May is Mental Health Awareness month, and at TEAN, we know that mental health is a topic relevant to every individual. This is true whether or not you have a diagnosis or any pressing mental health concerns. Similar to physical health, staying mentally well is an ongoing practice and a highly individualized journey. While traveling, you may notice some shifts in your wellness that require unique interventions.   

In this blog, we share stories and tips from alumni about how they prioritized mental health during their study abroad experience. They offer insights for how to optimize wellbeing, but remember that these are ideas and offerings, not prescriptive recommendations. We hope they will aid your own journey of discovering what practices and mental health tools are most supportive to you. If possible, we invite you spend some time pre-departure to reflect. Consider personalized ways that you can maintain calmness and clarity so that you can be your most expressed and resourced self throughout your program.  

Here’s what our alumni had to say about navigating their mental health abroad!


Before Departure:

 What sort of things did you do to set yourself up for success while abroad?

“Since I had not yet acknowledged that I struggled with general anxiety, I really didn’t do much to prepare. Luckily, my sister gave me a quick rundown of the emotional rollercoaster I would probably be on while abroad. She described the first few weeks as being on cloud nine and feeling like you could conquer the world. She also warned me that the “high” and excitement of being in a new, amazing place would eventually wear off and I would crash, but not to freak out. After the crash, she described the rest of the semester as an emotional rollercoaster filled with ups and downs just as I would have back at home. Although she warned me about this before leaving, I still found it hard to imagine my mental health suffering while being in such a cool place. It didn’t seem like it would happen to me.” – Allison Brost, New Zealand Alum, 2018

Allison studied abroad in New Zealand in 2018

“This was my second time abroad, so I was slightly more prepared. However, since I had never been to Australia before, I did a lot of research on what it was like to live there. I also watched a lot of YouTube videos depicting life as an American studying abroad. Those were the preparations I think that helped my anxieties the most. I also talked to my therapist and med prescriber to set up a plan for myself incase I was struggling.” – Kayla Indomenico, Australia Alum, 2017

“Before going abroad, I made sure to do a lot of research on how Black people were treated in Korea and what foreigners can expect to mentally prepare myself for how people would react to me. I also made sure to understand the resources that were available to me in Korea or virtually through my home university. It was comforting to know that there was support available for me if needed.” – Nyamal Gatluak, South Korea Alum, 2021

“Before going abroad, I made sure to have everything planned out to the T. What I was packing, how I was getting there, how much time I’d have in between my layovers, etc. Knowing that I could sometimes get anxious, especially being on my own in a foreign country half way across the world, I made sure to have a family and friend group chat already set up that I could use whenever I felt lonely or needed someone to talk to.” – Dominique DiGiacomo, Japan Alum, 2019

Dominique studied abroad in Japan in 2019

“…I found success surrounding myself with the right people who aligned with the ways I hoped to grow. Feed yourself with positive energy when you can and turn away from negativity when you feel it. That being said, don’t be afraid to express yourself and make new buddies. This is one of the most beautiful rewards of studying abroad- making lifelong friends who connect to your soul.” – Lauren Rezak, New Zealand Alum, 2018

While Abroad:

what was it like adjusting to your new environment, navigating your hurdles, finding community?

“I feel like I had a hard time adjusting to my new environment at first because this was the first time I had ever lived somewhere that had such different ways of living. I embraced it the best I could, but it did take some getting used to. I found that talking to my friends I made while abroad was the best coping mechanism for me. It was reassuring to know that I was not the only one feeling the way I was feeling…It’s crazy how close you can get to people in such a short amount of time when you’re surrounded by such loving and supportive people. Although I tried leaning on my friends and family back home, I would say it did more harm than good for me when I was struggling. Many of them told me they missed me, which made me miss them more. It was also hard that none of them could understand the emotional roller coaster I’d been on, even when they were trying. The one person I always felt better talking to was my sister because she had experience studying abroad and always validated my feelings and told me I wasn’t alone in feeling that way…So many of my peers/friends I made abroad shared similar feelings throughout the trip…I found out later that I definitely was not alone.”  – Allison Brost, New Zealand Alum, 2018

“Luckily, this was not my first time in Japan and I had studied the Japanese language for 2 years at that time, so I felt a little more confident than the rest of my peers. In order to adjust to my new environment, I made sure to go out and explore, as well as familiarize myself with the train line I would be taking quite frequently. One of the main challenges I had while I was abroad was being treated a little differently than others, especially in the country side. Everyone could tell I was a foreigner from just a single look which meant that already had some thought about who I was as a person, especially an American. In order to deal with this challenge, I put myself out there on the daily, not afraid of being myself. I found that being my genuine self helped others to feel comfortable around me and in turn, be themselves around me. I think another thing that helped was the community I found abroad. I was studying with hundreds of other students from the US, UK, Vietnam, Korea, China, etc. Knowing that I wasn’t alone in the way I was feeling and having a group of people in a similar situation to rely on really helped me to feel comfortable.” – Dominique DiGiacomo, Japan Alum, 2019

“I absolutely loved Australia and my time abroad but it was not without its challenges. I was 22 when I went abroad, so I was a tad older than most other students and I struggled a little with that. When I was struggling, I would try to journal a little or get myself out of my apartment and go exploring. When I was feeling down, that usually helped because it reminded me that I was living in a new and exciting place and that I should live in the moment! I also talked to my family and friends back home, which helped me as well.” – Kayla Indomenico, Australia Alum, 2017

Nyamal studied abroad in South Korea in 2021

“I am grateful to have had two of my close friends travel abroad with me. They made any of the challenges I faced while abroad feel less burdensome and always offered their support.” – Nyamal Gatluak, South Korea Alum, 2021

“I definitely struggled with personal health issues while abroad in terms of my relationship with food. I came to New Zealand as the fittest I had ever been, but fell back onto my reliance on food when feeling academically stressed and challenged. This coping coupled with the variety of new food options in Auckland was overwhelming and I fell off the rail a bit with my weight. It is okay, but I didn’t feel as healthy when I left as I did when I arrived. Additionally, I was still a college student who was developing the skills to cook for herself without the reliance on a food plan. I recommend coming with some recipes or thoughts on how to fuel yourself in a healthy manner that also allows you to save money on eating out. Do try new food and  restaurants when you can, but don’t rely on them as your main food source if you can avoid doing so!” – Lauren Rezak, New Zealand Alum, 2018

Lauren studied abroad in New Zealand in 2018


After Abroad: 

What did you learn from this in relation to your mental health and what would you say to your previous self?

“Studying abroad was by far the best decision I have ever made. I learned so much about myself and how to persevere and navigate some really tricky emotions. The number one thing I learned about mental health in general from studying abroad is that everyone struggles in some way and part of growing into a better version of yourself is figuring out how to navigate those emotions and what coping mechanisms work for you. I had some of the highest highs and some of the lowest lows while studying abroad, but I’m so thankful for every one of those experiences. If I had something to say to my previous self, it would be to not be scared of opening up to people and being vulnerable. I gained some of my most loyal and supportive friends because I broke down my walls and they made me feel so comfortable trying out being my true self. Coming out as bisexual to my study abroad friends and seeing how positively they reacted eventually gave me the confidence to come out to more and more people back home. The main thing I learned from my experience abroad is that so many people will love you for who you are when you’re being your genuine and authentic self.” – Allison Brost, New Zealand Alum, 2018

“I absolutely loved my time abroad. I enjoyed every moment of getting out of my comfort zone and meeting new people. Being abroad taught me that I’m a lot stronger and independent than I thought I was. The me right now would tell myself before going abroad to not be scared, to be myself, and have fun!”  – Dominique DiGiacomo, Japan Alum, 2019

Dominique & friends in Japan

“I loved my experience abroad! While I did struggle a little while I was there, when I got back home, I was so proud of myself. I was able to deal with my mental health abroad where I did not have my usual support system. Studying abroad really helped with my anxiety and I am definitely one of those cliché study abroad girls who says “studying abroad changed my life”. I am graduating this month and have been applying to jobs in the international education field so I can help others branch out and maybe help with their anxiety! Kayla Indomenico, Australia Alum, 2017

“I really enjoyed my experience abroad. In a way, it was transformative because it changed the way I envisioned my future. I started learning more about international education and other opportunities to study or work abroad. It also increased my interest in language learning and my love for travel.” – Nyamal Gatluak, South Korea Alum, 2021

Nyamal in South Korea

“Embrace the changes, the trials and tribulations. Seek help from family, friends, peers, and therapists when you need it. Drink water. Study hard and play hard. Keep it balanced when you can and have so much fun growing in ways you didn’t think you would! Be proud for taking the leap into the unknown!” Lauren Rezak, New Zealand Alum, 2018

Studying abroad can be an intense and potent experience. There can be moments of heightened bliss paired with moments of difficulty and confusion. When you get to a new culture with so many dynamic factors you may notice shifts in your mood, interests, or energy levels. This is normal and with self-awareness, supportive community, and personalized tools you will be ready to ride the waves of your experience. 

And remember that TEAN is here to help along the way! If there’s anything you’d like to discuss about your mental wellbeing abroad, please reach out to us. Your Program Manager is your best point of contact pre-departure and your on-site Resident Director is available throughout your program. Thanks for reading and sending well wishes for your program!