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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Festive Grenoble and Xmas Countdown

I haven’t written in a couple of weeks because its just been so busy with the first semester winding down here in Grenoble. I think everyone who goes to uni can relate to end of term exhaustion, but I’ve really felt it this year and now that my last exam is over instead of celebrating i’m sat in bed with a lemon tea, nursing an oncoming cold (très festive, I know).

I think the tiredness has really hit me this term because it’s been a long three and a half months of constantly throwing myself into new situations. From dealing with French bureaucracy, to adapting to a new university system, to going to language exchange, to travelling and of course meeting new people. The highs of this term have been unbelievable but lows have been really hard and I think that living on a constant flux between the two has become increasingly wearing as the end of term, and the familiarity of Christmas at home, draws closer.

 

On the positive side, my parents visited for the weekend in late November which was lovely and gave me a few days to appreciate how beautiful Grenoble is at Christmas time. We had rubbish weather but braved the marché noël in the rain for crepes and hot wine. We also did a tour of the museums which was lovely, especially the Georgia O’Keffe exhibition at the museum of Grenoble, which runs until February 2016.

My last couple of days in Grenoble are going to be spent packing, eating too much at our flat Christmas dinner and saying goodbye to friends who aren’t coming back next semester 😦 Hope you’re all having the most lovely festive season!

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

Wintery Trip to Brockhampton Estate

As I keep mentioning its freezing, and basically winter now so its nice to be able to do some wintery day trips. Last week I was at home in Birmingham as we had the ‘Vacances de Toussaint’ holiday from university here in France. I could have travelled elsewhere but being the homebird I am I decided I wanted to spend some time with my family and catch up with friends after almost two months in France.

Anyway, on Wednesday my mom and I wrapped up warm and headed to the beautiful Brockhampton Estate in Herefordshire, around an hours drive from Birmingham. The National Trust estate has a Medieval house and over 1500 acres of land, you can find out more about it here. Armed with a flask of coffee, we strolled around the estate (barely touching the vast surrounding land), had a wander around the house and then finished off with a cream tea in the tea room.

Seeing as the clocks went back this week its been really dark and somewhat depressing so I thought this trip was a good way to embrace the changing weather.

What’s your favourite way to beat the winter blues?

Dita

Saturday Stroll

For the first time since I arrived in Grenoble I woke up on a Saturday with no plans and no hangover (yay). Under the guise of wanting to find somewhere to get some uni work done, I chucked a few books in a bag and headed out. Considering the weather has been miserable all week, it was nice to walk into town in the glorious autumn sunshine.

Surprisingly, there are hardly any coffee shops in Grenoble (and definitely no chains like Starbucks) so I searched on google and found one on Place Championnet, just five minutes walk from Place Victor Hugo. I hadn’t looked around the Championnet quartier before but it’s definitely somewhere i’ll be returning. The array of quirky shops is interspersed with patisseries, cafes and tradition french eateries. It’s also nice that it felt a bit more out of the way compared to the packed restaurants of place grenette.

On the walk home I noticed the snowy mountain tops which was very exciting, hopefully ski season is just around the corner!

Hope you have a great weekend,

Dita

Today’s Face

Welcome to Today’s Face,  a new feature here on La Vie en Noir. This is a project to unearth how beauty and make up not only affects our image but also our self worth. Ever since I started wearing make up I have been interested by the complex relationship that many women have with it. Every week I am going to interview a different woman, asking the her a range of questions to unearth the thought process behind the face she chooses to present. I am excited to learn more about how our personal appearance contributes to defining us as women.

Autumn in Grenoble

Finally, my favourite season of the year has arrived. It’s Autumn, there’s a chill in the air, we can wear jumpers again and overeat to our hearts content without having the phrase ‘bikini ready’ splashed over social media every five minutes. I would usually be packing away my shorts and browsing endlessly for the perfect knitwear, gloves and scarfs for the season ahead. Yet its so sunny here that it feels like spring. With the exception of a few thunderstorms and rainy days, the sun has been shining everyday.

I associate seasons with events, traditions and a change in mindset. It’s strange how a small thing like the weather can have such a big impact on your daily outlook on life. Instead of thinking about halloween and bonfire night i’m making the most of getting outside and sitting in the sunshine. One thing that hasn’t changed, however, is the blank page, and first day of school feeling that Autumn brings.

What do you look forward to in Autumn?