Returning From Abroad: Self Care and Resiliency

by Konstance Krueger, OSA Graduate Assistant

It’s been a challenging last few weeks for students who planned, prepared, and saved to study abroad this spring. In difficult times like these, it’s important that we treat ourselves kindly, find community, and recognize that we are not alone. 
The Office of Study Abroad, WesWell, and the Office of Survivor Advocacy and Community Education (SACE) believe practicing self-care is incredibly important for managing one’s emotional, mental, and physical wellbeing during times of uncertainty and upheaval.  

Creating Your Plan and Toolbox 

When it comes to creating one’s plan, it is important to note that there is no one-size-fits-all. We all have different needs that we should be mindful of when building our plans 

Construct Your Self-Care Toolbox 

Evaluate your coping skills. What revitalizes, energizes, and relaxes you? How do you typically de-stress or calm down when agitated?  Make a list of the self-care activities you like to do most that constitute self-care practices. Examples include meditation, exercise, listening to music, gaming, readingteatime or coffee breaks, and engaging with a hobby. Journaling, for example, is one of the most effective means for students who studied abroad to process their experiences. However, it is important to practice something you are comfortable with and can commit to comfortably. I have not, nor will I ever be someone who journals. Internally monologue as though I’m over-encumbered by insightful soundbites—yes. Journal? NoPick what works for you and brings you joy.   

See here for an overview of helpful meditation apps available for smartphones.

Find Balance  

Identify your needs and find balance by practicing self-care throughout your day. Sleep, diet, exercise/health, relaxation time, and social engagement are all important factors in one’s mental, emotional, and physical wellbeing.  Can you identify any areas you are neglecting, or areas you are perhaps overindulging? Remaining mindful of your habits can help you establish healthy behaviors. I would consider myself a relatively reserved and independent person, and I often forget how revitalizing it is to connect with my social group, as I usually recharge by taking time for myself.

Remember that self-care extends beyond basic physical needs. In balancing all your responsibilities with long-term time at home/inside, schedule self-care activities for a range of time periods. Take 5 minutes of deep breathing in between classes, go for an hour walk in the sunshine, enjoy a cup of tea in your favorite chair, call your best friend for 20 minutes.  

There are plenty of apps out there to assist with relaxation, sleep, and exercise, such as Calm, or iSleep Easy.

Structure Your Day 

Plan your day along a timeline that is meaningful to you. If scheduling out every hour of your day makes sense, do it. If scheduling large sections of your day makes more sense, do that. The point of scheduling you day isn’t to add more stress to your life, but rather to make sure your health is accounted for from day to day. 

While I don’t hold myself accountable to a rigid timetable, I do need to have an established routine to feel motivated and be productive. In lieu of my daily commute, allocate time to have some green tea or black tea (if I’m feeling particularly zealous) before I start work for the day. It lets my brain switch gears, which is particularly helpful if your workspace is also where you sleep or eat.  Drinking tea is something I picked up during my own time studying abroad in  South Africa Incorporating this activity is not only an act of self-care that helps me delineate my time and responsibilities, but also allows me to reconnect to my experiences abroad. Consider using a practice or hobby you enjoyed from your time abroad as part of your self-care plan.  

Self care activities do not necessarily have to be “treat yourself” moments, if you will.  Rather they should promote consistently appreciating ourselves and our needs. In her essay on NBC News, artist, rapper, songwriter and dynamic flautist Lizzo posited “self-care is really rooted in self-preservation, just like self-love is rooted in honesty. We have to start being more honest with what we need, and what we deserve, and start serving that to ourselves. It can be a spa day! But for a lot of people, it’s more like, I need a mentor. I need someone to talk to.”

Prioritize It!  

Treat self-care like a commitment. Like every other important obligation we have, be they meetings, class, or homework, self-care is just as important. Don’t let it slip to the bottom of your to-do list. By practicing self-care you are appreciating and prioritizing yourself.

How Are We Doing?

Below members of the Office of Study Abroad team delve into their own experiences and self-care practices during the Covid-19 pandemic.

“It’s been a really challenging 2020 thus far. I was already in the habit of bringing my work home when campus was open, so I was worried that working from home would mean working 24/7. However, I was able to set in place some fruitful practices to keep myself mentally healthy. First, I turned off email on my phone and I removed the red “unread emails” number on my work computer inbox. Turns out those seemingly helpful features were making me more anxious, which made me less focused when I needed to be. Second, I’ve been cooking and baking like nobody’s business. It’s allowed me to use my hands, get off the couch, and make something special for the people I love. Finally, I’ve been connecting with my friends and family virtually. I’ve been loving the app Marco Polo, which allows you to send video messages to loved ones. My friends and I are also doing Chopped cooking challenges, game nights, and Netflix watch parties using Zoom.” ~Hannah Parten, Study Abroad Advisor

Fortunately, a lot of my classes and work have transferred well to online so that really helps maintain a schedule and gives shape to my days. Even my dance class is taught online, which keeps me moving. It’s really nice to see a lot of the faces I’d usually see on campus, all in our little Zoom cubes. Although I’ve still got plenty of homework, I have been a little antsy, so I’ve been keeping my hands busy with baking, cooking, embroidery, collaging. And absolutely getting dressed every day helps me keep a clear head and sense of routine.” ~ Sophie Taveras Shelley, FCGS/OSA Student Worker

“It has definitely been a bit of a struggle as I had some good momentum going concerning my routine, and finally feeling a sense of belonging at Wesleyan. I had joined a gym in January and was really thriving, so not being able to go there did lead to a bit of a lethargic funk that was starting to impact my overall productivity. What’s really helped me has been reaching out to friends/family/classmates to help foster motivation and accountability. I try to be mindful of positive things I can do in the present, as well as things I’m excited about for the future. I also highly recommend blue light glasses for anyone who is starting to struggle with eye fatigue due to starting at a computer screen for extended periods of time.” ~Konstance Krueger, OSA Graduate Assistant

“I‘ve been adjusting well for the most part. The most challenging part to me is establishing a line between home life and work. Reading definitely helps revitalize me each morning. I really love to read and have tried to schedule in reading time every morning when I wake up. It’s a good way to get your mind focused and creativity flowing. Also taking time to exercise and take walks helps. I’m ok at assigning myself an allotted amount of work to do each day. Once I finish it, I make sure to give myself time to relax and take care of me. Again, finding a balance can be difficult. Especially with having responsibilities at home and cultural expectations that clash with your typical schedule. I do my best though, and luckily my professors have been very understanding. ~Lexi Cummings, FCGS/OSA Student Worker

Contact Us, We Are Here to Help

The Office of Study Abroad is hosting virtual drop in hours 10AM-12PM EST Monday, Wednesday, Friday, and 2PM-4PM EST on Tuesday and Thursdays. Please don’t hesitate to contact the OSA  with any questions or concerns.

WesWell, the Office of Health Education can provide information, resources, and individual consultations on sexual health, stress/time management, sleep hygiene, tobacco cessation, and alcohol and other drug use.

SACE, Survivor Advocacy & Community Education can assist in connecting to educational programming and/or collaborative community spaces, provide tele-advocacy services for students, email consultations and referrals.

CAPS, for urgent concerns, the CAPS on-call clinician can be reached by calling 860.685.2910. To request a phone consult with a clinician, email