Studying Abroad and Mental Health

While the opportunity to study abroad is hugely¬†positive, its challenges shouldn’t be underestimated. Living abroad¬†usually entails finding accommodation, paying bills, administrative paperwork and university level courses in a foreign language for the first time. Added to that, most of us arrived on our year abroad with few to no personal connections and so have to build friendships, routines and lifestyles from scratch. Of course all of this is exciting but can also entail a great amount of stress. The pressure of making the most of the experience, improving your language skills and succeeding academically can become overwhelming, especially when added to existing mental health conditions.

Mental Health Abroad

Along with 25% of the UK population, I have previously suffered with poor mental health and over my time abroad a number of issues resurfaced. The first time I contacted my personal tutor was in December when it was coming to the end of first term where I mentioned that the lack of clarity about the exam process was exacerbating my anxiety. In fairness my personal tutor was great and has been throughout the whole process. She sent back an informative and understanding reply, which did put me at ease somewhat.

 Difficulty Accessing Support

During the second term things began to spiral out of control. I knew about halfway through that I needed to see a doctor. I tried to go to the medical centre at university in France but there was a wait hours long and I had to go to class. Furthermore, I could hardly explain how I was feeling in English so the thought of trying in French didn’t fill me with much confidence. Unsure what to do next; I thought the welfare officer at my UK university would be the best port of call. This is when things began to go downhill drastically.

I sent an e-mail explaining what I was struggling with and she replied telling me to seek medical advice and referring me to a webpage with extremely basic coping strategies. The tone and content of the email made me feel like I was wasting her time. I have since learned that the welfare tutors within each school do not have specific training and therefore are not adequately prepared to deal with the mental health needs of students. I then filled out a pretty extensive mental health assessment form via the Wellbeing Services, hoping that I could speak to someone online. It took weeks to get a response.

If I was at home, I could have gone to my doctor a long time ago. I would have also been in a much more supportive environment. The reason that things have escalated in this way is purely due to the fact that I am abroad. It takes support and understanding combined with practical solutions to help someone through a difficult period of mental health. The lack of support during the year abroad needs to be tackled immediately as it is currently putting the mental and physical health of our students at risk. I will be contacting the University directly when I get home to explain what has happened and I would like to work with them to improve the welfare system in place for outgoing year abroad students.

 What to do Pre Departure

For now my advice to anyone embarking on a year abroad that has previously suffered from mental health problems would be to go to your doctor and explain that you are about to undertake a challenge, which could adversely affect your mental health. This way, they will be prepared for a potential relapse or change in medication. I would also advise sharing the details of your condition with your personal tutor before you leave so that they may be better prepared to support you if necessary. These are both ideas that I feel would have benefitted me in hindsight. The lack of welfare support offered to students on their year abroad is symptomatic of the continuing disregard of mental health, something that needs to be improved in the university system nationwide.

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What to do when you’re Homesick¬†

I think being homesick is inevitable when you move to a different country. I’ve been homesick here in France more times than I can remember. It strikes at inevitable times: the birthday of someone close to you at home, when you’re feeling ill or when you’ve got a pile of uni work which you only understand about half of. But it also hits you at the most unexpected times, like when you’re travelling somewhere new and exciting , or at least getting on with your everyday routine.

I’ve been in Grenoble for seven months now and sometimes it feels as alien as the first day I arrived. I was talking to Clare, one of my best friends here, and we realised that we’d both felt pretty homesick at times but hadn’t wanted to say anything to each other. The thing about moving abroad is that you have to start all over again in terms of friends so when things get really shit sometimes you don’t feel like you can talk to the people around you because you haven’t actually known them all that long. This is a catch 22 because you then end up talking to people at home and feeling even worse, wishing you were on a plane back there.

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So here’s a list of some things you could try to¬†beat homesickness:

1. Go into a shop that you also have at home. I went into lush the other day just to look at all the bath bombs that I recognise. It’s surprisingly comforting I promise.

2. Talk to someone in the same position as you. It’s helpful to talk to any friends who are also on their year abroad as they’re likely to understand what you’re going through.

3. If you can’t talk to anyone then write it down. It’s amazing how much easier it is to deal with how you feel when you can see it physically written down in front of you.

4. Have a day off. It’s ok to spend all day binge watching your favourite series instead of immersing yourself in the target language.

5. Make a bucket list of things you want to do in your year abroad destination before you go home. It’s easy to get stuck in a rut so this can help to remind you of all the great things there is to do where you are.

6. Go to your favourite coffee shop or anywhere that has become familiar in your new home.

7. Try not to idealise your life at home. I think we can all get stuck in the ‘grass is always greener’ mindset, especially with¬†the increased physical distance when we are abroad.

8. Do something cultural even if your friends don’t want to.

9. Think about how far you’ve come in your target language and feel accomplished. Remember when you first arrived in France and you couldn’t understand much more than bonjour?

10. Send postcards as a more personal way of keeping in touch with people back home.

A Couple of Days in Amsterdam

Earlier this month I took my first ever trip to Amsterdam to visit my friend Carys whose studying there. I chose a weekend which ended up being grey and miserable (obvs) but we made the most of it. After a 5:30am start I was pretty dead by the time I arrived at Amsterdam Central Station so I went straight back to her studio before heading to the American lunchroom and bakery,De Drie Graefjes. The lunchroom is super quaint and actually has veggie options – a refreshing change compared to eating out in France.

Sightseeing

Carys is one of the most naturally warm and easygoing people I know, so I knew that she’d be the perfect host and I was right. After lunch she showed me the main sights around Dam Square, including the Red Light District which was less shocking than I thought it would be.

 

Anne Frank’s House¬†

I’d booked a ticket to see Anne Frank’s house for the next morning. I have to be honest, I was disappointed by the whole experience. Having read her diary when I was younger I expected a moving tribute to the family. Instead, the extensive museum surrounding the house becomes a history lesson, the majority of which you have to go around in single file, making it difficult to appreciate the content on offer. The house itself was undoubtedly fascinating and eerie, but there is no reconstruction of the living conditions of the family and the attic is off bounds. The worst part was the huge gift shop tagged onto the end. I accept that museums need to make revenue however some of the items on sale were just in poor taste. For example, the fact that you can buy your own replica Anne Frank diary. I can’t help but feel that this takes away from the powerful story of the Frank family.

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Jordaan

Jordaan

Next, we headed over to the Jordaan area of the city. Jordaan is a historically working class area of Amsterdam which was eventually gentrified and is home beautifully kept properties along with quirky shops. It’s the perfect place wander around the canals aimlessly.

De Pjip

Lastly we went to have a look around De Pjip. It’s an ‘edgier’ part of the city, think Shoreditch but a lot more chilled out. While we were there we made a stop at United Pancakes for tea and traditional Dutch pancakes. As it was getting dark several of the bars were illuminated by outdoor heaters accompanied by sofas and piles of blankets which made for the cosiest set up (take note, England).

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De Pjip

 

 

 

 

Semester One Highlights

Semester one has passed in a blur so I thought I’d share some travel highlights from these past three months.

  1. The bastille has to be number one seeing as it’s tourist mecca for Grenoble (and the views are so worth it).
  2. The crystal clear water of Lake Geneva was breathtaking.
  3. My absolute favourite picture from the first semester. Chamonix is one of the most postcard perfect places I’ve ever been to.
  4. Quaint and cute vibes in Chamonix town centre.
  5. Paragliding in Chamonix which I wrote about here .
  6. Visiting my friend Alex in Toulouse was such a fun weekend away and we got to eat baguettes in front of this stunning view of the Lake Garonne.
  7. This doesn’t quite fit in with the theme of my other pictures but Christmas in Grenoble was pretty festive so I wanted to include this shot of the carousel, which was stationed in Place Grenette.

Les journ√©es nationales de deuil

This week France has been recovering from the catastrophic events of last weekend in Paris. Fran√ßois Hollande declared three national days of mourning to allow the reeling citizens of the republic to attempt to come to terms with the tragedy which had struck. There are many eloquent and thought provoking responses that have been written, as well as messages of hope and humanity. Whilst I don’t feel politically knowledgable enough to share an analysis of the situation, I would like to share the sense of bravery and love which I have experienced over the past few days.

On Monday I attended a minutes silence on my university campus at midday. The silence amongst the hundreds gathered felt more powerful than any words that could have been spoken at that time. As the silence came to an end, no one moved and instead gentle clapping rippled through the crowd. It was a respectful tribute to the lives lost and an encouragement for France to continue living by its national slogan of ‘Libert√©, Egalit√©, Fraternit√©’.

minutes silence

On Wednesday I went to the theatre and slotted inside the program was a powerful message of defiance in the face of terrorist attacks which threaten our way of life, specifically defending our ability to gather in public places.

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This week has been filled with an overwhelming amount of love and generosity in response to the attacks, both in day to day life and on social media. In my eyes, every moment of sadness, reflection and love is for every life lost and every person who suffers. Solidarity and compassion alone will strengthen us as a global society.

Paragliding in Chamonix

After a restless nights sleep in our triple bunk beds, we woke up fairly early on our first day in Chamonix. The main thing that had attracted us to the town was the cable car which goes up Mont Blanc. However, once we got to the tourism office we were swiftly told that the cable cars were closed for refurbishment, as it’s currently low season. Not ideal to say to least.

Continue reading Paragliding in Chamonix

A Day in Geneva

Our trip last weekend started with an 8am train journey from Gi√®res Gare Universit√©s, Grenoble. We were originally told that we wouldn’t be provided with bedding at our AirBnB, so here’s Clare and Emily, complete with lots of bag and pillows, waiting for the train:

Once we were on the train we realised that we had forgotten to validate our tickets using the machines at the stations, which can apparently lead to a ‚ā¨20 fine but luckily the ticket inspector let us off. The two hour journey passed fairly quickly and before we knew it we were in Geneva. Our first stop was the train station lockers to dump our bags, then Starbucks (obvs) ,followed by cash withdrawals to Swiss Francs. We then headed to the tourism office which is a short walk from the train station. The lady in there was really friendly and we left armed with maps, and potential tour of things to see/do.

The first stop was Lake Geneva which was beautiful.

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After crossing the bridge over the river we found ourselves at the ‘l’horage felurie’, the flower clock. It took me a while to work out that it actually tells the time (who knew?).

We continued wandering around the city, popping in and out of the numerous chocolatiers, where you can normally get a free sample if you ask for one.

We stumbled across what (I think) is a town hall of some description, and lots of other places like the cutest old fashioned bookshop.

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Just being cute in Geneva 

We visited the cathedral and had crêpes at a nearby crêperie which were really nice.  After that we took the metro to the United Nations headquarters which has the famous wooden chair sculpture opposite, and the Red Cross museum nearby.

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Emily lovin life at the UN 

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I'd had enough of the day at this point
I’d had enough of the day at this point

When took another train from the train station to the airport. Once we got to the airport we (eventually) located our transfer which was a tiny minibus to take us to Chamonix!

Our minibus to Chamonix
Our minibus to Chamonix

Overall we thought Geneva was great for a day trip from Grenoble, although it is a little expensive especially considering the Euro/Swiss Franc Exchange Rate. My favourite things to see were definitely the lake, the cathedral and the chocolatiers.