Friday 1 March 2019

How I Keep My Mind Happy on a Year Abroad

Abi shares what she found most important to keep herself happy on a year abroad.
- Abi 

In September, I moved to Italy for my Year Abroad. I have adventured around the country, made wonderful friends, and tried many new things – but it hasn’t been a walk in the park. Here is what I have learnt over the past few months about staying well abroad. 

Join Clubs:

I know my mind is happiest when it is kept busy, so joining societies was always going to be an integral part of staying well abroad. As soon as I arrived in Italy, I pushed myself outside of my comfort zone by joining an orchestra, a Christian Union and a youth volunteering group. Thanks to this, I’ve been able to settle into a routine and meet some friends who have helped make the tough times I’ve faced so far, a little less tough! So, it sounds obvious, but joining clubs is a really good way of seeing your Year Abroad location as ‘home’ rather than just a place you’re passing through.

Tick things off a bucket list:

The prospect of Year Abroad seemed so unknown compared to routinely university life in England, but I figured that gave me a blank slate to work with. Back in August, I decided to make myself two bucket lists to ensure I make the most out of my year. The first was for all the places I want to travel to and experiences I want to live. The second was for ways in which I want to push myself out of my comfort zone in order to grow mentally throughout the year. This includes things like asking a question in a lecture and speaking on the phone in Italian. The satisfaction I get from ticking things off this bucket list is enough to help me keep striving through the year towards my next goal.

Put Down Your Phone:

Keeping things in perspective is crucial for my mental state. Everyone has their highs and lows but, surprisingly or not, it’s usually only the best parts that are shared on Instagram and Facebook. I deleted the majority of my social media apps so that I stop comparing my seemingly average Year Abroad experience to those of other people, and start appreciating it for what it is. So, take some advice from a fellow Year Abroad student who is living their fair share of struggles away from home: limit time spent on social media and take what you do see published with a pinch of salt.

Keep a ‘Positive Diary’:

Like a lot of people, I tend to dwell on my faults and failures much more than on my successes. And, unfortunately for me, the dreaded language and cultural barriers mean that mistakes are part and parcel of living in a foreign country. So, at the end of every day, I write down a few things I can be proud of or happy about. This helps me to remember how much I am gaining from the experience and is also a great way of keeping a record of my everyday life which I know I’ll love looking back on in years to come. 


Sometimes we all need an escape. I’ve needed to use mine a lot since moving to Italy. Scrapbooking is one of my favourites. When things get a bit much, my go-to measure is to pop the kettle on, blast some Tom Odell, and do some mindful cutting and gluing. Looking at all the photos and scraps I’ve collected from around Italy reminds me of how much I’ve accomplished since arriving here, and how worth the efforts and tears my Year Abroad is after all. It makes me proud to be able to say that I’ve left my comfort zone far behind and managed something I didn’t think I was capable of.

Keep in contact with your home university:

And last but not least, remember that Universities have wellbeing services which can still offer you support whilst you’re abroad. It’s okay not to be okay, whether you’re in the UK, or further afield.

Hello! I am a third-year Modern Languages student at the University of Exeter. I wish to use what I've learnt from my mental health struggles to help other students, as well as to break down the stigma surrounding issues to make it easier for people to speak out and seek help.

Click here for more tips on a Year Abroad

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