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Navigating Emotional Wellness and Change

The world is changing at an unprecedented rate. We are all adjusting to a ‘new normal’ by which many of us feel caught off guard. Although different, change is also an inevitable part of study abroad. It can have relatively negative impacts on the emotional wellness of students. Change, and the radicality and extent thereof, can be emotionally destabilizing or can exacerbate already existing distress for many people. It may be difficult to stay centered when feelings of stress, fear, sadness, anxiousness, and frustration start to creep in or make their presence felt.

Our aim is to help students recognize and understand this and to support them during their journey of personal growth (one of our Transformation Learning Goals). In this article, we’ll take a closer look at how study abroad and change can affect one’s emotional wellness, explain how we support students on their journey, and share 10 practical tips on how you can manage your own emotional wellness during uncertain times.

What is emotional wellness?

Emotional wellness, which is also intricately related to mental and overall health, is the state of being emotionally healthy.1 It involves, but is not limited to, the capacity to acknowledge, experience, and manage both positive and negative emotions.2 When one is in a state of emotional unwellness, emotions feel overwhelming and can become debilitating. A multitude of factors can contribute to emotional wellness or unwellness. Change is one of them.

How does emotional wellness relate to study abroad?

During study abroad, students are introduced to new environments, people, practices, cultures, and languages. The newness and pace of it all can quickly become too much to handle too soon. As a program progresses, students are bound to be pushed out of their comfort zones, to face a challenge here or there, or to feel feelings that they cannot explain or articulate. Students will grapple with an array of emotions during their time abroad. The same can be said of when they return home. They will have had an impactful experience with which only a few people in their immediate family and/or friendship circles may be able to identify. Settling back into a once ‘normal’ routine might not come as easily as expected.

How do we support students on our programs?

Prepare Well

Preparation is key to counteracting the potential impacts of this newness. Knowledge is power, as they say. We are intentional about providing students with country-specific information and resources before they leave their home country. Our aim in this regard is to introduce students to some of the main aspects of life in their host country, and to orientate them to some of the challenges they may face during their time abroad. Shortly after first entry, students also receive a cultural orientation designed to further introduce them to the country setting and to equip them with critical intercultural skills.

Process & Reflect

Preparedness, however, can only go so far in alleviating the impact that new experiences can have on one’s emotional wellness. Just as important is the time and space to understand and accept one’s emotions. With this in mind, we provide students with opportunities and tools to process what they are feeling over the course of a program. These primarily take the form of formal and informal reflection sessions. Thus, students have the chance to grapple with their emotions and have a constructive means through which to articulate themselves. Reflection sessions are also a time of sharing and help students realize that they are not alone on this journey. Still, study abroad can be a uniquely personal experience. It is important to own that. And so, we also encourage students to do further processing on their own through journaling.

Program Facilitators

Ongoing support is another vital element. Our local program facilitators are well-positioned and trained to identify students who are struggling or in distress. They are also equipped with the skills to provide support to students at a group and/or individual level when necessary. In addition, we have protocols in place for instances when the attention of a professional would be better suited.

Post-program Support

We don’t always have access to students once they have returned home, but we support them through our optional re-entry support content. Through this, we help them continue to process and articulate their journey through reflection and activity prompts.

10 Tips to manage emotional wellness during times of change

Although you are unable to travel for the time being, change is still an intrinsic part of everyday life. Here are some practical tips you can use to manage your emotional wellness through times of change.

1. Validate your emotions – tell yourself it is okay to feel how you feel, whether positive or negative, your emotions are valid

2. Articulate your emotions – try and name what you are feeling

3. Reflect – ask yourself questions that help you process and understand why you are experiencing these emotions

4. Journal – writing, or any form of art, is a great way to express yourself and process your feelings

5. Reach out – when you feel ready, reach out and talk about your experience. You might realize that you are not alone

6. Practice social media distancing – manage the amount of time you spend online, rather look inward than outward

7. Breathing exercises – when you feel overwhelmed by emotion, breathe in for a count of four, hold for six, breathe out for seven, and repeat

8. Get active – exercise can be a great channel for release, even if it’s just a short walk to get fresh air

9. Work or find a hobby – working on something challenging or creative will take your mind off of things

10. Rest – that’s it.

Interested in leading a Study Abroad program to Africa? Request A Proposal, and one of our expert Program Managers will get in touch shortly.