How to Survive Sickness While Studying Abroad

By Tamiera Vandegrift on October 31, 2017

Studying abroad is an incredible way to broaden your horizons, escape from the ordinary, and grow as a human being. Unfortunately, sometimes our immune systems get in the way.

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Getting sick abroad is terrible. You’re already so far from home, your campus doctor’s office, and the hot soup served in your dining halls. Now, you’ve found yourself ill in unfamiliar territory.

Before you begin to panic, take a breath. Relax. Even though you’re far from home and all things familiar, you can get better on your own. Plus, studying abroad is all about growing as an individual, right? Keep reading to learn how you can survive the plague while you’re studying abroad.

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Preventative Measures

While life happens and you can’t always control your body, there are measures you can take to ensure that in the event of an illness, you can stay well even when you aren’t feeling so well. In order to be prepared for any medical disaster, do the following.

1. Bring any and all medications

Are you allergic to certain foods, plants, or animals? Be sure to stock up on Benadryl and bring an EpiPen just in case. Do you suffer from a mental illness like depression or bipolar disorder? Make an arrangement with your psychiatrist to make sure that you have enough of your prescriptions to last the duration of your time abroad. Do you have asthma? Make sure to have your inhaler on you at all times. Are you noticing a pattern here?

It’s better to have too much of a portable medicine cabinet than not enough. Life is unpredictable, so you need to make sure that you have the necessary precautions in case of any and all emergencies. Even if you don’t necessarily deal with the diseases listed above, keep a supply of run of the mill remedies on you. Keep Advil or Tylenol for headaches and muscle aches. Keep Pepto Bismol or Tums for upset stomachs. Most importantly, bring lots and lots of vitamins. Your body will be getting used to a completely new world full of completely new germs. Be kind to it.

2. Do your homework

Not all healthcare systems are similar to the United States. Plenty of countries offer universal healthcare, meaning the country offers health coverage to all citizens of a country. Be sure to speak with a local resident or a member of your study abroad party regarding the country’s policies and what to expect. Also, make sure to do plenty of research on a medical institution before visiting. You don’t want to end up getting subpar medical care that could result in your condition becoming worse.

Also, be sure to carry along all of your information: blood type, list of allergies, list of medications, etc. What happens if, heaven forbid, you’re incapacitated and can’t provide this information to the doctor yourself? Be smart. Carry this information on your person.

3. Consider travel insurance

You’re probably thinking of all of the dollar signs you have already racked up by going on this trip in the first place. That’s fair. However, this is your safety and well-being that we’re considering here. Talk with your parents and see what options work for you. Most study abroad program costs cover health insurance, depending on your university’s policies.

However, if this isn’t the case for you, do your research and see what insurance options are available. It’s definitely better to be safe and a dollar less than in a bad situation.

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When The Plague Strikes …

If you feel yourself running a fever and your nose becoming super congested, don’t panic. If you feel your stomach tightening into painful knots after trying an exotic dish, don’t despair. You aren’t the first American student to get ill abroad, and you certainly won’t be the last. When you feel sick, remember these things:

1. Don’t keep it to yourself

Inform your study abroad leader immediately. Let your roommates know as well. Never try to tough it out alone. Your university faculty knows about any and all medical connections in the area to help you and other students get the best care. Once you are receiving medical attention, keep in touch with these individuals.

Once you have a grasp on the situation, let your family and friends back home know what’s going on. You may have noticed the statement has been made in bold. That’s because it’s not necessary to worry your friends and families when they’re helpless and thousands of miles away. Let your medical concerns be the concerns of the study abroad staff and yourself until a solution is in sight.

2. See a doctor

Nobody wants to go to the doctor’s office, but sometimes it really is necessary. Take the time out of your busy academic schedule to make an appointment. Seriously. If you aren’t at 100 percent, you won’t be giving your academics 100 percent. Besides, you are more important than a letter grade anyway!

Your doctor will give you the right medication or the right medical advice to get you feeling better as soon as possible, which brings me to my final point …

3. Keep an open mind

Medical treatment plans vary from place to place, so it’s important for you to be respectful and keep an open mind. No matter how different some procedures are from what you’re used to, these procedures are being done by trained, licensed professionals. They know what they’re doing. If at any point you do feel uncomfortable or unsafe about a procedure or medical advice, you have every right to speak up, so don’t be shy!

Remember: it’s your body and it’s up to you to get your body the treatment and nourishment it needs and deserves.

Tamiera is a senior at Florida State University, studying Editing, Writing & Media and Digital Media Production. When she's not geeking out about movies and puppy videos, she's on her way to a career in screenwriting, while working intensely to finish a few novels before graduation. Besides writing, Tamiera is otherwise obsessed with Coldplay, feminism, dystopian novels, and various types of junk food. She hopes to see one of her works on the silver screen and eventually finish an entire tube of Chapstick.

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