How to Stay Healthy on a Year Abroad

So, after months of planning, excitement and apprehension, and weeks of packing, saying goodbye and stress, you’ve now settled into life in your new country, whether it be the sunny beaches of Australia or the freezing cold forests of Scandinavia. You’ve made some friends, started getting used to a new way of studying and learning and hopefully done some exploring of your new home. But after weeks of stress and socialising, your body might be feeling a bit worse for wear. Here’s some top tips on how to stay (physically and mentally) healthy on your year abroad.

1. FOOD

Food is one of the most exciting things about moving abroad. Trying new local delicacies, finding new cafes and restaurants to try and cooking meals from all over the world with your new international friends can be one of the absolute highlights of your time away. However, new cultural food experiences combined with a lack of time, weird foreign supermarkets, hangovers, stress, and lack of money can make eating healthily very difficult.

  • Firstly, don’t worry! Eating a few bad meals a week will not make you gain hundreds of pounds. Although keeping healthy should be important, enjoying yourself should be a priority. Don’t say no to something just because you’re worried about having to eat an unhealthy meal! Enjoy it and move on.
  • Tupperware will become your best friend. From lunch times on campus to storing leftovers, your life will be so much easier if you invest in these little plastic miracles. Make big batches of healthy curries, stews and sauces and freeze them so you always have a decent meal on hand! Same with lunchtimes – cook a big batch of pasta or couscous or chop up veggies for a salad so when you’re rushing out the door, already late to your 8am lecture, you always have a quick and healthy lunch!
  • Frozen veg is a lifesaver. In some foreign countries, fresh fruit and veg is cheap and abundant, but in some it’s stupidly expensive (£3 for two peppers or a bag of spinach anyone?) and it goes off too quickly. Frozen broccoli, peas, spinach and sweetcorn have become my freezer staples as you can chuck them into literally anything and get a boost of veg in any meal.

 

2. FITNESS

Keeping fit is literally the most difficult thing in the world, especially when student life and socialising gets on top of you and it’s so much easier to nap or stay in bed watching Netflix. However, exercise will give not only make you look and feel better; it will help you to sleep, give you more energy for day to day activities, and refresh your mental wellbeing.

  • Gym passes are always expensive, and money on a year abroad is tight, especially when you want to do loads of travelling and socialising. Therefore, ask if the local gyms if they do student discounts or pay monthly deals. Sometimes a year pass is better value per month even if you’re not staying in the country for a year, so even though it’s a lot of money at once, it can be cheaper in the long-run. Also don’t waste your money, so only join the gym if you realistically think you’ll be able to. If travelling is a priority, you don’t go to the gym at home or the gym is far away, then you’re not going to make the most of it.
  • WALK. Grab a friend or your headphones and explore a new area of the city or the surrounding countryside for some fresh air, exercise, fun with a friend and maybe even a new Instagram pic! My friend and I used to go for coffee and cake and now we ‘walk and talk’ around a nature reserve, saving money and making us healthier! If you’re feeling energetic, cycling and running are also great way to explore!
  • Most importantly, fitness should be intended to make you feel happy and healthy; focusing on losing weight/progress/what your body looks like will probably become counter-intuitive in the long run, especially when you have so many more important things to worry about on your year abroad such as travelling, making friends and having new experiences!

 

3. TACKLING THE NEW CLIMATE

This is an often over-looked one, but is so important for your physical and mental wellbeing. Odds are, the climate of your new home country will be very different to the mild and rainy UK, whether you face extremely hot temperatures in Australia or freezing winters and very short days in Scandinavia or Canada.

  • Speak to locals or your new native friends. How do they survive the winter/summer? They’ll have a better idea of how to dress, how to travel, how to stay happy, and how to survive the conditions. For example, a friend told me to take Vitamin D tablets to stop me from getting depressed during the winters, and also to do most things during the mornings when it’s lightest! They’ve lived here for years, use their experience!
  • Dress well. In cold climates, invest in some decent boots, thermals and coats. It may seem like a lot of money but it will ultimately make your experience so much more comfortable if you don’t have to dread going outside everyday through fear of hypothermia, frostbite or getting wet.
  • Try not to use rain/cold as an excuse to stay in and not do anything.  Most of my friends live 15 minutes away by bike, and the temptation to stay in when it’s raining outside and they plan an impromptu dinner or film night is often overwhelming. However, fifteen minutes of discomfort shouldn’t stop me from enjoying a night of fun. It might be miserable but you’ll be more miserable staying inside all day and not socialising.

 

4. MENTAL WELLBEING

Year abroads are bloody stressful, and whoever tells you that they’re not is lying to you. whether you’re super busy all the time or have hours and hours of free time, loneliness, anxiety, boredom, and feeling overwhelmed and upset are inevitable parts of your experience and battling these will make you a stronger and more resilient person in the long run. This is what helps me when I’m feeling overwhelmed, upset, or like I’m not doing enough.

  • Take you-time. Sleeping and recharging your batteries is so fundamentally important. Although you want to do everything all the time, listen to your body: if you want to sleep, then take a night off, cuddle up with a good series, film or book, treat yourself to some choc and have a cosy night in.
  • Keep in touch with friends and family from home. Sometimes, hearing their voices or seeing them can remind you how loved and appreciated you are, especially if you’re not making as many friends as you would have liked.
  • As already discussed, exercise is amazing for mental wellbeing. Whether it’s a gentle stroll or a heavy lifting session in the gym, a bike ride with a friend or a swim, clear your head and get your heart pumping.
  • Stop comparing yourself to people on social media. It can be a fantastic way to share your life with your loved ones but it makes it so easy to feel like your year abroad experience isn’t as fun/exciting/Instagram-worthy as other peoples. EVERYONE’S EXPERIENCE IS 100% UNIQUE and comparing your life to your friend in Australia having an amazing time on the beach whilst you’re sat in bed on a lonely Friday night will not only make you feel shitty, but is counter-intuitive. Look at the big picture, remember all the amazing times you’ve had and take time to plan some more, and STOP SCROLLING (as much).

I hope these tips can help you enjoy your year abroad in a healthier way. Most importantly: step out of your comfort zone, experience new things, make amazing memories, and forgive yourself for eating that pizza or piece of cake – you’re on a year abroad after all!