For many students, spending a semester or two abroad is a lifetime dream. Understanding what you want to get out of your study abroad experience takes time, research and reflection, and your institution will likely have a study abroad office to show you your many options and help you with this important decision.
Remaining healthy while studying abroad in an unfamiliar environment could be a challenge. The CDC TravWell app can help you plan for safe and healthy international travel.
As you adjust to your new environment and culture, you will want to treat any common health issues like digestive troubles, dehydration, and exhaustion that could arise. There are several things you should consider before and during your trip to help keep you healthy when studying abroad.
What to Pack
As you’re thinking about what to pack, you should consider taking some common medications with you, especially if it’s something you take often, like allergy or heartburn medications. If you take prescription medications, check with your health care provider and pharmacy to see if you can get enough medications to last you through your trip. There may also be an option to fill the prescription in your destination. If you decide to do this, make sure your insurance will cover the prescription while abroad.
When traveling in other countries, it’s important to note that some common medications may have different names than what you’re used to. Resources and websites are available to help travelers determine which medications they should buy.
As part of your trip, you may be required to purchase travel health insurance. Even if you are not required to purchase health insurance, it’s a good idea—you never know when you might need it! Your school’s student health insurance plan may provide limited coverage in other countries. You could also look into purchasing insurance through an outside provider. Some questions you should consider when purchasing health insurance when studying abroad include:
- Will the plan cover me for my entire trip?
- Will the plan cover me if I take trips to another country?
- Is there a deductible? If so, how much is it?
- Are doctor’s visits and prescriptions covered?
- Does the plan cover mental health services?
- Does the coverage meet the minimum amount required by the host country?
The study abroad office at your institution can help you find a plan that meets your needs. You could also call your current health insurance company to see what international plans they may offer.
At least one month before you leave for your trip, you should visit your health care provider for a pre-travel health screening and to receive any necessary vaccinations. Some countries may have an increased risk for some diseases; getting vaccinated can help keep you healthy. Make sure you allow plenty of time for getting your vaccines. The CDC has a website to help travelers know which vaccines are recommended for which countries.
As part of your pre-travel screening, ask your health care provider how to handle any prescriptions you take regularly. Can you get enough refills to last you through your trip? Or should you fill the prescription in your destination?
Food may be very different in the country you’re traveling to. Food items may have different names or be prepared differently than you’re used to. There are also some foods that may not be safe for you to eat while abroad. The CDC’s Can I Eat This? app can help you determine if what you are eating or drinking is safe.
Maintaining good mental health while abroad is just as important as taking care of your physical health. Traveling abroad and trying to adjust to another culture can be a stressful experience for anyone and could lead to the emergence or reemergence of mental health issues. If you are currently being treated for mental health issues, discuss the possibility of participating in a study abroad program with your mental health practitioner. You may determine that based on your current symptoms, postponing or adjusting your plans is in your best interest. Talking to your mental health provider can also help you create tools to cope with any stress that may arise while abroad.