Mental well-being abroad

"The first few months of University can be quite overwhelming for students. This could be due to many reasons. For international students, it maybe the first time they are away from friends and family over such a long distance for a long period of time. Leaving behind everyone and coming to a different country to follow your dream goals is quite a sacrifice and it can be difficult to adjust to a new lifestyle, workload and even a totally different culture (which it was in the case for me).

Getting used to academic life, meeting deadlines and studying for exams while balancing time to spend with your friends or your hobbies can be tricky at first. And sometimes, you might hit a low if you don’t take good care of yourself. Both your body and mind are important and good physical and mental health is key to get through this new phase of your life.

Here are four things that helped me manage my mental well-being in an unfamiliar place:

1) – Plan, plan, PLAN!

Photo Credits: Humphrey-Daniëls

I realised the value of planning and keeping an agenda with me when I came to the Netherlands. Everyone, and I mean everyone has an agenda with them and have comprehensive schedules on it or their calendar apps.

I didn’t plan my days at the beginning and ran into troubles balancing studies with other fun activities. Planning is a good way to keep track of your classes and deadlines and see where you can sneak in those parties, dinners and chill sessions with friends. Many people overestimate how busy they are but when you start to write things down on that agenda, then you realise how much time you have and how you can play with that. I won’t go into detail on how to plan study sessions – I’ll leave that for another blog. It is also important to make time for yourself so you can spend it on stuff which you want to do. Learning to say “No” is important at times so that you don’t overwhelm yourself with a load of things to study and activities to attend.

Speaking of time for yourself, it is a great segue to what is up next.

2) – Exercise and healthy food

Photo Credits: Steven Snoep

I will be condensing these two as they go hand in hand. In the Netherlands, you will be doing a lot of cycling but that doesn’t mean you leave out exercise altogether. It is quite easy to get lost in thought and end up reaching for a bag of chips while working on that assignment or studying for your exams! I feel that some regular exercise and healthy food keeps my blood circulation going and helps me to feel fresh and energetic. Jogging is a great exercise to do. There are many beautiful parks in Utrecht which you can jog around or even use the pavements around where you live.

3) – Quality sleep

Fifteen minutes is proven to be the optimal nap time!

You may think that university means pulling a lot of all-nighters and that may be true, especially if you didn’t follow advice #1!

The value of good rest is grossly underestimated but it is crucial not just if you want to engage proactively in lectures and tutorials, but also to make the most out of your time in university. Quality sleep is important for having good mental health as you wake up feeling fresh and ready to take on the day. Pulling consecutive all-nighters only exhausts you and could lead to burnout, jeopardising your mental health. 

4) - Friends

Finally, if you do happen to hit a low, do not hesitate to talk to your friends, they are always there to help you and lift your spirits up. In university where everyone starts a fresh life, your struggle is your friend’s struggle, and everyone is there to support each other in tough times. Speak to your study advisor if there are problem beyond your control, every study programme has a designated advisor and they are immensely helpful in relieving study related stress.

I wish you the best of luck for your studies at Utrecht University!"