Before heading off, it's very important that you are mentally prepared. We're not talking about a checklist of things you need to pack, but things you should do before you leave to help prepare you for the mental strain of going to a new country to study.
Keep A Journal
If you are planning your big trip, you are probably full of emotions. Instead of keeping it all inside, keeping a journal can be a great way to get your thoughts down without being judged. Here you can talk about your expectations, goals, thoughts, worries, and so much more! Additionally, writing down your thoughts can be a great way to sort through your feelings and develop a better understanding of yourself. Not to mention the end product will be full of memories and experiences that you can look back on for years to come!
Talk to Your Doctor
If you are currently dealing with a mental health condition, be sure to talk to your physician about whether studying abroad is right for you. Mental health conditions can be made worse by the added stress and unfamiliarity of studying abroad, so be sure to check before heading out. Remember: studying abroad is a great opportunity for trying new things, but it is not the time to experiment with not taking your medicine or mixing alcohol with medicine. Speaking of which...
Pack Your Prescription Medications
It may take a few weeks for you to find a doctor that can help treat your pre-existing condition. Be sure to pack extra prescription medications so that you will have a sufficient supply as you settle in. If at all possible, try to research where you can get your medication once you're here.
Get Your Family History
Many mental illnesses don't happen until you reach your 20s and some conditions can be genetic. Be sure to speak to your family about any conditions that run in your family, including alcohol/drug abuse or bipolar disorder.
Figure Out Your Communication Plan
There are many ways to keep in touch internationally – and it doesn't have to break the bank. Skype, Google Hangouts, Facetime, Facebook, Twitter, Blogs, or just a plain phone plan – you decide. Set time aside so that you can show your family how they can use your preferred communication device so it'll be easy to keep in touch when you leave. Communication with friends and family is key in maintaining your mental health.
Research the Social Culture of Your Destination
Every culture has a different way of looking at mental illness. Knowing what the attitude toward mental illness is in your destination will keep you prepared.
It's best to get an insurance that will cover you as soon as you depart, and that includes coverage for mental health conditions. Depending on your school, you may be automatically enrolled in a group plan or you have the option to purchase an individual policy.
Develop a Relationship with your Advisor
Your international student advisor will be with you every step of the way, especially as you transition to your life in the USA. Make that effort, and send them an email with your questions and concerns--especially any regarding mental health services. It will be helpful to know ahead of time who you can consult with about your mental health.
Connect With New Students
You are not the only person at your school who will be far from home. Start creating your new circle of friends before you even depart. Many times your advisors will set up a Facebook group of the incoming class, or some other means to connect you with your incoming class. Don't be shy – reach out early so that when you arrive you'll know a friendly face. Having friends to turn to will be invaluable when dealing with culture shock, homesickness, or just keeping loneliness at bay.
Plan A Farewell Party
Need an excuse to have a party? Why not celebrate you! Planning a farewell party will give you a chance to say your goodbyes and a chance to have one last party with your closest friends and family members. This could be a party, a dinner, or grabbing a cup of coffee!
Before heading out, make sure to say goodbye to all of your friends and family. Share with them your excitement, your plans, and even your concerns! No matter how far away you'll be, they'll be just a phone call away.
Everyone deals with culture shock in different ways, and it's important to plan ahead so that you are equipped to handle what comes your way. The more proactive you are and the more you develop your social network, the better your transition will be when you arrive in your new home.