Make Your Study Abroad Experience A Safe One!
In this section, you will find information on how to stay well while abroad. The process of wellness starts before you go abroad with a visit to your doctor. You may need to get inoculations to protect yourself from infectious diseases endemic in the countries you will visit. You will also learn some tips to ensure you drink clean water and eat uncontaminated food.
File a Travel Plan with GSU’s Office of International Initiatives: International Travel Plan
Check with the U.S. Department of State Website: The first thing parents and students should do before traveling anywhere is to check with the U.S. Department of State’s International Travel Information website. There you will find links to Consular Information Sheets and Country Background Notes, which provide important information about your host country. For some countries, there may be a travel warning in effect, so be sure to check the Department of State’s current Travel Warnings as well. Travel warnings are issued when the Department of State decides, based on all relevant information to recommend that Americans avoid travel to a certain country. To make sure you have a more comprehensive view of the situation in your host country, you may also want to cross-reference with other sources of information, such as the Australian Department of Foreign Affairs and Trade and their Country Information page, the Canadian Department of Foreign Affairs and Trade, and the U.K. Foreign Commonwealth Office.
What to Know about Your Country: Learn all you can about the health and safety issues of the countries you plan to visit. This includes reading about the cultural and political climate of those countries, as well as learning about how others view people from your country, race, ethnic group, religion, gender and sexual orientation.
Infectious Diseases and Inoculations: Find out about the infectious diseases endemic in countries to which you will be traveling, and get the appropriate shots and pills, and take the appropriate medications with you if your doctor thinks it’s necessary. Find out about any potential side-effects of shots and pills that you may take. For more information on diseases prevalent in your destination country, please see the CDC link in the Resources section of this Handbook.
Physicals and Check-ups: Get a complete physical, eye exam and dental check-up before going abroad. The quality of dental and medical care may be different in your country and/or more expensive than similar care would be in the United States.
Can You Drink the Water?: Find out if water is safe to drink in the countries to which you will be traveling. Purify unsafe water before you drink it. Make sure water bottles come sealed when you buy them. Remember that ice can also be unsafe, as well as the water you use to brush your teeth.
Food Safety: Poor refrigeration, undercooked meat, and roadside/outdoor vendors could pose problems related to food contamination. If you get diarrhea or food poisoning, remember to drink plenty of fluids to stay hydrated. As with any illness, consider seeing a doctor if your condition worsens. Give your body time to adjust to new types of foods you will be eating.
Laws and Codes of Conduct: Make yourself aware of both the rules and regulations of the study abroad program sponsor, and the local laws and customs of the countries which you will be visiting. Understand that you will not only have to conform to the legal system of the country you will be visiting, but also obey the codes of conduct required of program participants.
Mental and Physical Health: Consider your own mental and physical health issues when applying for a study abroad program, and make all your necessary health information available to the program’s administrators so they can assist you with any special needs, or advise you on the risks you might face. Study abroad may include both physical and mental challenges for students.
Prescriptions: Get a doctor’s signed prescription for any medication you have to bring abroad. Some prescriptions may need to be translated if you wish to fill them abroad. Include your glasses or contact lens prescription. Bring an extra pair of glasses.
First-Aid Kit: Consider a well-stocked first-aid kit as a first line of defense. Some items to include are: sunscreen, bandages, flashlight, sterile pads, insect repellent, adhesive tape, aspirin, antacid, anti-diarrhea tablets, anti-malarial medication, extra bottled water, feminine protection, condoms, rubber gloves, etc.
Fitness and Exercise: Try to get fit in the time you have before departing overseas. A healthy body can help you to fight off illness and recover faster if you do get sick. Also, try to stay fit while abroad, even though it may be harder to follow a structured workout routine.
Walking: Get a good pair of comfortable walking shoes. Without access to a car or public transportation abroad, you may have to do quite a bit of walking. Break in your shoes before you go.
Emergency Contacts: Keep the program staff and an emergency contact at home well informed of your whereabouts and activities and provide these people with copies of your important travel documents (i.e. passport, visa, plane tickets, traveler’s checks, and prescriptions).
Air Travel: When you travel by air, drink a lot of non-alcoholic fluids, stay away from caffeine, eat light, and stretch often to avoid jetlag. Many airlines are now required to show an in-flight video of stretching exercises you can do on the plane in order to avoid the potential formation of blood clots, which can be caused by cabin pressure. A direct flight is usually easier for most travelers, but flights broken up by stops can also lessen jet lag.
Transportation: Accidents involving in-country travel, whether by air, bus, train, taxi, car, etc., are a major cause of injury to students abroad. It is important to understand what the safe modes of travel are abroad.
Bus: Since it is the cheapest way to travel (though rather tedious), travel by bus is often a very popular choice for students and travelers. However, since it is so slow, you may prefer to take the train. Often, if you can’t find service to a particular location on national or regional buslines, local service should be able to take you to your desired destination.
Train/Metro: Travel by train is usually much faster than by bus, and can be a better option if you want to see more places in a short amount of time. You may want to avoid traveling by train alone at night, particularly in more urban areas. In major cities especially, you will find the metro system (where available) to be the most convenient form of transportation to move about the city, although beware of pickpockets.
Air: Air travel can be a good value compared to a long bus ride. If you know of discount airfare websites, you can find tickets for less than a train ride would be. Especially if road travel is unsafe due to poor road conditions, and if train travel is too slow for your needs, then air travel can be a safe and pleasant option.
Cars (Driving): While renting a car while studying while abroad can be a great way to see the countryside, it can also be a very stressful and dangerous way to travel. In countries where driving laws are significantly different than in the U.S., such as the UK or Hong Kong where drivers travel on the left side of the road or in other countries where you would experience a completely different driving environment, you should consider taking another form of transportation – especially if you feel hesitant at all about driving. U.S. driver’s licenses are valid in most countries for up to 12 months. Insurance is required for all vehicles, including rental vehicles. You should obtain full coverage insurance when renting vehicles in any country – to make it easier, most rental places will arrange this beforehand. If a driver is involved in a vehicle accident resulting in damages or injuries to another party, the driver may be detained by local authorities until a settlement is arranged with the injured party. Furthermore, depending upon the extent of damages or injuries to the other party, you may face charges filed by the country’s judicial authorities.
Alcohol and Drugs: Use and abuse of alcohol and drugs abroad can increase the risk of accident and injury. Many study abroad accidents and injury are related to the use and abuse of alcohol and drugs abroad. Violating drug laws abroad may result in very serious consequences. In some countries, being found guilty of violating drug laws can result in consequences as serious as death.
Setting an Example: Set a good example. Remember you are like an ambassador for your U.S. college or university. Behave in a way that is respectful of others’ rights and well-being and encourage others to do the same.