Whenever anybody you know returns from their overseas trip, all you hear about is the absolutely AMAZING time they’ve had in their travels- and frankly, they probably have had an absolutely amazing time. But a point often glossed over or forgotten when discussing overseas travels is the effect sudden change and a new environment can have on your mental health.
Homesickness and culture shock can affect anybody and sometimes it can be hard to recognise the signs. Homesickness is more intense than simply missing home. You may start to crave being at home with your friends and family and that feeling of belonging. Culture shock on the other hand, is known as the second stage in the cultural adaptation cycle: Honeymoon, The Slump/ Culture Shock, Realisation, Adaptation and Return.
- Honeymoon Stage- this is where everything is still new and exciting and we focus on the positive differences between your home and host culture.
- The Slump- commonly known as Culture Shock, is when the excitement about our new culture wears off and we begin to have negative feelings about our travel experience.
- Realisation- in this stage, you begin to adapt to your new environment and learn to appreciate those cultural differences once again.
- Adaptation- you have become happily immersed in your new culture and have built strong connections with our host culture as our second home.
- Return- your perception of the world and our home culture may have changed because you have changed and a period of adjustment might be necessary for you to integrate back into your life.
Your culture shock or homesickness could last from a few days to a few weeks and can include symptoms such as:
- Feeling sick often
- Relationship stress
- Difficulty studying or working
- Under-eating or over-eating
It’s when these symptoms last longer than a month or so that you need to take some serious action because they could be symptoms of a deeper mental health issue. Half of the Australian population has suffered from a mental health issue at some point in their lives, which is why it is so important to take care of your mental health, particularly when you are overseas and away from the comfort of home. That is why we wanted to give you a few tips to help you help yourself, whether it’s homesickness, culture shock or a more serious mental illness
1. Try not to isolate yourself
It is a natural instinct to want to hide away in our safe space when we aren’t feeling 100% physically or mentally but social isolation only feeds into mental health issues. Although it is difficult when your brain is refusing to cooperate, socialising just a little bit can help to take your mind off things.
2. Make a routine
Routine and having some structure to your days is important. Moving to a whole new country will definitely disrupt your normal routine which is why it’s important to create a new one, ensuring that you don’t overwhelm yourself.
3. Set realistic expectations
As we’ve mentioned, the picture often painted for overseas travel is a whirlwind of adventure and fun. Travelling or studying overseas is an adventure and a whole heap of fun yes, but reality check: you will still be living your everyday life. There will be days of ups and downs, days of boredom or stress and sick days. This means that you need to set yourself realistic expectations about what you can fit in and practice the same self-care you would at home.
4. Check in with yourself
Make a point of stepping back and checking in with yourself about how you are really feeling. This is so important because without knowing how okay you are, you don’t know the steps you need to take to improve your mental health.
5. Eat a balanced diet and exercise
It’s cliche but it’s true: a healthy body equals a healthy mind. This ties in to point 2) about the need for a routine- having three regular, healthy meals a day and some form of movement be it a walk, playing a game of soccer, going to the gym, yoga, whatever can go a long way in improving your mental health.
6. Communicate openly and honestly
This one is important throughout the entire study overseas process. First of all, be upfront about any health issues that your student mobility organisation asks about, they are asking for a reason. When you are overseas, communicate with the support team there about how you are feeling and also discuss your feelings with other friends or international students- they probably have gone through or will be going through the same thing.
7. Recreate a support network
While your friends and family at home are always contactable, it’s good to have some people around you in your time zone to help you through the tough times as well.
8. Know where to go to seek help
Prepare a mental health plan before you go- organise the medication you need to take over, talk to your student mobility office, google your host institution and mental health support options they have and find a doctor or psychologist in your host town or city and reach out to introduce yourself.
Overseas study and travel is honestly one of the best experiences you can have and one of the greatest things you can do for yourself. You will have incredible experiences and loads of fun and make awesome friends and connections. Just remember to keep in mind that being in a different culture, in a different country with different lifestyles and attitudes can be challenging, so look after yourself and don’t be too hard on yourself. You may have your slump but once you’re through the other side you won’t want to leave!
Hello! My name is Jaqui and I’m an intern here at AIM Overseas. I have been slightly obsessed with travel since backpacking through Europe in 2016 and now take every opportunity I can to chat about overseas trips with anyone who will listen. I’m also a bookworm, lover of all things cute and fluffy, a slight stress-head and a SUPREME beach lover despite burning after two seconds in the sun.