Studying is always a challenge – doing so in a completely new environment, often not in your native language and away from family and friends, might be overwhelming. This can cause problems with resource and time management, contribute to test anxiety and even trigger a depressive episode. Everyone reacts differently to being out of their comfort zone: This might be totally out of character for you and maybe you don’t recognise early warning signs.
Back at home, you know the unwritten laws, customs and social cues – all of which you will have to re-learn in a foreign country: Do I greet everyone with a handshake? Why is my flatmate wearing slippers indoors? Why do I find my new friend’s humour somewhat unsettling? The insecurity of how to behave or interpret others’ behaviour – even if it only happens unconsciously and weakly – can be a burden. And even though in the first weeks you were enthusiastic about meeting new people and making new experiences, homesickness hits all of us. It might help you to just acknowledge that feeling and recognise it as necessary for your personal growth. However, if you feel that your health is impacted or that your studies are suffering, it might be time to look for professional help.
What are the options for receiving professional help?
- Talking to your doctor or a general practitioner can be a good first step. If you have not yet found a GP in Germany, you can search for one on this (website only available in German). Choose the region you are living in and a new tab will open that lets you search for doctors and psychotherapists nearby.
- You can also go directly to a psychiatrist/psychotherapist for an initial assessment. Even without a referral from your GP, up to five appointments can be made, during which they will assess the best possible options. However, most doctor’s offices are very busy and rarely have appointments available at short notice. You should also be aware that not every psychiatrist/psychotherapist might be covered by your insurance; so maybe check that first. And, if that is a sensitive issue for you, note that if you pay for the appointment privately, the visit will not appear as an entry in your health insurance records. Psychiatrists/psychotherapists are listed also on the (website only available in German).
- (in German: Studierendenwerk or Studentenwerk) also offer psychological counselling. Don’t worry about this getting back to your professors. The counselling is done by professional psychologists who ensure maximum confidentiality.
- Many higher education institutions have their own outpatient clinics and/or offer psychological counselling. You can schedule a private session or take part in a workshop on topics such as time management or relaxation exercises. This counselling can be offered by the Faculties of Psychology or Social Sciences, by the Central Student Advisory Services, or you could check with the . You might find it easier to get an appointment here compared to therapists in private practice, plus they know the specific problems of students very well.
- In addition, the non-profit organisation also offers preventive courses on mental health. At the moment, offers are only available in German. But you can also try and contact them for English content!
First steps you can do for yourself
- Be prepared. Whether you gather knowledge about the German culture, about your city or the higher education institution, or whether you take the time to practise for a presentation: Feeling knowledgeable and prepared can help your confidence and put you at ease.
- Take your time. Reflect on your emotions and don’t forget to take a few deep breaths. If you are the kind of person to meditate, now is a good time to do so.
- Watch your self-talk: Don’t judge yourself too harshly and don’t talk badly to yourself. Replace negative thoughts with positive ones.
- Create a (new) routine. A bit of an everyday structure can help you relax. Make sure to include things in your daily life that bring you joy. Whether you write, do sports, or put on your favourite song and dance wildly to it, anything can help.
- Get involved. Your higher education institution surely has organisations, associations, or events that line up with your interests. Don’t hesitate to look up information and see if you can find something that is appealing to you. It’s also a great way to meet new people.
- Restrict your social media use. Social media can enhance negative feelings and self-doubt. Join a study group or ask friends for advice.
- But most importantly, don’t isolate yourself! Simply talking about your psychological well-being with others can help immensely.