Mental Health While Abroad: A Reflection

I was seeing a psychologist on a weekly basis at the Georgetown University Counseling and Mental Health Center for the first semester of my Junior year. He suggested that I consider seeing someone while I was abroad in Cape Town, South Africa. I shunned that idea immediately because I honestly thought that all of my problems would be solved once I left Georgetown and the United States of America. I also did not think that a South African psychologist could possibly help me as I battled issues that were seemingly American-based.

Time passed and before I knew it, I was posing for pictures in front of Devil’s Peak, one of Cape Town’s infamous mountains, in the warm South African sun. Everything was paradise at first, but I still found myself being haunted by problems I thought would solve themselves. I was also confronted by new challenges such as culture shock, which comes with transitioning into a new society.

During orientation for the University of the Western Cape, the welcome team mentioned that counseling services were free and could be found in the Campus Health & Wellness center. That piece of information resonated with me and I made it my mission to sign up for an initial consultation. Because I had so much free time on campus, there was no excuse to miss out on this beneficial service.

The first time I walked into the office for my appointment, it was empty. The receptionist remembered me, as I was one of the few exchange students for the semester. Then the time came and my psychologist received me from the waiting area. Our first session was emotional, but necessary. I was happy that we got along and I decided to continue seeing her from late February to my last week in Cape Town. We developed a strong relationship as she acted as my sounding board each week. I talked to her about being an African American woman in Cape Town, being Black in America, my childhood, my time at Georgetown, and other topics like how to handle anxiety and stress.

Deciding to see a psychologist abroad helped me grow in ways that I could write about for days. The most important thing I learned was clarity about myself and the world around me. Our last session was sad because I was leaving the country. However, I do plan to revisit South Africa in the near future.

For students or anyone planning to travel abroad, consider how you will take care of your mental health, whether you decide to see a psychologist or to utilize another method. The best thing you can do is take care of yourself mentally no matter where you are. This will insure that you have an amazing time and feel whole by the time you leave.

Cheers!

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