Mental health and wellbeing support for international students: how and where to seek help

It is incredibly important to look after your mental health, particularly whilst at university and even more so when you are in an unfamiliar environment such as on a year abroad or studying at a university in a country that you are unfamiliar with. As a person who recently came back from a year abroad in Spain, I know that it can be stressful and hard experience. I designed to give support and advice to students at the University of Leeds who are studying internationally on a year abroad or who have come to Leeds for their study abroad.

Be prepared

Living abroad can be so exciting but also equally just as daunting. Eliminate stress and anxiety by being as organised as you can before you move abroad. Make sure that you have all the correct information and documentation required before you go abroad such as:

  • Checking that you can use your bank cards in the country that you are travelling to.
  • You have adequate funding (should you run into any unforeseen costs).
  • You have travel insurance (if you are a British citizen going to Europe don’t forget your EHIC card which is free to apply for if you are a student).
  • It might seem obvious but, if the country you are going to requires a visa, make sure you have one and that it is the correct one for what you intend on doing out there (i.e. studying/working.)

Emergencies

Make sure that you are also prepared for dealing with emergencies

  • Bring a first aid kit with you along with all the details of any insurance policies that you may have.
  • I also recommend signing up for a doctor’s surgery, so that if you do feel unwell at any point then you have somebody that you can contact.
  • If you know anybody in the country you are travelling to (such as somebody from the University you will be studying at) then it might be worth emailing or phoning them before you arrive in the country, so that you have established a point of contact prior to you arriving there, and they can answer any questions you may have.

Generally, it is important to find out as much information about the destination you are travelling to as possible. This way, you are more likely to feel prepared and your anxiety will be lessened, and you can focus on other aspects.

Support services for students at Leeds who are not present on campus (abroad)

The University of Leeds has many support services that are available to its students, whether you are a student who is coming to Leeds and choosing to do your study abroad here or a student who has gone to spend their year abroad in a foreign country.

Student counselling

The university offers a student counselling and well-being service, which is open to all enrolled students. If you are abroad this year they offer appointments to students online (via Zoom) or you can either opt for a face-to-face appointment on campus which is located at Clarendon Place. Like all the services, this is free to students and you can easily book appointments online.

Study abroad team

The study abroad team is also very helpful and can address any concerns during as well as before you embark on your study abroad. You can visit the team in the Majorie and Arnold Ziff building on campus, but also via email (studyabroad@leeds.ac.uk).

Study abroad coordinator

Whilst on your year abroad you should have been assigned a study abroad coordinator from Leeds University. Your coordinator is there to support you whilst living abroad and offer any help and advice.

Personal tutor and a mentor

Your personal tutor is also there to help you with any concerns that you may have. Finally, if you are studying abroad in an academic institution such as a university, then your host university should have services available to you. And if you are doing something such as British Council, then you will be assigned a mentor (a member of teaching staff at your school) who will help you ease into life abroad and offer support.

Support services for students at Leeds who are present on campus (studying here from abroad)

If Leeds University is your host university for your year abroad or you have chosen to study here for your university career then this section will be useful to you.

Leeds University Union

If you are physically present on the Leeds campus this year you can speak to somebody in the university union, which is located in the union foyer on level one. This is available to all students, regardless of whether you are a postgraduate or undergraduate and you do not have to book an appointment but bear in mind that it might be busy around peak times.

Student counselling

As stated earlier the university offers a free student counselling and wellbeing service, which is available to all students and is located at Clarendon Place. However, in-person appointments are not compulsory and if you would prefer to receive the support online via a Zoom call, then this is an option that you can select when you book the appointment.

General support- things you can do to help yourself

Whilst being abroad is challenging, there are lots of little changes and healthy routines that you can implement in order to help yourself.

Exercise

It is important to keep fit and exercise regularly as endorphins can really help to boost your mood and make you feel better.

Meditation

Meditating is also another great way to help your mental health, you could visit a yoga class at your local gym, meditate at home or download mindfulness apps such as Headspace which aim to decrease stress.

Limiting your screen time

Limiting your screen time is also extremely beneficial for your mental health. It’s so easy to mindlessly scroll through endless TikTok’s however, this can be extremely detrimental to your mental health. Instead, swap the TikToks for something more wholesome such as reading a book. If you are studying abroad in a foreign country and are trying to learn the language you could set yourself the challenge of reading a book in the language you are attempting to learn.

Be organised

When things are out of our control, this induces more anxiety and stress in our daily lives and whilst we cannot eliminate every element that is out of our control, we can certainly do things to help. Buying a daily planner will help to keep yourself organised and manage your day-to-day stresses which helps to stop you from feeling overwhelmed.

Stop comparing yourself to others

Whilst studying and living abroad is such an incredible experience, try hard not to compare your experience to anybody else’s, especially on social media. It can be an amazing tool, but it can also be incredibly detrimental too. Just because your friend has landed their study abroad placement in the south of Italy and posts endless photos on Instagram of their numerous Aperol spritz’, it doesn’t mean that they are having a better time than you, and at some point, they too will have felt feelings of loneliness and uncertainty.

Written by Phoebe Green

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