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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Dropping out of Uni – Two and a Half Years On

A couple of weeks ago one of my favourite bloggers, Katie Oldham wrote a post featuring seven university ‘drop out’ stories, including her own. This inspired me to think back to my own drop out story and consider all the things i’ve achieved since I made that difficult decision.

  1. Confidence. My confidence has improved tenfold since I started trying to make decisions that are right for me.
  2. Travelling. Quitting uni made me think about what’s important to me and one of the main things is travel. I went back to Mauritius after almost ten years to connect with the island again and spend time with my family. I went on badly planned trips in Europe with my best friend. I’ve been to rainy English beaches and the glorious English countryside and appreciated each experience even more than the last.
  3. Restarting uni the following academic year and accepting that it’s ok to start over.
  4. Studying a course that I actually enjoy.
  5. Moving abroad – I honestly never thought i’d be able to do this and I don’t think I would have done if it wasn’t a part of my degree but so far its been one of the best, and most challenging experiences of my life.
  6. Volunteering – supporting a cause that I believe in has become and important part of my life and something that I want to continue doing.
  7. Finding practical solutions to combat anxiety : walking, reading, writing, meditating, mindfulness. All of these work for me in some capacity but the hardest part is remembering to do them.

Nowadays university is seen as the norm and we’re pushed into making huge decisions about our lives when we’re barely even eighteen. I still consider university to be the right path for me, but I think that most young people need a lot more time than we’re given to think about what decisions to make about the future.

Les journĂ©es nationales de deuil

This week France has been recovering from the catastrophic events of last weekend in Paris. François 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 ‘LibertĂ©, EgalitĂ©, FraternitĂ©’.

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.

Today’s Face: Asha

This week i’m talking to one of my closest friends, Asha. She’s one of those people that always looks put together in an understated yet gorgeous way. Whilst not being massively into make up, she uses selectively chosen products to create a polished and wearable look.

What does make up mean to you?

 To me, makeup means that I’m done up and ready for the day. It helps me feel put together.

 When do you feel the most beautiful?

 Surprisingly perhaps, after a really good yoga class, even if that means I’m all sweaty. I think it’s the endorphins!

 

How do you feel when you wear make up?

It makes me feel smart and like I’m ready to take on the day. I think it definitely helps complete an outfit. As a student there’s some days where I’ll just lay around the house and wouldn’t even consider putting on makeup, so for days when I’m heading out to classes or the library, it makes me feel ready for the day.

What’s your earliest memory of make up?

 As a child I danced a lot, so when I was six, I was in my first pantomime show. This meant wearing a full face of stage makeup, and was my first time ever wearing makeup. For months afterwards, I would put on that makeup every day – red lipstick, blusher, pink eye shadow even… everything!

 Do you think that people perceive you differently based on whether you are wearing make up or not?

Yes, I think for most people makeup is viewed as a signal of how much effort you’ve made, and how smartly dressed you are that day.

What’s your favourite make up look and why?

I think I’m quite low key – and lazy – when it comes to makeup. I like the natural look, just foundation, bronzer, mascara and a neutral lip. For a night out, I might add a bright pink or red lipstick. Growing up I had typical bad teenage skin so for me makeup has always been about having the appearance of an even skin tone. While I also appreciate exciting make up looks, my favourite is just when people use makeup to enhance their natural beauty.

Today’s Face: Sam Heath

The first person I approached to interview was, naturally, my mother. Whilst I am a skincare and make up enthusiast, my mom takes a far simpler approach to all things beauty. I am eternally grateful that she never taught me anything about make up or indicated that it should be used to transform you into something beautiful. I am used to seeing her tackle life bare faced, with a level of confidence that many struggle to possess without at least a few minor changes to their appearance.

 

What does make up mean to you?

Make up means I’m going out. It separates work me from social me, I don’t wear make up to work because I haven’t got the time.

When do you feel the most beautiful?

When I have the time to myself! You know when you’ve been to the gym and you’ve taken twenty minutes afterwards to use all your beauty products, that’s when I feel the most relaxed and beautiful.

 How do you feel when you wear make up?

I feel more confident socially. I don’t use make up to feel confident at work but I do for social occasions.

What’s your earliest memory of make up?

Inside Woolworths in the eyeshadow section, just testing all the eyeshadows. I was probably about thirteen. After that my mom took me to the boots counter and I had a makeover done, it was all pinks and fuchsias and it looked lovely. She bought me the make up but I only wore it on special occasions.

 Do you think that people perceive you differently based on whether you are wearing make up or not?

I think that its easy for women to feel underdressed if they are not wearing make up at particular occasions, like if you were going out for a nice meal. But generally, no. I think that people perceive me in the same way regardless.

What’s your favourite make up look and why ?

I think barely there make up with a bold lip is probably my favourite. I don’t try and change anything or cover anything up.

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.

Happy 100 and updates (sunday bake, moving abroad)

Hi everyone,

Firstly i’d just like to say a huge thank you to to everyone who reads and follows this blog. It may be tiny, but its a tiny space that I value a lot, and I am so excited to keep adding to it. Last week I realised that I had just passed a hundred followers and it honestly made my day.

As you may have noticed, there was no Sunday Bake feature this week. The reason for this is because i’ve been in a mad panic trying to sort everything out for my year abroad. As much as I love baking and updating recipes, I just don’t think i’ll have the capacity to do it weekly while i’m settling into a different country. However, the Sunday Bake isn’t leaving, it’s just going to become more sporadic than it has been over the summer.

So, as i’ve already mentioned, i’m moving to France! As my journey begins i’m sure that this space will evolve into somewhere more travel and lifestyle related for now, and who knows what will it become in the future?

So again, thank you for deciding to read my musings in their infancy, and i’m open to suggestions for posts you would like to see.

Dita