I was excited but nervous when I first began to look into study abroad programs. I knew studying abroad could be challenging for everyone, especially for those with mental illnesses and this would be my first time abroad! I have dealt with both anxiety and depression since I was young. I know how to deal with my illnesses in America, but I was nervous about going to another country. I worried that I would not have access to mental healthcare services comparable to programs at home. Still, studying abroad was something that I desperately wanted to do, and something I believed would be important to my development as a person, as well as essential for my education.
Deciding to pursue study abroad involved many steps. The first step was to talk with my doctors and therapists to see if they thought studying abroad was feasible for me. I discussed self-care methods with my therapist, as well as how to stay in communication with him while abroad. I also talked about medicines I might need with my doctor.
After consulting with all of my medical professionals, I asked my family and friends for their opinions. As the people who know me best, I trusted them to be honest with me about how they felt about my ability to handle being abroad. They told me that while they do have some concerns, they believed my medical professionals could offer me the best advice regarding my ability to spend a semester abroad.
After I gathered the opinions of both my family and doctors, I did a lot of self-reflection. Was I prepared to go to another country without access to the mental healthcare I am accustomed to? Was I ready to be thousands of miles from my family and friends and support system? Could I handle the possibility of culture shock? After asking myself these questions and more, I realized that even though it may be difficult, I was ready to take this journey.
I finally made my choice, studying abroad was something I wanted to pursue! After choosing a program, I began preparing myself for the journey. I made sure that I would have an adequate supply of essential medications, even though I am no longer on medication at home. My doctor wanted to me to have my regular medications available if I needed them. I also made sure to set up weekly email or skype sessions with my therapist, so we could discuss my experiences abroad together and I could contact him whenever I needed.
Create a Self-Care Plan
My therapist helped me devise a self-care plan, which consisted of regular calls with my family and friends back home, weekly journaling and self-reflection, and other techniques to take care of my mental health. We also created a plan that I could follow in an emergency situation, including numbers to call and people within my program I could talk to about steps to take to make myself safe.
In addition to my therapist, doctors, and personal mentors, IFSA-Butler also has many resources for advising and help concerning mental health. Talking to the advisor for my region of travel was super helpful. She gave me a list of people I can talk to regarding mental health concerns, as well as a list of resources that IFSA-Butler provides. The resident director of my program has also been extremely influential in helping me cope. I know that if I am ever in need of help, she will be there to assist me in any way.
Studying abroad has been an extremely rewarding experience, and it is something I’m glad that I chose to do. I have grown as a person, and have learned more about my host culture than I ever would have by just reading about it. Overall, the most important part of my decision to study abroad was to talk to my doctors and therapists, as well as deep self-reflection. After I made the decision to go abroad, preparing for the journey was easy with IFSA-Butler advisors who made sure that I had everything I needed to be prepared. I chose to study abroad despite having mental illness because I knew that I would be safe and well taken care of, and that I would have an experience that would be worth all the preparation.
Grace Carson is a Journalism and Political Science major at the University of Denver and studied abroad with IFSA-Butler’s program ‘The City, The River, The Sacred’ in Varanasi in India in Fall 2017. She is an International Correspondent at IFSA-Butler through the Work-to-Study Program.