Wednesday 10 May 2017

MHAW17: Surviving and Thriving on your Year Abroad

For Mental Health Awareness Week, Gemma shares the simple tips she learned while she was away, so you can have a year abroad to remember!
Gemma Sowerby

Ever heard the myth that ‘your year abroad is the best year of your life’? Don’t worry if you’re filled with trepidation and stress rather than excitement and calm. Your year abroad is not always about thriving: sometimes it’s just surviving. However, if you do your best to stay on top of your mental health, make the most of your time abroad, and take each day as it comes, you can have the most enriching, rewarding, and eye-opening year. Here are some simple tips that I learned while away, so you can have a year abroad to remember — for all the right reasons.

What’s the plan?
Planning is the key to any successful year abroad, especially if you have mental health difficulties that make dealing with unexpected challenges or setbacks even harder. You’ll need to take copies of all your personal documents, especially if you’re working or studying abroad in mainland Europe, where the paperwork can be overwhelming. Do as much research as you can on your destination in advance, such as which areas to avoid, how to open bank accounts, and finding accommodation, to make the move as smooth as possible.

Broaden your horizons
Even if you’re teaching or working, use your weekends and down time wisely – try to visit as many new places as possible. Cheap rail or bus travel is easy to find, especially if you can profit from student rates, and it’s well worth a rocky bus ride for a glorious trip to the sun, sea, sands, or slopes! Check out trips organised by your host university or any societies in your local area. If your friends are more far-flung, why not take solo voyages to bustling cities or tiny towns, and soak up the culture while you can (as well as wowing your friends with your glorious Instagram feed).

Health and safety
If you have regular medication, make sure to plan with your doctor in advance how much you’ll need, especially if your medication isn’t available in your destination country. You should also make your home university aware of any conditions, so they can help should any issues arise. Make sure you have an EHIC card and appropriate travel insurance in case you fall ill abroad — there’s nothing worse than feeling unsafe or on edge about your health and safety. You’re there to enjoy yourself after all, so take precautions.

Escape your comfort zone
The most important thing to make sure you thrive on your year abroad is to try new things and meet new people — it’s no good sticking to what you know when the whole point of your year abroad is to experience a new way of life! Try out the local cuisine, look for any festivals or events run by the local community, or find a tandem language partner to meet new people and improve your lingo in a fun environment. It is daunting moving to a new place, but the only way to overcome the fear is to take part and escape your bubble in a way that feels safe and fun.

For information on visas, laws, vaccinations, and local travel advice for 225 countries around the world, make sure you check out the FCO’s website at, and sign up for email updates to get the latest straight to your inbox.

For our Student Minds guide to a Year Abroad for yourself or a friend, click here.

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