Along with physical health, it is equally important to note that the range of counseling services available to students at Brandeis University may not be available overseas. Many insurance policies, if they reimburse for counseling services at all, may not do so for services provided overseas.
For your safety and well-being, it is vital that you inform your program provider of any physical, emotional or psychological difficulties or special needs you have or may have experienced in the past. It is important for each student to know what mental health services are available in their host country and how they plan to access those services should the need arise. Never assume that just because you are in a foreign culture that there are no services offered in your native language - this is often a misconception.
Even under the most optimal conditions, adjusting to life in a different culture can be a stressful transition. On occasion, this stress may trigger or exacerbate more serious emotional conditions. Adjusting to another culture is a higher risk for a student who is currently under treatment for depression, an eating disorder, or any other serious condition. In these cases, study abroad should be postponed or planned very carefully in conjunction with the study abroad staff and health care professionals.
Remember that typical reactions to cultural transitions may include homesickness, boredom or fatigue, physical complaints, feelings of depression or helplessness, and/or hostility toward the host culture. However, these reactions are usually short-lived and completely normal. If you are experiencing more than typical reactions or if you would benefit from assistance with these feelings please seek assistance with either local professionals or home support networks.
Below are some commonly asked questions by students and responses from the Brandeis Counseling Center (BCC).
If you need ongoing therapy for a psychiatric condition or eating disorder, you need to first inform the Study Abroad Office of your need. Ask for their help in identifying how that need will be met in your destination country. You will also need to clarify that your health insurance will cover such care. Making arrangements to meet with a specific treater and clarifying payment arrangements before you go is best. Even if you are uncertain whether you will need psychotherapy or psychiatric care while away, clarifying the resources available and your insurance coverage ahead of time is wise.
If you are currently on psychiatric medications, have your prescriber prescribe enough medicine for your entire stay abroad. Check the US Department of State Consular Information Sheets to see if your medicine is legal in your destination country. In the event that it is not and as a safety measure, have your prescriber write a letter on letterhead stating that you are being prescribed this medicine. Carry medicine in the original pill bottles with the prescription label on the bottle.
Some stress is normal particularly as you are adjusting, but ongoing and increasing stress is not. You want to look for a change in your sleep pattern (more or less), change in appetite (more or less), trouble concentrating, worrying, isolating, increase in use of alcohol, and loss of interest in fun activities. If you notice any of these signs, seek help by reaching out to your program and asking for their support. If symptoms worsen, contact the Brandeis Study Abroad office. If you are having thoughts of suicide, inform your program and ask to be taken to an emergency room.
Homesickness is normal and should subside as you adjust. It can be felt as anxiety, sadness and nervousness as well as preoccupation with thoughts of home, family and friends; you’re really missing your routine and sense of security.
Homesickness can be helped by establishing a routine, staying engaged with your new program, doing something to feel closer to home, talking to someone who understands, and remembering it will pass.
A regular sleep routine, eating well, exercising, maintaining a healthy schedule, exercising good judgement about the use of alcohol, utilizing supports, staying in touch with family and friends from home (only once a week) are all good coping strategies.
The Brandeis Counseling Center can not provide therapeutic support to students who are not on campus. If you feel you need support, reach out to your program and ask them to assist in locating help.