In preparations to come to Australia, I read hundreds (if not thousands, honestly) of blogs about studying abroad and Australia, in particular. Only once, surprisingly, did I come across writing dealing with mental health/illnesses while abroad- a BBA Office pamphlet called “Mental Health While Abroad.” As an avid mental health advocate, it was isolating to read article after article without stumbling upon a reflection of mental health abroad. This post is an attempt to play my part in destigmatizing mental illnesses through an honest recount of all things mental health while abroad in Australia.
First and foremost, do not let having a mental illness hinder you from studying abroad or even just going abroad. I repeat- do not let a mental illness keep you from such an experience. I have so many reasons for believing in this so much, but the main, most important one is that going abroad creates an environment where you can grow and learn yourself better than you ever could in the comfort of what you’ve always known. Not to mention, many other countries and cultures have a greater appreciation for positive mental health and a less stigmatized approach for caring for yourself. Why not go somewhere that validates mental health as important as physical health and provides services to help you grow and prosper?
Australian National University (Canberra) provides a wide array of student support services. The University Counselling Centre offers 6 sessions a semester for FREE to enrolled students with an inclusive approach to well-being that understands how mental and physical health can intertwine. Throughout campus and surrounding areas, there are trails, maps, and stations that include workout instructions open to all people. Less than 10 minutes from campus is Lake Burley Griffin which provides a wonderful view while taking care of your self physically. In addition to these options, ANU Sport is also located on-campus, with gyms, workout classes, and a variety of sports. ANU has exceptional access to common self-care tactics with an encouraging population of well-being.
While I can only speak on behalf of ANU, I have been reassured in my encounters with students from all-around the world that the US is by far more stigmatized regarding mental health than many popular study abroad locations. I understand how intimidating studying abroad, especially semester exchange, can be, but I want to reassure anyone reading this that you are capable, and support exists for you. Whether it be finances, mental illness, family, etc., there are scholarships and counselors and a wide network of support options available to you. Studying abroad can and will be challenging but will push you out of your comfort zone in a way unlike anything else you’ll experience.
Last night, I decided to take my new book on my walk around Lake Burley Griffin. After about 20 minutes, I found the perfect spot with the best view and read for over an hour. As I gathered my things to leave, I felt a serenity and peace that I had not felt in months. The world seemed to stand still. There was a very slight breeze and sun beams radiating warmth as the sun set. The simple and natural beauty of this moment was a perfectly timed reminder that, despite every little thing that has gone wrong on this exchange, this is exactly where I am meant to be.
To the person reading this who is hesitant to go abroad, do it- I believe in you. To the person is second-guessing their decision to go abroad, you can do this- I believe in you. To the person (everyone, honestly) who is scared, nervous, excited/terrified, or experiencing an indescribable roller coaster of emotions about studying abroad- I believe in you.
I hope this article finds the person who is searching for these words. I hope this can provide comfort and encouragement to all considering this experience.
Stay tuned for an exploration of life at an Aussie “college” next post.