Don’t underestimate the impact that cultural adjustment, being in a new environment, and being away from your support networks, such as friends and family, can have on your mental health. Studying abroad can be different than traveling abroad and may affect you in ways you have not anticipated. This is true for both domestic and international programs. It's important for you to be prepared to adapt and adjust to the challenges that living in a new place may have. The Resiliency section of our Cultural Adjustment page also has more information on this topic.
Before you DepartYou can set yourself up for a successful experience by preparing for the emotions and challenges you may encounter while living in a new environment.
- Make a plan for how you might respond to these new or different (and potentially unexpected) emotions. Use this Self-Care Assessment tool from Health & Wellness Services to make a plan before you go.
- Know that you will likely experience some form of culture shock, so being familiar with the cultural adjustment cycle, including its various stages and how they might manifest, can help you better recognize the signs and impacts of your response. Doing advance research into your destination's culture, language, history, traditions, dress codes, body language, and other norms can help you be better prepared for what to expect on-site.
- If you work with a therapist or psychologist, you may consider speaking with them about how to manage cultural adjustment and being in a new environment, and determine a course of action should you face challenges in adjusting.
- If you are taking any kind of medication, you should also speak with your psychiatrist/medical provider about those medications. Do not stop taking your medication or modify your medication without first consulting with a psychiatrist/ medical provider. Follow the guidance provided on the Taking Medications Abroad webpage.
- Consider disclosing your mental health history to your Ed Abroad Program Manager and/or your program provider. They can provide information on mental health care in your host country, answer questions related to possible culture shock, provide advice about on-site resources, and connect you with on-site staff.
While AbroadYou may experience bouts of culture shock, loneliness, stress, and a range of other emotions as you adjust to being on your program. Those who have experienced depression or anxiety in the past sometimes find this may worsen while abroad. This is due to new and different situations, stressors, and cultural adjustment. As you adjust to the new culture and environment, consider these tips:
- Use this Self-Care Assessment tool from Health & Wellness Services while abroad.
- Don't isolate yourself. Explore your host city, get involved. This could include continuing or starting your exercise routine, making plans with friends, planning excursions, or joining a club.
- Keep in touch with your support network, including friends and family at home. Also, reach out to friends and fellow participants abroad. Whether on your program or elsewhere, they may be dealing with similar emotions and be able to relate or offer advice.
- Remember to eat healthy food and get enough sleep. Jet lag and exhaustion can have real impacts on both your mood and your physical health.
- If you choose to drink alcohol, be mindful of your use. Alcohol may exacerbate emotions and some of the other challenges presented by a new environment.
- Remember, culture shock is normal.
- Consult your on-site staff. They are there to ensure your success abroad and should be your first go-to if you feel extra support would be helpful, are concerned about adjusting, or are having issues adjusting. They have experience in this area and can provide support and resources as you adjust to this new experience.
- Consider additional mental health support.
- Program staff may also be able to refer you to a local therapist or psychiatrist who may be familiar with working with U.S. students abroad.
- Through Education Abroad, you also have access to mental health support through International SOS. To access these services, you may call International SOS at +1-215-942-8478. By calling this number you’ll be connected with a professional counselor. You can choose phone, video-call, or (where possible) face-to-face sessions.
- If you'd prefer to use self-paced online therapeutic and education programs, you also have access to WellTrack, CU's online program to support your emotional health and well-being.
- CU Boulder also offers a free service where CU Boulder students can check in via telehealth for an informal and confidential consultation with a counselor through the Let's Talk program. No insight appointment is necessary. Students are seen on a first-come, first-served basis at various times throughout the week.
- If you're in crisis, see our What to Do in an Emergency page for your first point of contacts. Additionally, these are some organizations that offer 24/7 crisis support:
- Managing Stress & Enhancing Your Experience Abroad (courtesy of the University of Michigan)
- CAPS Resources for Students Out of State
- The Jed Foundation
- Mental Health is Health
- The Trevor Project (LGBTQ+)
Last Updated November 2023
Photo - Ecuador by Taylor Bogiel
Photo - Ecuador by Taylor Bogiel