Questions to Consider
- Do I have any pre-existing health conditions that may become problematic? Common conditions such as anxiety or asthma, while fully managed here at home, may flare up while abroad. Do I have a management plan?
- What are common health and safety hazards for students in my host country?
- What immunizations, if any, will I need to get before I depart the United States? How can I check and if applicable, where can I get these?
- How can I access my health insurance from abroad? What insurance will I have as part of my program, and is it adequate for my needs?
- What safety precautions should I take when traveling abroad? How will these differ from my common practices at home?
Mental and Physical Health
An education abroad experience is an exciting and challenging endeavor. Even the most experienced travelers may find that adjusting to a new environment and culture can be stressful. When planning your experience abroad be sure to consider your physical and mental health as well as other personal circumstances that may affect your experience. Be sure to make accurate and complete physical and mental health information available to the program sponsor and any other personal data that is necessary in planning for a safe and healthy study abroad experience.
If you have a have ever experienced a mental health condition, or are concerned about mental health abroad, consider disclosing this information to your Education Abroad Coordinator, and speak to a health professional about your upcoming travel. Disclosing mental health concerns will not affect your application to participate in an education abroad program. Before any international experience, be sure to:
- Meet with your mental health professional to discuss how you will manage your health abroad. As applicable, consider how you will travel with prescription medicine.
- Understand that pre-existing conditions that you have successfully managed here at home may flare up while you are adjusting to a new culture and life in your host country.
- It is important to have a support network and realistic communication plan in place. Work with your health professional to discuss your options and consider how you will stay in communication with your friends, family and support network.
- It is normal to encounter some difficulty when adapting to your life abroad. Consider the differences between cultural adjustment, which commonly manifests itself in symptoms that mirror mental health concerns, and more long-term and pervasive depression or poor coping mechanisms, such as excessive alcohol use.
The process of adapting to life in a new culture is commonly referred to as “culture shock.” It is important to understand that this process is quite real, very normal, and is an important part of the education abroad experience. For most people there are four phases of cultural adjustment experience, consisting of both highs and lows. By being aware of and able to identify them, you will hopefully find it easier to differentiate between cultural adjustment and fatigue (common) or more serious mental health concerns.
While you are abroad, keep your physical health in mind; exercise, sleep well, and make smart personal decisions so that your health and physical well-being are not negatively affected. Be aware of local conditions and customs that may present health or safety risks when making daily choices and decisions, and promptly express any health or safety concerns to the program staff or other appropriate individuals before and/or during the program.
Before you depart meet with a health professional, either your personal doctor or at the CSU Health Network, to discuss any physical health concerns and how they may affect you abroad. Consider that pre-existing conditions such as allergies or asthma may be exacerbated while you are adjusting to a new environment, or your host country may not have an adequate health care infrastructure that is able to cope with certain more serious medical emergencies. It is important to discuss any health concerns, no matter the severity, with a health professional.
Food and Water
Many travelers experience moderate to severe diarrhea as they adjust to differences in food. To allow your body to adjust to a new diet, eat lightly for several days and postpone trying exotic new tastes until later in your education abroad experience. If you are eating food from street vendors, check that it was thoroughly refrigerated, cleaned, cooked, and served hot. Avoid all raw foods.
You should also research the quality of the tap water in your host country. Even if the water is potable, it may take some time for your body to adjust. If the tap water is not safe to drink, keep to bottled water. Keep in mind that you can get sick from contaminated tap water used to wash fruits or vegetables, brushing your teeth, and ice water.
Please speak to your Education Abroad Coordinator about any dietary restrictions or concerns.
If you are traveling to a high-risk destination, an antibiotic may be prescribed by your doctor for self-treatment of severe traveler’s diarrhea. Talk with your doctor about this!
Sex and AIDS
By taking certain precautions, you may reduce the risk of getting the AIDS virus. Here are some general precautions against AIDS you can follow regardless of where you are in the world:
- Avoid exchange of semen, blood, or vaginal fluids with anyone. Either abstain from sexual activity or practice safe sex.
- Use a condom. You should bring condoms from the US and carry them with you. You may have trouble finding reliable brands of condoms abroad; some countries may not even sell condoms.
- Use water-based lubricants/jellies containing a spermicide in addition to a condom during vaginal and anal intercourse.
- Do not use illicit drugs. Do not use needles and syringes that may have been used previously.
Excerpt from the brochure Travel Safe: Aids and International Travel produced by CIEE. Additional information is available from the Centers for Disease Control.
Also see general sexual health information in Safety
If you currently require prescription drugs or injections (e.g. insulin, allergy shots, birth control pills), you must take an adequate supply with you for the duration of your study abroad program and know how to self-administer these medications. You should also carry a copy of the prescriptions, including the generic names for the drugs, and written instructions from your physician in case of an emergency.
If you have diabetes, a seizure disorder, severe food or drug allergies, or have any physical condition that may require emergency care, carry identification information (a tag, bracelet, or card) at all times. In the event of an emergency in which you are incapacitated, this information must clearly specify the nature of the complication and what must be done to assist you. It is advisable to have this information presented in the language of your host country.
If you require a medication that contains narcotics or other controlled substances (including stimulant medication for treatment of ADHD), carry a letter from your doctor attesting to your need to take the medication. If you have any doubt about the legality of carrying a certain drug into a country, consult the CSU Health Network Travel Clinic staff or the embassy or consulate of your destination country prior to departure.
If you require regular medical care for any physical, emotional or psychological condition, tell those in your host country who can be of assistance. This may mean simply identifying a doctor or other practitioner who will provide your care, or it may require discussing your condition with your program director, onsite coordinator, or roommate in the event you may need emergency intervention during your stay. Review your options for management of this condition remotely, or how to use your in-county travel insurance and their resources.
Keep all medications (including nonprescription drugs) in their original and labeled containers and carry them and any accompanying documentation from your physician in your carry-on luggage. If you wear glasses or contacts, take along your lens prescription and an extra pair and carry these also in your carry-on luggage.
Never travel internationally with any amount of medical marijuana even though it is legal in Colorado. Because marijuana is illegal federally and in many countries, students can be arrested, prosecuted, and deported if in possession. U.S. airports and airplanes are federal jurisdictions and also do not allow medical marijuana.
The CSU Health Network provides a low-cost comprehensive advisory consultation to assist international travelers in their preparation for healthy and safe experiences abroad. The travel consultation is a private meeting between you and a travel medicine provider at the CSU Health Network Travel Clinic. During the consultation, the provider will review your pre-existing health conditions, any medical problems, and your anticipated travel itinerary. They will advise you about what immunizations might be needed and discuss measures to avoid country-specific health threats such as malaria, traveler’s diarrhea, and environmental hazards. You will be provided with a schedule for the recommended immunizations and information about obtaining necessary prescriptions. Also discussed will be options for creating a support system for yourself while you are abroad and ways to stay healthy.
To schedule your travel consultation, call the CSU Health Network at 970-491-7121. We recommend you schedule your consult as early as possible since many travel vaccines are given in a series and may require up to six months to complete. It is also recommended to have a complete physical examination, dental check-up, and/or eye exam prior to departure. All of these exams may be scheduled by calling the CSU Health Network at 970-491-7121.
- Hepatitis A
- Hepatitis B
- Combination Hepatitis A & B
- Japanese Encephalitis
- Tetanus/diphtheria/pertussis (whooping cough)
- Typhoid (oral and injectable vaccine available)
- Varicella (chickenpox)
- Yellow Fever
(*Please be advised that there may be shortages of any of the above vaccines due to manufacturing issues. The CSU Health Network staff will advise you of alternatives if they are unable to obtain a vaccine due to shortages.)
Certain countries have a health infrastructure comparable to the US. Students traveling to these countries considered low-risk for health consultation purposes are not required to visit the CSU Health Network, but are always encouraged to make an appointment, especially if they have any personal health conditions or will be traveling with prescription medicine.