Health and safety are prime concerns for all study abroad participants as well as their advisors, parents, friends, and the institution itself. There are unique risks to overseas travel which can be made more complicated due to the unfamiliarity of the environment and the distance that separates participants from their friends and loved ones. Study abroad participants’ health and safety abroad are a top priority of the Office of International Education. Your well-being abroad includes mental and physical health and personal safety. In addition to the services provided by our and other offices on campus, it’s important for you to research your destination before departure.
Resources to aid you in learning more:
- U.S. Department of State
- Students Abroad – State Department website
- Center for Disease Control
- Overseas Security Advisory Council – provides insights to safety and security abroad
- Local U.S. Embassies Abroad
- <a href=”http://studentsabroad.com/handbook/basic-health-and-safety.php?country=General
- HTH Worldwide – our insurance provider has a wealth of information on their website for health and safety abroad
- World Health Organization
- SAFETI – a great safety resource for students going abroad
- Resilient Traveling – learn about managing stress abroad
- Know Before You Go
– sexual assault support and help for Americans abroad
Personal Safety Abroad
- Make sure you register with the STEP program through the State Department
- Be aware of your surroundings – No one will look out for you better than you!
- Try to blend in. Dress accordingly. Learn the local language.
- Keep track of your valuables at all times. Consider wearing a money belt or neck pouch.
- Use locks on your backpack.
What immunizations will I need?
Find out what immunizations you need on the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention website.
When should I get immunized?
It is a good idea to plan to receive your immunizations well in advance of your departure. Some vaccinations require several doses to have full effect.
Where can I get immunized?
All study abroad participants should consult with a healthcare provider who specializes in travel prior to their departure.
For students on campus prior to the semester they study abroad, the Office of International Education will offer a travel clinic once during the semester where a travel nurse will be available to provide vaccinations for those that need them.
What forms will I need from my doctor?
Some countries may require you to provide proof of your immunizations or an HIV test upon arrival.
To supply this information, ask your physician to provide you with a list of shots you have received to date, and any other medical conditions. Carry this card with your passport while traveling. Most travel clinics will provide you with a yellow immunization card when you visit them.
Are there specific immunization-related safety precautions that I should know?
Some programs require you to take prophylaxis to prevent the contraction of malaria. It is extremely important that if malaria medications are recommended or required that you obtain and take this medication as directed.
Alcohol Use, Diet, and Exercise
No matter where you study abroad, you will likely encounter a difference in diet. In some countries, you may find you need to adjust to different eating times and food preparation.
Be sure to stay well-hydrated and let your digestive tract slowly adjust to the new foods. If you are in a developing country, be careful about eating meals from street vendors, consuming raw fruits and vegetables, or drinking tap water.
Drinking alcohol is the number one threat to your safety while abroad. Binge drinking impairs your judgment and can cause you to behave in unsafe ways. While under the influence, you may decide to walk home alone at night, share personal information with strangers, lose track of important belongings, or even go home with someone you do not know well. These types of behaviors put your safety at risk. Additionally, in many countries outside the U.S., drinking excessively is culturally unacceptable. Learn the local customs as they relate to drinking and social behavior.
Exercise routines change when abroad. Nevertheless, it is important to stay physically active while you are abroad. Find a local gym, join a sports club at a university, and opt to walk rather than take public transportation (if safe). If you like to run, ask locals for safe places to do so. Go during the day and use the buddy system.
Prescriptions and Other Medications
If you currently take prescription medication
- Medication cannot be shipped to you from overseas
- To obtain a supply of medication that will last you through the duration of your study abroad program, talk with your physician and/or medical insurance provider
- Be sure your physician provides you with a copy of the prescription and/or a physician’s statement. You may need to present it when you enter the host country to document your need to carry in medication.
Diabetics and self-inject medication
Diabetics and others who self-inject medication are advised to carry enough needles for the duration of the study abroad program, and to check in advance about regulations governing the transport of needles into the host country. All medications and medical supplies should be carried in their original, labeled containers to facilitate admission and inspection at foreign ports of entry.
If you wear glasses or contacts, do not forget to pack extra pairs. In some countries you may even be able to have new glasses made for you at very cheap price if you bring your eye prescription.
Some countries restrict certain medications entirely or limit the amount you can bring with you. Be sure to find out if your medication is allowed in your host country, and if so, how much you can bring with you upon arrival. HTH Worldwide can assist you in learning the regulations for your destination. Also, be aware that many over-the-counter drugs are not available abroad or may be known under a different name. Make sure you bring enough of these types of medications to last the duration of your trip, and/or know the alternative name of the medication.
Mental Health Abroad
If you currently receive counseling
If you currently receive counseling, it is strongly recommended that you disclose this information to the Office of International Education and/or program provider. These individuals can provide guidance on how to continue counseling sessions from overseas with your current counselor, or put you in touch with a counselor on-site.
While abroad, it is not uncommon to experience culture shock or homesickness. It is important that you learn as much as you can about the country where you will be abroad so as to bring your expectations more into line with the reality of that country. Establishing a routine once you are abroad and keeping in touch regularly with friends and family can also help minimize homesickness. If you do feel homesick or want to talk to someone about what you are experiencing, please talk to your on-site coordinator. Additionally, the SMCM counselors are available, even from abroad, to talk to you about what your are feeling and experiencing.
Returning Home / Reverse Culture Shock
Returning home from a study abroad experience can also result in what is known as reverse culture shock. In addition to anticipating what it will be like to go abroad, you should also mentally prepare yourself by envisioning what it will be like to come home when the semester ends. Make sure to take photos of your everyday life throughout your time abroad to remind you of everything you had the opportunity to participate in. Catch up on local issues prior to your departure to speed up your adjustment to life at home. Information from GWU website
Early Re-Entry Due to COVID-19 Pandemic
We acknowledge that each of you have faced surprising challenges this semester, due to the impact of the novel coronavirus. Some of you never even made it to your study abroad destination, most of you had to return early, and all of you are now completing your classes online. We recognize that your study abroad experience has been disrupted, and we feel for you. It is important to acknowledge that this was unexpected, and hard, and take time to process that while making plans to continue to succeed. We are hoping that the following resources will be helpful for you.
Take a few moments to sit down and reflect. Here are our favorite currently relevant Study Abroad Returnee Resources:
- SMCM’s Re-Entry Workbook (Shared upon return through email)
- Sudden Re-Entry Reflection Worksheet (SmallPlanetStudio)
- Facing Pandemic: Solidarity and Storytelling Across Differences: Free Interactive Course (Omprakash)
Times are a bit stressful. Here are some useful Mental Health Resources that we’ve been testing out for you:
- Mindfulness Apps: Headspace (free trial), Calm (free trial)
- Exercise Classes: SMCM ARC Classes (Some are online free, connect with instructors), Daily Burn (60 days free), FitOn (free app), Beachbody (14 day free trial)
- Articles: Managing Anxiety & Stress (CDC), 5 Tips to Regain Your Calm (NPR) That Discomfort You’re Feeling is Grief (The Atlantic)
Miss that exciting feeling of living abroad, constantly learning and exploring? Continue your intercultural development by exploring the following resources:
- Explore: Free Virtual Tours Globally, The Show Must Go On by Robert Myles, US National Parks
- Continue learning: GeoGuesser, DuoLingo, Future Learn, Open Culture
As you process your recent and ongoing journeys, please do remember that the Wellness Center is still open virtually, and don’t be afraid to reach out to your family and friends.