How do I cope with the stress of being abroad?

I am absolutely terrified of doing a year abroad. Unfortunately for me, I am a linguist about to go into my second year at university, and so I am well aware that the year abroad is no longer just a far-off occurrence that I can put out of my mind. I suffer quite badly from anxiety and it is something that I am trying to work through, but I am worried that the stress of living abroad without my familiar support system of family and friends will have a detrimental effect on my mental health. However, I love languages and want to be able to throw myself into things without being held back by anxiety. Does anyone have any advice?

This question was asked on 12th August 2014 and has been read 4091 times.

  • Joachim Whaley · 8 years ago

    Don't panic! It's quite natural to be worried about your year abroad. Most students have at least some anxiety. Plan things carefully and choose an activity that you know you will enjoy. Studying on Erasmus or teaching for the British Council are two activities which are well structured and safe. Don't worry about the fact that you may not have any teaching experience: your school will support you and you should always remember that both students and staff will be interested in you; they'll want you to enjoy their school and their home town or city.

    Once you know what you will be doing and where, consider asking one or both of your parents to accompany you out there for a long weekend well ahead of the start of your year abroad to check out the area and look at accommodation options.

    Once you start, you'll be able to stay in touch with your tutors at your home university and of course with your family.

    You never know, your year abroad may well turn out to be the most wonderful experience and you'll return home a much less anxious and more confident person. It's the best chance you'll ever have to become really fluent in a foreign language, to experience a new environment and to make friends that you have have for life.

    Take things slowly; don't expect too much of yourself, or be too hard on yourself if you think your anxiety is holding you back at first. You may surprise yourself!

    Think of it as an adventure. You won't be alone: you'll quickly meet new people; your family, friends and tutors at home will be supporting you; and all of us on this website will be wishing you the very best of luck!

  • Prof. Mike Kelly · 8 years ago

    You're not alone in being anxious about the year abroad and being without your support systems. The good news is that you won't be short of support systems. Your friends, family and university staff are more easily contactable than ever before, thanks to modern communications. And there are potentially helpful support systems where you go abroad.

    Although everyone is a bit apprehensive, not everyone has the same level of anxiety. Since you are particularly stressed about it, you need to start putting support systems in place at an early stage and trying to reduce the uncertainties. A lot can be done in advance by identifying what particular issues are likely to be of concern to you and then finding out what solutions may be available. For example, if you have health issues, find out about medical services in the country and get advice (and maybe contacts) from your GP. You can do a lot of thorough research that can provide you with answers to questions that will help to alleviate the stress.

    You might consider going to the country (or town if you know it) for a few days well in advance, perhaps with someone who can give you moral or practical support. You can poke around and find out how things work and hopefully get some reassurance that you will be able to cope.

    You should also bear in mind the up-side of your anxiety - the year abroad is a unique opportunity to step into the unknown and develop resourcefulness and resilience. Actually, this is one of the real strengths of graduates who have done the year abroad: there's not much that phases them and they have grown in all kinds of ways during that year. Hundreds of people do it every year, facing down their fears and coming back stronger for it. You can do it too.

  • Philip Harding-Esch · 8 years ago

    Absolutely everyone is going to feel nervous before going. I remember not being able to eat anymore by the time my travel out there was looming! If you can, try to focus on the fact that thousands of people have been through that and come out the other side feeling a lot happier about it all and so pleased they did it.

    I would definitely recommend going out in advance, if you can, to the place - with parents or friends, for  a weekend or a few days. You could either do this more than once (depending on where you are going, of course!).

    There's lots you can do to get familiar with a place in advance. For instance (I know this sounds silly but I often do this) why not "go for a walk" in your destination using Google Streetview (if available)? just to get a feel for the place in advance.

    Look up, in advance, local shops, services, groups, facilities, bus and train stations, etc.

    Most important will be getting connected asap when you arrive: find out where there's a place with free wifi, and that you will have a device kitted out with Skype/Google Hangouts ready to log on immediately you arrive!

    Good luck and have a wonderful time!

  • Rachael Harris · 8 years ago

    The answers above say all the right things. I would add, it might well help to talk to some fourth year students who have been through it and can tell you themselves how they coped with their initial anxiety. The other thing is to think in a general way about how to cope with your anxiety, which you're clearly doing to some extent already. You don't have to stay 'an anxious person'. If you see what mindfulness and/or yoga or t'ai chi and/or counselling can do for you, then you can put some effort into that and investigate what resources of that kind will be available for you abroad. At the least there are some websites that might help: Living life to the full -, Get some headspace -, and

  • Lauren Stevens · 8 years ago

    I was terrified for many reasons when I left for my year abroad. Firstly, I didn't manage much contact with the school I was working in before I arrived. Make an effort the contact the organisation you'll be with as soon as you know which one you're going to, but don't expect to hear back immediately, especially if you contact them during the summer holidays. If they don't tell you everything you need to know, don't worry, it will be sorted when you arrive.

    Secondly, I only started Spanish at university and I was worried about my Spanish skills. If you can only speak little or none of the language, don't worry. It will come naturally once you arrive and you will start picking up more. People in Spain are generally quite patient with people who aren't fluent in Spanish because there is already such a mix of different cultures and languages.

    Thirdly, I was worried about accommodation. However, through being given the contact details of a friend of a friend of one of my English language assistant predecessors in Melilla, I was lucky enough to be able organise accommodation before arriving. I was careful and asked for some photos of the flat beforehand and had several conversations with my future house mate. From seeing the photos and speaking to her, I felt like I would be happy living there. It's not always easy, reliable or cheap to find a place to live online (If you want to try, for Spain I would suggest, especially in a small place like Melilla. As Melilla is so small, information isn't always posted online and news is often spread by word of mouth, so it's worth asking around. It may be easier to just book a hotel. Its not the end of the world if you have to live there for a few days and chances are someone who you meet will know someone looking for a flat mate. If not, try the student residence.

    Although the experience is scary at first, you will probably end up loving it and it will help you progress past your anxiety.

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