StudentsStudy Abroad

Study Abroad Stress: How to Manage

The days leading up to departure before studying abroad are often filled with exciting and idealized notions of what life will be like living and studying in a foreign country. While many students do, in fact, have positive experiences studying abroad, it is quite common at some point during their time overseas to experience stress and anxiety due to a variety of reasons.

So what are some causes of study abroad stress, and what are some ways to prevent or lessen the impact of stress while overseas? Here is some important advice to keep in mind before you go!

study abroad stress

Fabio Formaggio ©

Causes of stress while studying abroad

While stress can mean different things for different individuals, and no two students will necessarily experience the exact same kinds of stress, the most common types of study abroad stress are a result of culture shock, home sickness, and organization. Let’s take a quick look at each of these, and then later we’ll look at proactive steps you can take to reduce or prevent stress while you are overseas.

Culture shock is a feeling of discomfort, disorientation, and distancing from the local community and culture. There are four stages of culture shock: the honeymoon phase, the withdrawal/irritability phase, the adjustment phase, and the enthusiasm phase. Essentially, it is common for students initially to feel excited and overjoyed with the immediate immersion of being surrounded by new sights, smells, and language. However, after some time, students may begin feeling distanced and irritable within the host country. This irritability can indeed be quite stressful as students can become negative hyper-focused on differences between their host country’s culture and their own.

Home sickness can be especially heightened by culture shock when students are focused on what they miss about their home country, whether it is cultural aspects or traditions, or their family and friends they left behind. When students suddenly “feel like a foreigner” and distanced from their host country’s community, it’s easy for students to have a overly idealized notion of what life is like back at home. The reality is focusing on home sickness can further induce stress and anxiety, particularly if students have a significant amount of time remaining until they go home.

Organization can cause stress in a couple of different ways: by either being completely disorganized or, conversely, from being too organized. Disorganization can cause stress in situations such as becoming lost in an unfamiliar city, or by losing or forgetting something vitally important. On the other hand, being too organized can cause stress, especially in over-planning and feeling pressure to stick to extremely detailed itineraries if things don’t go exactly as planned.

Study abroad stress remedies

In order to help make your study abroad experience as positive as possible, here are a few ways that you can prevent or remedy study abroad stress factors as outlined above.

    1. Take care of yourself – There’s nothing more important than making sure that you are making good choices when it comes to personal health and well-being. Make sure you are getting plenty of rest, and not consistently staying up too late. Getting on a regular sleep schedule and aiming for eight hours of sleep at night is a good goal to reach for. Carry a water bottle with you, and make sure that you are drinking enough water so that you don’t become dehydrated. Try to avoid excessive alcohol consumption, and try your hardest to exercise regularly. These are ways that you can stay healthy, and as a result reduce your stress while studying abroad.


    1. Get involved in the local community and campus – Making new friends and connections while studying abroad is a vital factor in adapting to life in a new country, and will significantly negate the impact of culture shock and home sickness. Do you like reading? Join a reading club. Do you play sports? Look up a local team to join. Be sure to check around campus for student involvement opportunities, and maybe make it a personal goal to go to one sort of event or gathering a week.


    1. Try not to idealize life back home or become too nostalgic – By becoming too focused on what you are missing back home, you can miss out of wonderful opportunities you have right in front of you! Definitely keep in contact with friends and family back home, but perhaps try limiting your phone calls to a reasonable amount. When you are away from home, it’s easy to focus on only the positive aspects or good memories of home. Try your hardest enjoy your time studying abroad rather than thinking about how much time you have until you fly back home.


  1. Be prepared, but not too obsessed with organization – In our article “Study Abroad Advice for the Future Student Traveler,” you will find links to a good list of useful articles to help you be more prepared and organized before you study abroad. While you should certainly be prepared for a new temporary life in your host country, such as learning the language and researching cultural customs, you can save yourself stress by not completely mapping out and organizing every detail of your trip. Doing so can create expectations for what your experience will be like, which can lead to disappointment or stress to fulfill those personal expectations. In short, do your research, but have an open mind and be willing to be adaptable to unexpected circumstances or opportunities.

Hopefully this advice on study abroad stress can help make your time overseas enjoyable and an overall positive experience! For more study abroad advice and information, be sure to browse through out Study Abroad page, and follow us on Twitter, Facebook, and Pinterest to keep up-to-date with future articles!

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The Author

Dave Harriman

Dave Harriman

Dave Harriman, SHRM-CP, has a background in human resources, anthropology, and international education. His experience teaching English abroad during a gap year as an undergraduate student in Spain ignited his passion and advocacy for student travel. As a human resources professional, Dave is interested in helping students prepare for future career growth, and for helping facilitate social & cultural inclusion in the workplace.