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Nicola Byrom Nicola Byrom, Jan 20th 2015, 15:10 Verified Guru

Hello! 

I'd think that there might be a few different ways of thinking the challenge you are facing. Time away from home and our normal routines and social networks is not something that everyone enjoys, so it is great to be thinking about different options. 

(1) Can you talk to your university about what happens if you return home early. I imagine that policies actually differ from university to university and in many cases the university might be quite flexible.

(2) Can you work out what the differences are between your life abroad and your experiences at home; that is, what makes you happy at home which you are not getting in this current placement? Thinking through what these differences are might help you pinpoint a few specific things that you could build into your life abroad to make it easier to manage. 

You've mentioned that you've "been keeping busy" etc. which sounds really positive. This is one of three steps that we can engage in to keep ourselves mentally healthy. Three steps to resilience include: 

  • Engaging in activities that are good for our wellbeing
  • Building strong social networks
  • Developing our psychological coping skills
So you have already focused on step one - GREAT! If you want to think about more ways to engage in activities that can build your mental wellbeing, you might like to check out the Students Against Depression guide for Healthier daily routines: while positive and fun activities are great for our well being, sometimes it can be helpful to build in simple self-soothing activities (like having a bath, reading a book, doing yoga, listening to music etc...) as well. How are you doing on this second step? On the strong social networks? Are there ways you use Skype and other social media to stay in touch with friends and family at home? Building psychological coping skills is a bit of a life long challenge. For a simple start, there are some really interesting, guided, suggestions on the Students Against Depression site. Wishing you all the best for the weeks ahead! Nicola

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Hannah Smith Hannah Smith, Jan 20th 2015, 15:50

This is exactly my situation that I am currently in. I was also a language assistant in France but my contract was cut short partly due to the Chinese side of my year abroad being changed and partly because I suffered from a serious depressive episode. 

I stayed in France for 3 months which was enough to fulfill the YA criteria of my university. On our presentation we had before we left they said for joint honours you need to spend at least 13 weeks in each country which is what I did for France. I am currently in contact with my uni looking for alternatives in case I choose not to go back to China (my mental health issues stem from a bad experience there).

I think it would be useful for you to think about whether you're staying because you want to or whether you are staying because you feel you need to. If it is causing you serious misery then what is the point of making yourself miserable. My problem is that I have high expectation for my year abroad and I wouldn't want to see anything as a failure and maybe you're the same. If you think that leaving and 'giving up' will make you feel worse. Try seeking some help, as an assistant I saw the Doctor for work at the education office building thing (where the person in charge of the assistants is based) If you do French the 'inspection académique'. She referred me to a mental health nurse who then referred me to a psychologist. 

BUT, there is always another option and if you inform the university of the problems you're having they are legally obliged to help you. You have to supply doctors letters and things but they have to help you in some way. 

There are certain learning outcomes that we have to fill from our year abroad just like there would be for any module. The idea is, I hope, that the uni finds a way for us to fulfill these criteria without actually being in the country. My uni hasn't got back to me yet about the other options but I am not deferring the year as I'll graduate without any of my friends. 

I stayed in France because I didn't want anything to happen to my degree but weirdly luckily for me before I flew home when I was very ill at Christmas I had already completed 13 weeks. If you have been there since September you may have done enough time. 

As I say though, don't let the desperation blind you from the fact that even though home seems like the best in the world, eventually the novelty might wear off. BUT that said don't ignore your mental health if it trying to tell you something. That may not be an answer to your problem but I hope it helps. 

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Answered anonymously , Jan 20th 2015, 21:02 Verified Guru

I have been in exactly the same boat. I went to Mexico as a keen graduate for an extra year abroad and to gain some english teaching experience. However, the reality I was met with was that the school was disinterested in me, I repeatedly asked for help until I asked the director of the centre. Bad mood, I was abruptly called into a meeting, which from my perspective was an intimidation tactic from which I left very shaken up and feeling like I'd been scolded like a little girl, simply for wanting to excel. But somewhere, they seemed to have taken it as a personal insult and the atmosphere from then on became very frosty and hostile. 

I would talk to everyone you possibly can at your university. It is likely that someone will be able to help and give you some concrete advise for what to do next. Perhaps you could change onto another programme. If it is a British Council programme I would report the school. 

I think the British Council and universities need to become more aware of the situations at the places they send their students to. And ask for feedback in an official manner throughout and at the end of the students' time there. If not, like me, students will repeatedly be sent to places which are completely unsuitable and out of line with UK universities values and strategy for their students and result in students developing mental health issues.

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