Health, Safety, and Important Government Links
If you’re going to study or work abroad, you’ve got to consider your health. From navigating a new health care system to overcoming culture shock to figuring out where to buy a cold remedy, you’ll have new things to think about.
So, it’s a good idea to think about your health (both physical and mental) before, during, and after you travel. In fact, when choosing a program it’s a good idea to evaluate how “healthy” it is (how good is the program orientation? is there knowledgeable, available on-site staff? is insurance included in the program fee?) because living abroad means a new lifestyle and a new environment––two things that really affect your health. The good news is that with planning and awareness, living abroad can be a very healthy experience.
Assess and address your state of mind
Deep down, you know that going abroad is not a magic cure for problems at home. Any physical and emotional health issues you have will follow you wherever you travel. New circumstances can even exacerbate existing issues into crises while you’re away from home. If you are concerned about your physical or emotional health, including use of alcohol or other controlled drugs, address your situation honestly before going abroad.
Identify your Needs
Understand—and communicate—any health requirements you have when applying for a program and making housing arrangements. This means allergies, psychological therapy, dietary requirements, disabilities, and any other medical or special educational needs. Disabled students study abroad successfully all the time, though resources and services for people with special needs vary widely by country and region. If you have been using services here at home to address those needs, make sure you understand ahead of time exactly what accommodations can and will be made. In some cases, your needs may determine which program is suitable for you.
Ask questions, Get answers
There are health-related things you’ll need to know about your host country, from the quality of water to the laws governing the import of medications to customs concerning the use of alcohol and drugs. Some places to start asking:
Check Health Advisories
Learn about immunization requirements and recommendations and check for regional health advisories for your host country (www.cdc.gov/travel). If you have special health needs, think about any conditions that may affect you particularly.
See your Doctors
A visit to your physician, gynecologist, and dentist is a must to ensure you leave healthy—and prevent emergencies abroad. Get immunizations and hepatitis protection if needed for the region you’re traveling to. Check whether medications and medical supplies are available in your host country; if not, carry a supply with you. Pack copies of all medical records and prescriptions, including for eyeglasses. If you think you’ll need regular medical care abroad, take along a letter of introduction from your doctor at home that includes details of your medical treatment.
Verify Health Insurance Coverage
It’s something to consider when choosing a program: some study abroad packages include health insurance as part of the program fee and some do not. Check your regular policy to see what coverage it provides for medical services abroad—and whether your plan pays the provider in your host country directly, or you must pay yourself and seek reimbursement later. Be sure you have coverage for medical evacuation, in case you need to be flown back to the U.S. for medical treatment. Make certain you’ll have coverage for continuing treatment of newly acquired medical conditions once you return home. If you have questions, the international office at your school may be able to help.
Pack your own first-aid kit
Never underestimate the importance of being prepared. Always travel with basic medical supplies close at hand:
Don’t forget the health maintenance supplies:
Depending on where you’re headed, you may also need:
Give yourself time to adjust
Expect jet lag—and a little culture shock. Get your body on the new schedule by drinking plenty of non-alcoholic fluids, eating plenty of nutritious food, exercising, and resting. Culture shock is a natural effect of being exposed to new lifestyles and values, so don’t be surprised if you feel a bit impatient, confused, or anxious, or if you hit emotional highs and lows as you adjust. Time usually takes care of it, but if any problems persist, consult your on-site program director or get help from a counselor or doctor.
Seek out Resources
Learn how you’ll get routine and emergency medical help before you need it. Who will provide your care and how can you reach that provider? Is there a 911-style emergency number? If so, what services does it provide? If you need any special help such as a self-help group or services for a special need or disability, find out how to get it.
Make medical needs KNOWN
If you have a medical condition, tell those in your host country who can be of assistance, including doctors who can provide care and people in your dormitory who can help in an emergency.
Learn about Local Customs
Lifestyles, practices, and expectations will be very different from home—even in places that seem on the surface to be relatively similar to the U.S. Make sure you understand how things work. Don’t assume that behavior you took for granted at home will be accepted in your host country. Ask about:
Make new Friends
It may not sound like a health tip, but don’t isolate yourself. You will probably have to make the first move in developing friendships, but they’ll make the whole experience worthwhile (not to mention keep you sane).
Going home can seem like the best part when you think about the hundreds of photos you can show and the hundreds of stories you can tell. Just be aware: most U.S. students experience culture shock when they return, too.
You’ll have discovered a lot of new things while studying abroad. Realize how those new experiences may have changed you. Do you have new interests? New attitudes, opinions, perspectives? Changed values? Have your expectations of your friends and family changed? Your new haircut may be only the beginning.
Moderate your expectations
Your trip transforms you, but not your friends and family. Problems that existed when you left may still be there when you return. Or things may have changed while you were gone. Be prepared to realistically face issues in all your circumstances and relationships.
Take care of yourself
Jet lag will kick in, and you’ll have to adjust again when you return. Rest, exercise, eat healthy, and continue any medications you need.
Share your Experience
Help friends and family understand this new part of your life by sharing the most important parts of your time overseas, including pictures and other mementos—but be prepared for some who have not traveled abroad to have a limited attention span. If you want to talk more, or if you feel a bit alienated from friends and family, connect with faculty, your study abroad advisor, or other returning students. Take advantage of re-entry workshops your study abroad office may provide; you’ll meet new friends and share your experiences with people who will listen and understand.
Make it Last
Some schools have programs that enable you to serve as a peer advisor for other prospective study or work abroad students, or host an international student visiting from your host country. Constantly look for ways to continue your international experience and the transformation it brings.
Pre-departure health musts
Knowledge is a series of informational brochures for students, parents, and advisors brought to you by CIEE. As the leading U.S. non-governmental international education organization, CIEE develops and provides programs that allow students and educators to study and teach abroad. We believe that there is no better way to increase international understanding and establish trust between nations. Whether you choose one of our 80 programs or another provider’s, we’re thrilled that you’re embarking on this transforming, enduring experience.
Additional copies and displays are available upon request at firstname.lastname@example.org.
“Health.” study abroad with CIEE | CIEE – Council on International Educational Exchange. CIEE, 2009. Web.