Monday 22 July 2019

Living Abroad and Mental Health

Claire shares her experience of living abroad, and her advice for managing anxiety and maintaining mental wellbeing whilst travelling. 
- Claire Jenns

When I was six years old, my parents made the life-altering decision to permanently move from England to Thailand. The eleven years I grew up there were an immense privilege, but also a struggle in so many different ways.

I spent the first nine years there on an island called Koh Samui, which whilst a beautiful place to grow up, presented a number of challenges in terms of my education. I moved between several different international schools, and even had a hiatus from school for around two years. I was only ten or eleven at the time, but this was extremely isolating as I spent most of my days at home on the internet, not spending time with other people my own age. I pinpoint this as the formative moment when my anxiety started to surface, and it’s stayed with me ever since.

Not only that, but I never managed to learn how to speak Thai fluently, which made me feel like even more of an outsider. I adapted to the culture in some senses, becoming familiar with the amazing food and social customs, but I never quite shook off that feeling of otherness. I eventually moved up north to a city called Chiang Mai, where I completed my IGCSE’s (the first continuous stint of my education in a long time). After that, I returned to England to go to sixth form, and now at University I feel more grounded than I ever felt in Thailand. I feel like I’m home. I still struggle with my anxiety, particularly in new situations involving strangers, but I try not to let it stop me from seizing opportunities in life.

Travelling with anxiety can be difficult, but it is manageable. I love to travel, and I find planning well in advance and familiarising myself with where I’ll be going helps alleviate a lot of stress. It sounds obvious but recognising that my trip away, or holiday will be for a fleeting amount of time in comparison to living abroad, and that I’ll be returning to a place that feels like home, also alleviates some anxiety. I don’t wish that I hadn’t experienced growing up in Thailand, as it made me who I am today, but I would caution anyone thinking of living abroad permanently. I’d urge them to think carefully about their decision, do their research, and spend a really good amount of time in their potential new home-country before making the move; it’s not all perfect and definitely doesn’t serve as an escape from life's problems.

You can find information on managing anxiety here. You can find advice on looking after your wellbeing on a year studying abroad here

Hi, my name is Claire, and I’m a second year English Literature student at the University of Liverpool. I’m an avid reader, swimmer and dog-petter! In using my experiences living and travelling abroad in Asia and Europe, I hope to shine a light on the mental health difficulties that can arise from such situations and help people to embark on their own adventures abroad.  

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