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Supporting Your Health Abroad

Supporting Your Health Abroad – Both Mentally and Physically

There are many benefits of studying abroad, and we believe it to be a valuable opportunity for all Kirkwood students. That being said, studying abroad can be stressful at times. Facing cultural differences, navigating a foreign city, and interacting with new people are all exiting adventures, but they take a lot of mental and physical effort. For some, the experience can be overwhelming, but preparation and planning can go a long way toward helping to ease your transition and support your overall well-being.
The information found below should help in that process. However, we encourage you to talk to your study abroad advisor and healthcare professional if you have a preexisting condition that may affect you while abroad, so they can personalize your support.
Note: Preexisting mental and physical conditions should also be disclosed on your Health-Assessment form. Any medical information shared will remain confidential and be used only in case of an emergency.
Mental Health
Before you go:
  • Plan ahead for ways to manage your stress. Whether it is journaling, exercising, knitting, or something else, think of a way you keep yourself calm here at home and see if you can find a way to replicate that while abroad.
  • Learn about culture shock and how it may affect you while abroad. Knowing what you will experience can help keep things in perspective and help you differentiate between what is normal and what may constitute asking for help.
  • Learn as much about your destination as possible. Again, knowing what to expect goes a long way toward making you feel more comfortable.
  • Form a communication plan with your family and friends. Having their support will likely make a big difference, but be intentional. Too little contact or too much can increase homesickness, so be sure you work to find the right balance for you.
  • Research services available in your host country. Different cultures have different attitudes toward mental health that can affect the treatment you will get abroad. If you have questions, talk to your study abroad advisor and doctor. They should be able to direct you to the correct information.
  • Plan for any prescription medication you may need. You may not be able to get them once abroad.
  • Share information about your health with your study abroad advisor and/or faculty director.  They can help you plan to manage your health pre-departure and knowing your background helps them respond to any potential crisis while you are abroad more effectively.
  • Attend Pre-Departure Orientation.
After you arrive:
  • Get some sleep. Jet lag and a lack of sleep can exasperate emotional responses. 
  • Monitor your emotions. Pay attention to how you are feeling, and if you notice any concerning symptoms or habits (e.g. isolating yourself, not wanting to get out of bed, risky behaviors such as drug and alcohol use, etc.) let your program leader know.
  • Don’t shut yourself off. While you do not be interacting with people at all times, it is important that you don’t lock yourself in your room and isolate yourself from your environment.
  • Do the things you planned for. Journal or do whatever it is you planned to help manage your stress, follow your communication plan, take any medications you and your doctor discussed, etc. All your plans mean nothing, if you don’t put them into place.
Physical Health
Before you go:
  • Get a physical. Although, you are not required by Kirkwood to get a physical, it is a good idea meet with your medical provider to ensure any potential issues are addressed before you leave.
  • Plan for any prescription medications and vaccinations you may need. You may not be able to get them once abroad.
  • Pack a small first aid kit. Although the program leader will have one of their own, it is usually a good idea to have things like band aids, antibiotic ointment, and over the counter pain relievers on hand.
  • Review your insurance information.
  • Attend Pre-Departure Orientation.
After you arrive:
  • Follow the tips for personal security and keep pertinent information on hand, such as phone numbers and insurance information.
  • Listen to your program leader.
For more information, see Health Care Abroad.