Health isn’t usually the first thing on a student’s mind when planning to study abroad, but it should be seriously considered in order to have a comfortable experience. I’ll admit – on my study abroad experience last spring, I ran myself into the ground with constant travel, lack of sleep, and a not-so-consistently-healthy diet. I spent a miserable week in bed while my friends attended classes and explored Paris.
So, based on personal experience, I want to share some health tips with you before you study abroad.
Before you go
- Research. Learn as much as you can about the area, including where you can find a pharmacy or a hospital. Utilize websites like the CDC and the US Department of State to explore your country before you even set foot there. For example, most pharmacies around Europe use the green cross symbol, as shown above.
- Immunizations. Check out the CDC’s list of countries and corresponding vaccines/immunizations you should receive before you go.
- Packing medicine. Pharmacies in developed countries should have plenty of safe over-the-counter medications. Since other countries have different regulations, the medicines will often differ in content and amount from what you’re used to in the United States. To be safe, you might bring your own medicine along. The FDA recommends keeping prescription and OTC medicines in their original packaging to avoid problems with border officials.
On the trip
- Combat jet lag. Rest on the plane and drink plenty of water and orange juice. Eat lightly – stick with lean proteins. Every few hours, take a short walk around the plane to stretch your legs.
- Sleep. Obvious, I know. But when you’re traveling, there’ll be so many things you will want to do and see. Taking time to rest can make you feel like you’re missing out on exploring, but it’s absolutely crucial in the long run! I highly recommend bringing ear plugs and a sleeping mask if you have trouble sleeping in unfamiliar places.
- Eat and drink wisely. Immersing yourself in food and drink popular to the country is part of an authentic experience. Do this, but practice portion control. Cooking for yourself is another great way to eat authentically, but healthfully. Scout out local farmer’s markets and grocery stores for fresh choices, and remember that food equals energy. If you want to feel great while walking around, choose wisely. Stay hydrated by carrying a durable water bottle along with you.
- Exercise. It’s hard to fit in exercise while you’re abroad, besides all the walking around you’ll probably do. Here’s a great guide from LifeHacker covering workouts you can do using nothing but your body. Keeping up your workout routine will help you acclimate to your new environment. Or, adding some simple exercises to your day will help you build energy and strength for travel.
- First aid. Rick Steves offers a great information about treating yourself with basic first aid while in foreign countries.
- Relax. Remember to enjoy yourself! Studying abroad is one of the most incredible things you can do in your college years. Don’t sweat the small stuff and go with the flow. You’ll experience a lot of interesting and sometimes stressful things, like language barriers, public transportation, strange foods, etc. Take everything in stride. You’ll think fondly on these challenging ventures later. They’re helping you grow.