Learning How to Travel Well With Others

Tips and tricks for when you are traveling in a group.  img_2729-1International travel is one of those things that can make or break friendships. I chose to study abroad in Cork, Ireland with three of my closest college friends and roommates. While making this decision, I expressed my concern about going abroad with my best friends. I looked at going abroad for a semester as an opportunity to be completely independent from everything that I found comfort in. I was excited to find my own way in a foreign culture. Being with my best friends, I wasn’t quite sure how this was going to work. Instead of looking at the upcoming experience in a negative light, I started to welcome the idea of sharing something so special with the people dearest to me. Together, we were able to explore Ireland as well as many places throughout Europe. My time spent abroad with my best friends was something that I might not ever be able to do again. As smoothly as our adventure did go, here are some things to keep in mind when traveling with others.

Here are my best Tips12512741_10208852272641370_6295288887532647326_n & Tricks

  1. Eat and drink water! Whenever you start to feel grumpy after a long day of traveling or exploring a new city, be sure to have a meal and drink plenty of water. This is advice that my parents gave to me before I left and I found invaluable during my time abroad. Being hangry is a very real thing!
  2. Make sure that you have an idea of what everyone in your group wants to accomplish when you are in a new city. There are always people who would prefer to go with the flow and then others who live by a list of what they want to do and see. Try to come to some sort of compromise. Compile a list of activities that the whole group would like to do and then sort through what others are gung-ho about or what they could live without.
  3. Don’t be afraid to get away from the group! If there is something that you are dying to do and you feel comfortable going by yourself, then go do it. I was able to spend a few days in Italy by myself and I can’t express how wonderful of an experience it was.
  4. Find solace in each other when you start to feel homesick. Missing home is inevitable when an ocean separates you from your family and everything familiar to you. Having my friends was like having a home away from home. Every once in a while I needed to complain about Ireland just because it was different or talk about just how much I missed Panera. It is so nice to be able to share these feelings with people who you know are experiencing the same things.

img_7487Every now and then my friends and I look back at all the photos and videos we took and think “wow”. It’s crazy to think about how much we experienced together and how much we overcame. New languages, food, airports… so many airports! I am so thankful that we got to share an adventure and I know we will always look back on our semester as one of the best times of our lives. We’re known in the CIE office as the Cork girls, and I wouldn’t have it any other way.

Issy Perrin 2 Isabelle Perrin iperrin@umw.edu

Psychology Major Linguistics Minor

University College Cork, Ireland

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How to Make the Most of a Stay at a Hostel

Whether you’re looking to meet fellow travelers like you or just save some money on a weekend excursion, hostels are a ubiquitous part of the study abroad experience. Many hostels have had a poor reputation in the past as being unsafe or unclean. Recently, however, there has been a race to the top in the quality of hostels. Chains and independent operators alike are going the extra mile for a cheap, comfortable, and enjoyable stay. Here are some things to keep in mind for when you’re booking, and for when you arrive at your destination:

When booking a hostel:

  1. Think about the kind of environment you want. More than other forms of lodging, hostels are a sort of mini-community. Many have themes, and even those that don’t still have a general atmosphere that they want to maintain. Are you looking for a party, or some peace and quiet? Traditional, or avant-garde? Rustic and familial, or sleek and contemporary? There is more to a hostel than the location and price.
  2. Look for official recommendations. Booking websites like HostelWorld and HostelBookers will typically bump highly rated hostels to the top of your searches, and other websites may have an official recommendation from the website itself. Booking agencies won’t put their brand name next to a sub-par hostel, and will typically follow up with you if you happen to have a negative experience.
  3. See what amenities are included. Is there free breakfast? Free wifi? Does the hostel provide lockers? How about a lock and key for them? Are linens and towels included? Every hostel is different in what it offers. Some come with all the bells and whistles, while others are more spare in what they offer.

During your stay,

A photo from an impromptu trip to the German Alps with two people I met at my hostel.

A photo from an impromptu trip to the German Alps with two people I met at my hostel. Talk to other hostel-goers for travel tips, and you might even end up with a travel companion!

  1. Let the staff show you around. Hostel workers tend to either be locals or other fellow travelers, and are generally young adults. They’ll know the ins and outs of whatever city you’re in. Want to know where the nightlife is or where to get the best meal? The person at the front desk might give you the name of their favorite spot. Hostels also usually run tours—often for free!
  2. Bring what you need for a good night’s sleep. Odds are high that you’ll be in a room with several other people who probably have different sleeping habits than you do. Earplugs and an eye mask are good to have, just to make sure that you get a good night’s rest.
  3. Be social! What separates hostels from other forms of lodging like hotels and motels is the social dimension. Where else can you meet a bunch of young travelers and swap stories from all across the globe? Introduce yourself to the people in your room. If you have down time, spend it in a common area and talk to people who come in. You might meet someone who shares your taste in music who can show you a nightclub you might both enjoy, or maybe someone you can tour the city with in the morning. Hostels give you an instant community in the time that you stay there. Make the most of it.

Girard Bucello
International Affairs Major
UMW in France
EuroScholars Semester Abroad at University of Geneva, Switzerland
International Undergraduate Research in Estonia and Belguim

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Handling Negativity Abroad

Everyone handles stress and homesickness in different ways, and some more negatively than others. If you find yourself or the people around you complaining or sulking while abroad, it can be difficult to know what you can do to help, if anything at all. When do you distance yourself from someone who is bringing you down emotionally? What do you do if you realize that you’re the one being negative? This article is about how I have handled it during my time abroad, but finding what works for you will take time and probably some trial and error.

When Someone You Know is Being Negative:

I went on a faculty-led study abroad trip to Chile over Winter Break, and while it was my second time studying abroad, and the ten day trip seemed like nothing to me after spending two months in China a year and a half prior, it was many of the other students’ first time studying abroad. Everything was a-okay for the first week, even after a stint of food poisoning that hit most of us and sent a few students and one of the professors to the hospital, but on day seven, with only three days left of the trip, several students had hit their breaking point. We were able to spend the last leg of our trip in the beautiful coastal city of Valparaiso, but while I found ocean view preferable to the cityscape of Santiago, the change of scenery, and perhaps the slightly less modern accommodations, left several people cranky and homesick. Only a few students seemed genuinely miserable, but their negativity rubbed off on the majority of the group, who joined in the choruses of longing for the comforts of home.

While it’s easy to analyze and explain their negativity in retrospect, I found it very hard to empathize with them at the time and found myself becoming annoyed at the people I had previously enjoyed being around. And unfortunately, whenever I think back on my trip, one of the first things that come to mind is how unpleasant those last few days were because of that atmosphere of negativity. In a shumwinchileort-term faculty-led program where our days were scheduled and spent together constantly, there wasn’t much to do but point out the positive things or laugh it off whenever someone complained, looking to spend more time with like-minded people who were determined to have a good time. I don’t know what I would have done if it were a longer program, but I imagine that I might have confronted someone about their negative attitude, or if I had been in a position to, avoid those people whenever possible. The last thing you want when reminiscing with old travel companions to be reminded of every little thing that went wrong rather than all the wonderful things about your time abroad.

When You Find Yourself Being Negative:

The fist step to fixing a problem is realizing that there is a problem! So if you start to notice your own negative attitude, you’re half way to changing it. Good for you! Being abroad is stressful: from culture shock to homesickness, it is totally understandable that you are not going to be having a blast every minute you’re in a foreign country – and that’s okay. But your attitude can have a significant impact on the people around you and how they perceive you. Maybe you don’t care, but changing your attitude will ultimately help you have a better time abroad. Think of all the time/money/emotion you’ve invested into the trip already. You probably want the best return on that investment, so here are some tips on how to break the funk:

  • Laugh it Off. Laughter is truly the best medicine. Try to find something humorous about the situation. Keep it light. Instead of being upset about getting food poisoning, we all had an inside joke about the perils of bike tour picnics. If you can’t pinpoint the specific thing that is bringing you down, do something you enjoy. Watch a funny TV show, listen to an upbeat song, go for a walk. Don’t allow yourself wallow in a bad mood and get stuck in the cycle of negativity.
  • Write it Down. Venting aloud is healthy, when used sparingly. But when venting becomes constant complaining, it’s time to evaluate yourself. Instead of complaining out loud, write it down so you don’t bring down the people around you. While abroad in China, I kept a very detailed blog/journal. When I got back, I realized that a lot of it was about the little things that bothered me that I had completely forgotten about. Doing this helped me vent without complaining to the people around me.
  • Just Say No. Complaining can be addictive; if you’re able to quit cold turkey, do it. Counter a negative thought with a positive remark. Resist the urge to join in when someone else says something negative. This is a hard one since it requires you to forcibly change your line of thinking, but I’ve found it’s one of the best ways to really appreciate my surroundings.
  • Seek Help. Lastly, if something feels very wrong, seek help, especially if you have a history of mental health issues. If there is a counselor or doctor available, that’s the best option, but a professor, supervisor, program or university staff is good too. While friends can help, if the issue is serious, get professional help. Your health is the most important, both at home and abroad, so take care of yourself first!

Remember, it’s normal to go through periods of stress and homesickness, but taking action to combat it will help you get the most out of your study abroad experience!

Eileen Settlemyer in China  Eileen Settlemyer
Business and English Double Major
Asian Studies Minor
UMW in China Summer Internship
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All Aboard! Five Tips for Traveling on Europe’s Railroads

Spending a semester in Europe and want to see it all? You’re in luck: Europe has a dense and incredibly reliable rail network, linking bustling capitals and quiet rural towns alike. There’s almost nowhere that you can’t reach, no car required. For some Americans who aren’t familiar with the European rail system, though, it can be a bit daunting. Here are five things to keep in mind that can make your travel a lot smoother.

  1. Get a EuRail Pass before you leave. If you plan on going to very many places, a EuRail pass will reduce the total cost of your overall trip. A pass that’s valid in four countries for eleven days of travel costs about €510—which sounds like a lot, but amounts to about €47 per day. For comparison, a round-trip high-speed train ticket from Zürich to Berlin will cost you €150. Be sure to order your pass online, and do so a few months in advance before you go.

    A Eurostar train at Brussels-South station. A great way to get from the UK to mainland Europe, it's one that you'll have to book well in advance.

    The Eurostar train is great way to get from the UK to mainland Europe, but you’ll have to book in advance.

  2. Look for student/youth prices. Most rail carriers in Europe have special rates for students or for travelers under 25. Sometimes you’ll have to apply for or purchase a special reduced fare card, but if you’re going to travel a lot, it will be well worth it.
  3. Know whether you have an assigned seat. Nine times out of ten, you won’t—just get on the train with your ticket and sit in any open seat. As long as your ticket is valid from your start point to your end point, you’ll be all set. Some trains, however (like the cross-channel Eurostar or France’s TGV) have assigned seats. Check your ticket carefully.
  4. Make sure that your ticket is validated. Sometimes, your ticket is automatically validated when you purchase it. Others, however, will have you use a machine in the station or on the train to make your ticket valid for travel. Ask a conductor or an employee at the station for specifics. If you travel with an invalid ticket and get caught, you might be asked to leave the train or pay a fine.
  5. Pay attention! While many long-distance international trains will have announcements in English, others will not. Some won’t have announcements at all. Be sure to listen for your station, and keep in mind that some local place names differ from their English names. Also, pay attention to which train car you’re in. On some routes, trains divide halfway through their journey, and each half continues to a separate destination. You may be in the wrong part of the right train—which is only slightly better than being on the wrong train entirely.

Especially if you’ve never traveled outside of the United States before, the first train ride might seem a bit intimidating. That feeling should evaporate quickly, though—traveling by rail is a comfortable, efficient, and relatively cheap way of getting across the continent. It’s a way of exploring Europe that is, at heart, uniquely European.

Girard Bucello
International Affairs Major
UMW in France
EuroScholars Semester Abroad at University of Geneva, Switzerland
International Undergraduate Research in Estonia and Belguim

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[Study]ing Abroad : What You Truly Learn Overseas

When considering study abroad for a semester or a year-long trip it isn’t always clear whether the emphasis will be on academic study or on other activities associated with living and traveling overseas. It may seem like the prevalent opinion today about studying abroad it that it is actually a guise for time off of school and that students don’t exerts themselves very much during the period that they are away, but this is not an accurate assessment of the institution. In the end, the studying to non-studying ratio is never going to be an equivalent dichotomy, and regardless of the destination and the way that you approach studying there, you will gain incomparable life skills.


Enjoying a beautiful last day in Paris.

Although some students may profit from study abroad as a means to escape from a more rigorous academic course load, others approach it as a way to engage in a deeper and more specific set of studies than they normally would. However, in the case where the academic load may be lighter overseas, the opportunities that one receives in the face of fewer classes to take or papers to write are equally impactful. Although the studying may sometimes concede to the “abroading” portion of the whole package, in the end what you have the opportunity to learn outside of the classroom could be more valuable.

While I was studying abroad in Paris, France during the spring of 2015 I would often post pictures on social media for my friends and family members to follow my adventures. One afternoon, after posing a huge slew of pictures from my two week spring break trip to seven cities in France and Italy, a family member jokingly commented on the installment to ask if I was doing any actual studying while abroad. Perhaps this was a fair question to ask considering that I had been traveling a good deal recently, but I also took my classes at the Institut Catholique seriously and devoted a lot of my time to preparing for them. This occurrence caused me to look back over my stay in Europe and I realized that I had been acquiring new skills that I employed frequently.

One of the most invaluable skills that I refined during my time living independently outside of the U.S. was being able to plan. In order to enjoy Paris to the fullest I spent time familiarizing myself with its neighborhoods and figuring out the best ways to get around so that I could easily pass from one activity to the next. When it came to traveling outside of the city coordinating transportation timetables could sometimes be a challenge, but being able to complete a trip without serious issue was truly rewarding. In the end, however, I had be able to adapt quickly to less than ideal circumstances and react to what life handed me (or in many cases threw at me or tried to trip me up with) on the regular. In that space of unplannedness, you can gain the opportunity to wander freely and experience people (the locals and other Americans who are sharing your abroad experience alike) so that you can more fully observe, absorb, and share all that you encounter which results in crucial intellectual and personal growth.

If you would like to read about my adventures in Paris, check out my personal blog at:
“Roaming Les Rues Parisiennes”

Blog Profile

Sarah Dickshinski
Anthropology Major
French Major
Middle Eastern Studies Minor
Institut Catholique de Paris, Paris, France (Spring 2015)


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Seeking the Ideal

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Studying abroad includes moments where you feel on top of the world!

I’ve always wondered what it is that pushes people to travel. I understand certain logistical reasons such as traveling for work, family, or study, but what about those individuals who manage to quit their jobs in inspired moments of utter spontaneity, become professional travel bloggers, and tour exotic locations for an infinite amount of time? I would conclude that there is an aspect inherent in traveling to new places, a certain intangible quality that attracts us and subsequently calls us to take planes, trains, and ships in pursuit of the ideal.

However, upon arrival the foreign may be less than ideal. It may be the opposite of ideal, in fact. With newness comes discomfort and an uneasiness about what lies ahead. Within that uneasiness, though, it is possible to unearth an underlying excitement that will embolden you to seek adventures that will then aid in the adjusting process. Striking a balance between the romanticized wanderlust of travel and the stark, perhaps unsettling, reality of being in a new and very different place is very difficult, and I’ll be the first to admit it. Yet, there is a way to figure out this balance and overcome the strangeness.

First things first: you’re here! You’ve arrived. You are currently in this very instant standing, blinking, and breathing in the very destination that you’ve been looking forward to reaching for so long. Some people (perhaps a good deal of people) never reach this point and would give a lot to go back to their college days and study abroad. My first recommendation to feel more at home is to simply go day by day. Take advantage of something new each day and in that way gradually familiarize yourself with your adoptive country. Day one could be sampling a new flavor of gelato, day two could be a small solo trip to a nearby sight, and then day thirty-five could be hang gliding through the lush Peruvian mountains; you’ll just have to see where your travels take you!

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It also includes moments where you wish it would all just stop for a minute.

My second piece of advice is to take advantage of every single minute that you spend abroad. Not every moment is going to be a standing on top of the Eiffel Tower, riding on a camel through picturesque sand dunes, or sipping tea in Buckingham Palace with Her Royal Majesty rose-colored glass kind of moments. Living abroad requires sitting alone in laundromats, wandering confused in metro stations, standing frustrated in lines types of moments. Those who partake in brief trips with friends and family to foreign cities and return with glowing reports of all that they experienced have really only tasted the highs of the location and being there for an extended amount time is a completely different situation. However, those seemingly less rosy moments contribute to the trip just as much as the high ones and will increase in value when you return home and process the entire experience.

A fellow American who I met in Paris observed once how everyone that she knew from home seemed to be continually reiterating that she must simply be having the time of her life whereas her assessment of study abroad was slightly more nuanced. She agreed that she was taking part in life changing experiences, but that she definitely had sucky days too. Those types of days do arrive, but fortunately they pass quickly, and I was able to emerge from frustrations, confusion, and loneliness having learned more about myself, and being more confident in my abilities to navigate abroad independently.

If you would like to read about my adventures in Paris check out my personal blog at:

“Roaming Les Rues Parisiennes”

Blog Profile
Sarah Dickshinski
Anthropology Major
French Major
Middle Eastern Studies Minor
Institut Catholique de Paris, Paris, France (Spring 2015)

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The Pros and Cons of Interning Abroad

Nanjing Road 023When deciding on an education abroad program that works for their academic and personal goals, students often don’t realize that completing an internship abroad is an option. I hadn’t considered it, and wound up choosing it by happenstance: I knew I wanted to go to China, and I knew I couldn’t afford the time or money for an entire semester abroad. It just so happened that there was a faculty-led program to Shanghai through the Business Department over the summer that fit all my needs. And it happened to be an internship program, instead of an academic based one.

For me, an internship abroad was a great way to kill 3 birds with one stone (internship experience, traveling abroad, and course credit). Here are pros and cons that might help you decide if interning abroad would be a good fit for you!

PRO: Save Time

I’m completing two majors and a minor, so time was a BIG issue for me. I didn’t think I could take an entire semester abroad and still meet all the requirements to graduate on time. While there are several academic study abroad options for the summer session, summer is a crucial time for many students to make money and get job experience. While my internship was unpaid, having work experience abroad has been a huge boost to my resume! Of course, studying abroad at a university is impressive to hiring managers, but living and working abroad without the structure of university life shows potential employers a higher level of independence and responsibility.

Con: You Won’t Want to Leave

Actually, you might be ready to leave. My internship ended right when the first round of homesickness really hit (2 months), so I was kind of glad to go home. But a week later I wanted to go back. This is especially hard when talking to people who took full semesters abroad- it seems like they did so much more. This is in part because of the longer duration of a full semester abroad, but also because students have a lot more free time. I worked 10-6 Monday-Thursday (plus an hour of commute time every day), and that was less than a lot of my co-workers who worked five days a week. We were able to get Fridays off to be our “class days” in which we would go on company visits or cultural excursions. Still, I was constantly torn between wanting a day to rest and not wanting to waste any of my time that could be spent exploring the city or traveling the country.

Pro: Real World Experience

This is true for any internship, except while interning abroad, you don’t have the comfort of living at home or in your college community. That means planning every single meal, budgeting your money over a long period of time, transportation to and from work, and balancing work and your social life. Add the stress of adapting to a new culture (and possibly language), and you’re sure to come back ready to tackle anything!

Con: You’re (mostly) On Your Own

Whether you are finding an internship on your own or going through a faculty-led program, chances are there will be few or no one from your University or even your country working at the same company as you. Unlike taking classes abroad, internships start and finish at different times for different people, so you may find yourself walking into an office with other interns who have been there for several months already, and it can be intimidating to try to make friends when there is an established group dynamic. While it’s important to go into any study abroad with a friendly and outgoing attitude, it can be a little overwhelming when everyone else isn’t in the same boat as you. In my case, with a 12 hour difference between China and VA, even scheduling a call home to hear a familiar voice was a struggle.

Pro: Test Out a Field of Interest

Okay, so this is the point of interning in the first place, and you can easily accomplish this at home rather than abroad, but let’s be real: it is way more fun doing it abroad. I thought that market research was my calling, but after spending every work day in front of a computer producing countless excel sheets and power points, I realized that I need to pursue a career that is a little more hands on and people-oriented. If I had been locked into an internship at home doing that, it probably would have felt like a wasted summer, but abroad I was so busy in my non-work hours that I could at least appreciate the time spent sitting down and doing something that was not mentally or physically taxing.

Eileen Settlemyer in China

Eileen Settlemyer, Class of 2016
Business Major
UMW in China Internships, Summer 2014
UMW in Chile Business Law, Winter Break 2016

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How I Packed for 2 Months in Shanghai (and what I wish I’d done differently)

shanghai packing2Last summer, I got an internship with a digital marketing firm in Shanghai through the UMW in China Business Administration program. Despite months of researching what clothing would be appropriate for the season, climate, and culture, how to roll clothing to maximize suitcase space (I am now fully confident in my ability to fit a month’s worth of clothes in a carry on), and what business casual really means, I still managed to excessively over-pack.

I was prepared with two months’ worth of business, leisure, and travel clothing. Not only did I have to lug around one gigantic suitcase and one carry on, cramming in all my souvenirs was a challenge. So here’s what I would have done differently:

·         1. Email/call your employer and ask what business casual means in that office.

From what I’d read about China, I decided staying on the safe side with more formal clothing was the smart choice. However, my company was actually Austrian, and very young, so “business casual” was more what we might call “smart casual”. Most everyone wore jeans and nice blouses, looking put together but not traditionally professional. My boss even regularly wore ripped jeans and t-shirts to work. Especially because trousers, jackets, and button-down shirts take up a lot of space and aren’t very versatile, just ask your employer contact what your specific office’s style is.

·         2. Casual in your host country does not always equal casual in your home country.

The one thing that kept coming up in the blog posts I read about fashion in China was how it was surprisingly casual, especially for young people. Having read that and knowing summers in Shanghai would be hot and humid, I packed shorts and tank-tops for my excursion clothes. But clothing in China is much less form fitting than in the U.S., and as a –ahem- curvy woman, tank tops and shorts were more revealing than what Chinese people my age were wearing. As if I wasn’t standing out enough already.

 ·         3. Less is more. Less is more. Less is more.

Everyone says this, and then they usually follow it with a tutorial about how to roll, stuff, and cram a suitcase so you don’t waste any precious space. Yes, rolling your clothing will make you feel like a suitcase packing wizard. No, you don’t need to fill all that extra space you’ve made with more stuff. What I suggest is: pack only what will fit in your bag when it is folded regularly (or even unfolded because at some point you will live out of your suitcase and everything will become a mess anyways, so better plan for it now). Then, on your way back, use all the master packer techniques you’ve learned. Presto! You’ve got room for all the souvenirs you compulsively bought … or was that just me?

Hope this post helped you decide what to bring/ not to bring on your trip, whether it’s to China, or wherever else. Happy travels!

P.S. Don’t pack 7 pairs of shoes like I did. Just don’t.

Eileen Settlemyer in ChinaEileen Settlemyer
Business Administration and English Major
Class of 2016
Studied Abroad Summer ’14, UMW in China Internships

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Things Returning Study Abroad Students Do

Studying abroad will change you in so many ways.  You’ll probably maCarolinerometure, gain self-confidence, and have deeper understanding of the world.  You’ll also pick up some new habits…

  1. Getting really, really, really excited whenever you meet someone from your host country.  You may actually stop strangers in the street when you hear them speaking that  familiarly foreign language that you’re already missing.
  2. Scouring the international foods section, and perhaps splurging more than you intended to, at Wegman’s; because those rooster cookies you had in Italy every morning for breakfast were delicious, and you can’t just run over to the Deco and pick some up.
  3. Feeling disappointed by Americanized restaurant versions of the food you know is better in its country of origin, and then immediately feeling intensely annoyed at your own pretentiousness.  But also really, really missing the way paella is actually SUPPOSED to taste.
  4. Being really excited to have your data plan back with your cell phone…and then being really, really annoyed with how much people use their cell phones.  Seriously?  We need 20 texts to set up a lunch date?  When you’re using a pay-as-you-go phone and WiFi is scarce, you figure that stuff out in 2 texts, MAX.
  5. Missing the crazy ways you set up to communicate while abroad.  Apparently it’s not normal to sing under your friend’s balcony to get her attention when you can just call her cell.  Also, your friend probably doesn’t have a balcony.
  6. Texting your study abroad friends to make pretend plans so you don’t feel so far away.  (i.e., “After class, let’s head down to the marina?  We can stop and get a cappuccino at Bar Rita first!”)CarolineFinal
  7. Lamenting the days that you spent homesick and lonely, because now you’re host-country-sick and it’s way, way worse.
  8. Simultaneously scoffing at and admiring the people wearing sweatpants to class.  That would NEVER fly in your host country…but they sure are comfy.
  9. Snapchatting all your study abroad friends whenever THAT SONG comes on the radio.  (Pompeii by Bastille.  Every. Single. Time.)
  10. Planning your next trip as soon as you get home.


CarolineMcCarryCaroline McCarry
English Literature Major
Class of 2015
Studied Abroad Spring ’14 at Sant’Anna Institute in Sorrento, Italy

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Mental Health and Study Abroad


Exploring the beaches of Barcelona with Morgan on spring break.

If you had told me at the age of 12 that I would one day spend four months away from my family in a foreign country with strangers, I would not have believed you.  I probably would’ve cried in anticipation of the anxiety that I was bound to feel in such a strange situation.  You see, I’m not very good with change.  When I was 12, I was diagnosed with Obsessive-Compulsive Disorder.  I don’t use this as an excuse, I don’t want it to define me, and I don’t like to let it limit me; so once I decided that I wanted to go abroad, I wasn’t going to let my OCD stop me.

A lot of informational brochures about study abroad and mental health caution individuals with mental illnesses.  They address the very pertinent effects that stress, lack of sleep, and lifestyle changes can have, especially for those receiving mental health services.  It’s important to take these issues into account.  However, it’s also important to challenge yourself and to believe in your abilities.

There are steps that you can take that can make study abroad not only an option for you, but an extraordinarily beneficial one.

  • Honestly evaluate your mental health status.  If you have only recently been diagnosed and are undergoing treatment, aren’t stable on medications that you take, or are struggling with day-to-day tasks, it may not be the time for your to go abroad.
  • Talk to your mental health provider.  I spoke extensively with both my therapist and my psychiatrist before going abroad. Both agreed that it was safe for me to participate in my program, as I had been stable on my medication for years.
  • Choose your program wisely.  If you know that you need extra support with transitions, like I do, choose a program that has on-site coordinators to help you.  There are so many options for study abroad, and they range from very independent to very structured.  There are also varying lengths of programs.  If you don’t feel comfortable doing a full semester, there are summer, winter break, and spring break program options that might be more suitable.  In the study abroad office, we can help you find the right fit for you.
  • Be honest with your advisor at CIE.  All of the CIE staff, including our Peer Advisors, sign a confidentiality waiver that ensures that anything you inform us of will be used only to help you make the right choice, and cannot be shared with anyone without your consent.  Students with pre-existing mental health conditions will not be discriminated against in the application or approval process.


    These were my two best friends that I met abroad, Morgan (middle) and Haley (right). I told them early on about my OCD and they were so helpful and understanding.

  • Choose your living situation wisely.  If you are prone to depression, a homestay might not be ideal for you.  In speaking to students who have done homestays, most admit that the first few days or weeks were very lonely and isolating, as they had not yet adapted to their host family and were not living with other students.  Once they settled into their new living arrangement, they tended to be more content than those in apartments or dorms, but it took longer to adjust.
  • As an extra precaution, make a plan for what will happen if you do have an issue abroad.  I have been seeing the same therapist since I was 10, and set up several forms of communication: if I needed to speak with her, I could e-mail or iMessage her to set up a Skype appointment.  This may not be possible with your therapist or psychiatrist, but it’s always good to have a worst-case-scenario plan.  I didn’t end up contacting my therapist while abroad (thankfully), but I think that having a plan made me feel more secure.
  • Try to get a full supply of all the medication you will need while abroad, accompanied by a prescription and a note from your psychiatrist or doctor that states brand name and generic equivalent, the purpose of the medication and that it is your prescription.  I was able to get a 6-month supply of my medications, which gave me plenty of leeway in case I was delayed in returning to America.
  • Once you’re in your destination country, you may feel elated.  Whatever you do, DO NOT vary your medication schedule based on your mood.  Continue to take your prescribed dosage.  Once the honeymoon phase ends, and culture stress sets in, you’ll be happy that you continued your normal routine.
  • Remember that it’s ok to not be ok.  I had a phenomenal study abroad experience; but there were also times when I felt incredibly lonely and homesick.  Acknowledging these feelings is healthy and essential to moving past them.

My friend Haley took this shot of me dancing in Sorrento. I feel like it sums up the joy that study abroad brought me pretty well.

My semester abroad was life-changing for me in many ways, but one thing that I did not expect was how transformative it would be in terms of my mental health.  I worried before going abroad that I wouldn’t be able to handle all of the stress and change that I knew I was going to experience.  I had two panic attacks the fall before I went abroad that I attribute at least partially to my pre-departure stress.  However, study abroad was incredibly liberating for me once I had arrived.

In the midst of all the uncertainty that comes with a study abroad experience, there can be an odd sense of calm.  My semester abroad taught me to let go of the things that I cannot control in a way that repeating that phrase to myself at home never could.  It fostered in me a spontaneity that I had never known and self-confidence that I had always wished to have.  It encouraged me to venture outside of my very small comfort zone and engage with a world that was very different from my own.  It changed me for the better.

Everyone’s study abroad experience is different, and not everyone will have the incredibly positive outcome that I did; however, with the right preparation and mindset, study abroad can be an amazing tool for growth.  I believe that study abroad is not only possible, but especially rewarding for individuals with mental health disorders.

CarolineMcCarryCaroline McCarry
English Literature Major
Class of 2015
Studied Abroad Spring ’15 at Sant’Anna Institute in Sorrento, Italy

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