. Smart phones can also access important docs stored on the Internet, like passports, medical insurance, personal health records, etc. Your smartphone is a lifeline.
Aside from extra socks and a travel comb, you need your brain more than anything when heading somewhere unfamiliar. Use uncommon sense – if something doesn’t feel right, it probably isn’t. Depart smart, and come home safely!