Planning to Go Abroad
Health Care Guide
- Travel Immunizations
- Health Insurance
- University Health Services
- Items to Take With You
- Your Personal Health
- Your Emotional Health
Scheduling an appointment with your primary care provider (PCP) at the University Health Service (UHS) prior to leaving the university is a good idea even if your program does not require you to do so. You may find it helpful to talk with your PCP about your health concerns, diet/nutrition concerns, prescription renewals, and other questions you may have. Female students may want to schedule an annual gynecological exam before going abroad.
To schedule an appointment at UHS, call (585) 275-2662. It will be helpful to let the receptionist know you will be studying abroad and are scheduling a pre-departure health visit.If you have a health form that needs completing, please let the receptionist know, so the appropriate amount of time can be scheduled for your visit.
Many countries require you to have specific immunizations before coming into the country. Check the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) website for information about immunizations you need before studying abroad. The web site provides requirements for every country. Travel advisories are also listed on this site.
If you need immunizations before you travel, you can receive them at UHS. There will be a charge for the immunizations, but not for the visit to UHS. You may prefer to go to your physician at home, to your county health department, to Passport Health (located in Helen Wood Hall across from the Medical Center), or to another health care facility. You may want to inquire about the cost when you call to schedule. Since some immunizations require more than one visit or cannot be taken in combination with others, it is recommended that you take care of your immunizations well in advance of your departure.
All full-time UR students must have health insurance coverage while studying abroad.
Students who will be studying abroad can:
- Remain on their own, or their parent’s, health insurance while abroad:
If you will be staying on your own insurance, you do not need to
complete the online Health Insurance Enrollment/Waiver Process for the
semester(s) you will be abroad. When you return to the University, you
will need to complete the online Health Insurance Enrollment/Waiver
Process before the start of the next semester. Before going abroad, you
may want to verify your coverage while you are outside the U.S. You
should take your insurance card with you.
- Enroll in the University-sponsored health insurance: If you choose this option, please contact the UHS Insurance Advisor for assistance with the enrollment process. She can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org. With this option, you will be billed for Aetna Student Health insurance and the mandatory health fee. The charges will appear on your tuition bill.
About the University-Sponsored Insurance: The University-sponsored health insurance is offered by Aetna Student Health. For more information about the Aetna Student Health insurance, check the plan details on the University of Rochester page on the Aetna Student Health web site.
If you have questions about health insurance: Contact the UHS Insurance Advisor at email@example.com or (585) 275-2637.
If you have questions about health insurance and/or completing the Health Insurance Selection Process, contact the UHS Insurance Advisor, at firstname.lastname@example.org or (585) 275-2637.
For students who study abroad during the academic year, UR provides them with a MEDEX insurance policy (ID#341451) that provides coverage for emergency medical evacuation and repatriation of remains. This benefit does not cover routine medical services. Students who participate in UR programs sponsored by IES, CIEE, AUC, DIS, or who are enrolled in the University-sponsored Aetna Student Health insurance plan already receive this benefit.
In addition, we highly recommend that students consider purchasing personal liability insurance against injury or damage caused by or resulting from students' acts or omissions during enrollment in any program.
Please refer to the UHS website about study abroad.
University Health Services
All full-time students have a primary care provider (PCP) at UHS. When you are abroad, you can communicate with your PCP through the UHS website. Click on "Contact UHS" to send a message to UHS. Contacting UHS can help you with general health questions, not replace or provide direct care you may need while abroad. When sending a message to UHS, it would be helpful if you mention that you are abroad. The UHS web site provides immediate access to information on several health topics, as well as links to reputable health-related web sites.
If you would like to ask a general question about a mental health concern, you can do so through the UCC website. Click on "Ask UCC" to send an anonymous message and a UCC therapist will respond. Contacting UCC may help with general questions but not replace any care you may need while abroad. Click on "Self Help" for helpful information and online resources about many mental health topics.
Items to Take With You
If you have a known and ongoing medical problem, such as allergies or diabetes, take special precautions in preparing for and managing your situation overseas. Living in a new environment, along with the stresses of studying abroad, can have an impact on your health. Scheduling an appointment with your UHS primary care provider and/or your doctor at home prior to departure will help you anticipate and prepare for medical situations that could arise while you are abroad. To schedule an appointment at UHS, call (585) 275-2662.
If you are taking a prescription medication (including birth control pills), bring a supply to last you throughout your time abroad. Prescription medications vary in name, potency, and purity from country to country and cannot be sent through international mails.
If you have over-the-counter (OTC) medications you prefer, it is a good idea to take a supply with you rather than assume you will be able to purchase the same medicine abroad. For customs purposes, keep all medicines (prescription or over-the-counter) in the original containers. If you bring syringes with you, be sure to bring a doctor’s note. Syringes could be construed as drug paraphernalia.
Keep the medications in the original container(s) and carry any medications you take daily in a carry-on bag in case your luggage is misplaced while traveling. It is also wise to bring the written drug information provided by your pharmacy with you through customs in case the officer has questions about your medication. If you have questions about your prescription medications, ask your primary care provider and/or a pharmacist for advice.
B. Glasses/Contact Lenses
If you wear glasses or contacts, it is a good idea to bring a typed copy of your prescription and an extra pair of glasses or contacts with you.
C. Your Medical Record
Bringing information from your medical record when you study abroad is recommended. It is advisable to carry these documents in a place that is both secure and accessible by you at all times while traveling. Be sure to make a photocopy of your medical records in case of loss. We suggest bringing:
- Medications you are currently taking.
- List of chronic illness, allergies, and hypersensitivities.
- Your immunization history.
- Your blood type (if available)
- Your eyeglass and/or contact prescription.
- The name of your PCP at UHS and at home.
- The name and policy number of your health insurance company.
- Your health insurance card
D. Medic Alert Emblem
Medic Alert emblems are recognized internationally. If you wear a Medic Alert identification tag or bracelet, be sure to wear it while abroad. If you carry a card, you should carry the card with you at all times. This identification should indicate the specific nature of the problem and clearly spell what must or must not be done should you be unable to communicate this information yourself (e.g., in case of unconsciousness).
E. First Aid Kit
You may want to bring a small first aid kit with you. The availability of specific over-the-counter drugs and hygiene products is uncertain in other countries. Many of these products will have different brands in the countries you will be traveling to, so it is a good idea to have what you need for the duration of your stay before you leave home.
Items to pack in a first aid kit:
- Medication for pain or fever, such as Acetaminophen (e.g., Tylenol), Ibuprofen (e.g., Advil, Motrin), or Aspirin for pain or fever.
- An antihistamine (e.g., Benadryl) for allergies, for motion sickness, and to ease the itch from insect bites or stings.
- Loperamide (e.g., Immodium) for diarrhea.
- Bandages and band-aids for minor injuries.
- Antiseptic, e.g., povidone-iodine (e.g., Betadine) and antibacterial (e.g., Neosporin) for cuts.
- Calamine lotion or 'AfterBite' to ease irritation from bites and stings.
- Throat lozenges, cough suppressants (e.g. Robitussin DM), decongestant for cold symptoms.
- Condoms and contraceptives. If you are taking birth control pills, bring enough for the duration of your stay.
- A few other things to consider including in your first aid kit:
- Multivitamins (especially for long trips when dietary vitamin intake may be inadequate)
- Feminine hygiene products
- Insect repellent
- Sunscreen and chapstick
- Scissors and tweezers (packed in your suitcase)
Your Personal Health
Taking care of your personal health will help you have an enjoyable and successful time studying abroad. Living in another culture often entails a change in diet, different expectations about alcohol consumption, and stresses from living in a new place and culture. In this section, you will find information about nutrition, alcohol and other drugs, sexual health, cold self care, and the flu.
Living in another culture often entails a change in diet and changes in daily eating routines and assumptions. Diets in other countries can be significantly more or less nutritious than diets in America. It is important to be aware of what you are eating. Traveling will bring your body into contact with new and different bacteria than you are used to. These bacteria are not necessarily harmful in themselves, but the change can unsettle your stomach or cause health problems.
Food should be selected with care. Any raw food could be contaminated, particularly in areas of poor sanitation. Foods of particular concern include salads, uncooked vegetables and fruit, raw meat, and shellfish. If you peel fruit yourself, it is generally safe. Food that has been cooked and is still hot is generally safe. In addition, water, including ice cubes, unpasteurized milk, and milk products, could upset your digestive system until your body adjusts to new surroundings.
If you are a vegetarian, you may find it particularly challenging to maintain a healthy diet. You may want to research the foods offered in your host country. You may want to bring protein powder, vitamins, and other dietary supplements with you to provide good nutrition while abroad. Talking with other vegetarians who have studied abroad may be helpful, as well.
B. Alcohol & Drug Use
If you decide to drink while abroad, drink wisely. Alcohol abuse can lead to unsafe choices, poor academic performance, higher risk behavior, and/or regretted sexual activity. Do not endanger yourself, others, or property. You should use good judgment whenever consuming alcohol.
Students studying abroad may abuse alcohol due to a mistaken impression of how alcohol is used in your new surroundings, the cheaper cost to purchase alcohol, a lower minimum drinking age, different portions of alcohol, different types of alcoholic beverages,more lenient laws against drunkenness, and/or a desire to experiment or fit in. Although alcohol abuse may not carry the same legal penalties as use of illegal drugs, it can create dire circumstances for you and your personal safety.
Remember, you will be in a new environment and will often have to rely on public transportation to get you home at night. You may also have to make the journey home at night alone, so be sure to use caution and stay in control and aware of your surroundings. Use of inebriating or hallucinogenic drugs has very serious cultural and legal consequences (e.g., incarceration, deportation, removal from your program), as well as innumerable health risks.
Although there may be no minimum drinking age in your host country, the customs regarding alcohol use may be very different from ours. Most countries, with the exception of those with religious prohibitions, tolerate social drinking; however, alcohol abuse and drunken behavior are not socially acceptable or tolerated. Remember that you are serving as an ambassador for the University of Rochester and the United States and the rules of the University still apply while studying in another country.
If you or a fellow student becomes incapacitated due to alcohol overuse and/or is in need of medical attention, the local emergency medical service and your program director/faculty should be notified immediately to protect the student’s health and well-being.
C. Sexual Health
It is important for you to be aware of your host culture's view towards gender, dating, sex and morality. If you choose to be sexually active, protect yourself and your partner against unintended pregnancy, sexually transmitted diseases, and HIV/AIDS. Be responsible if using alcohol or other drugs because they can affect your judgment and your behavior. Take a supply of condoms and other birth control methods with you, as the availability of condoms in your new country may be limited. Additionally, the conditions of manufacture and storage may be questionable. If you are taking birth control pills, bring an extra pack in addition to what will be needed for the duration of your stay. For more information on sexual health topics, check “Health Topics” on the UHS website.
D. Cold Self Care
It is likely you will experience cold symptoms while you are abroad. Unfortunately, there is no cure for the common cold. Upper respiratory infections or colds are an inflammation of the upper respiratory tract caused by many different virus strains that cannot be cured by antibiotics. Most colds generally last 4-5 days. Over-the-counter medications may reduce your symptoms. The UHS web site provides recommendations for self-care for four common cold symptoms (cough, nasal congestion, sore throat, and fever). Also included is advice to help you decide if you should seek medical care.
Colds are spread mainly from person to person through coughs, sneezes, and mucus on a person's hands. You can pick up the virus from books, towels, door handles, etc. that people with a cold virus have touched.
- The best ways to reduce your chances of catching a cold are:
- Wash your hands with soap and warm water often and every time you touch your face.
- Cover your nose and mouth when sneezing or coughing.
- Discard your tissue after using it once.
- Avoid kissing and sharing towels, utensils, cups, etc.
- Get an adequate amount of sleep.
- Eat well.
E. About the Flu
The UHS web site also provides information about the flu. Symptoms of the typical flu come on quickly and usually include fever, chills, weakness, aches and pains, headaches, and a dry cough. If you suddenly develop these symptoms at a time when influenza is present in the community, you probably have the flu. Since flu is caused by viruses, antibiotics are not effective. The only real cure for flu is time. In cases of uncomplicated flu, the fever lasts three to four days and recovery occurs within a week. While most flu symptoms disappear within a week, a dry cough and lack of energy may persist for a couple of weeks. Once the worst symptoms have passed, it is especially important to eat and rest well so that full recovery takes place as quickly as possible.
If you will be studying abroad during the spring semester, we recommend you receive a flu shot in November or December prior to leaving the U.S. The flu shot will help protect you from the most common strains of the flu for the upcoming flu season. To be protected, you need to receive a flu shot every flu season.
Your Emotional Health
Living in a new place and culture can cause stresses that may or may not be anticipated. There will be ups and downs to adjusting to new academics, surroundings, food, habits, customs, people, etc. Feelings of loneliness or frustration will pass as you make these adjustments. If they persist, however, consider it a possible medical problem and seek assistance from a counselor or physician.
Going abroad is not a magic "geographic cure" for concerns and problems at home. Both physical and emotional health issues will follow you wherever you go. In particular, if you are concerned about your use of alcohol and other controlled drugs or if you have an emotional health concern, you should address it honestly before making plans to travel. Contrary to many people's expectations, travel does not minimize these problems; in fact, it often exacerbates them to a crisis stage while you are away from home.
A. Cultural Shock
It is normal to experience stress when studying abroad. You are not only adjusting to being a student in a new and different setting, but you are also adjusting to a new living environment. Quite likely, you will be far away from friends and family and will experience feelings of loneliness and homesickness. These feelings are very natural. The difference between what you expect and what you actually experience may contribute to the level of distress you feel.
It may help to know that most people go through the following five fairly predictable stages as they adjust to their new environment:
Stage 1:—The initial excitement about being in a new place is called orientation & honeymoon.
Stage 2:—This stage is followed by a period of initial culture shock in which you may feel lonely, frustrated, and depressed.
Stage 3:—This stage will pass in time to a point of adjustment, where you will start feeling more comfortable with your surroundings and your acquaintances.
Stage 4:—As you complete the adjustment cycle, you will find yourself feeling integrated into the host culture and may find you enjoy most aspects of host country.
Stage 5:—Returning to the United States may send you into a reverse culture shock. You may not want to leave and may find yourself trying to figure out how and when you can return.
B. Dealing with Stress
Many emotions and reactions are to be expected when you are stressed. Some common manifestations are:
- Irritability over small things
- Difficulty concentrating
- Difficulty falling asleep or staying asleep
- Queasy stomach
- Desire to run away
- Constant feeling or tiredness
- Psychosomatic illness
- Excessive criticism of others
- Poor work performance
- Difficulty making decisions
- Being unusually introspective
- Feelings of guilt, worry and anxiety
- Immerse yourself in study/reading that is satisfying.
- Find a local person with whom you can talk regularly.
- Practice your faith through prayer, meditation, reading, etc.
- Write letters/e-mails (or make audiotapes) to family and friends.
- Visit fellow students.
C. Coping Strategies
You may find it helpful to think about the coping strategies that have worked for you in the past. You may also want to develop some new strategies to help you when you are experiencing periods of loneliness, sadness, or depression. It helps to anticipate that you may have non-peak times, so you can be prepared to work through them. Whenever your usual coping mechanisms are not working for you or you find yourself making coping choices that are not in your best interest, realize that you may need more support and seek help. You may find it helpful to talk with your program director/faculty to talk about the stress you are feeling.
You should be aware of the signs of a serious problem, either in yourself or in a fellow student, which require intervention. The signs include:
- Prolonged depression
- Marked changes in eating or sleeping patterns
- Excessive anxiety that interferes with the ability to function
- Self-destructive or violent behavior
- Alcohol or substance abuse
- Failure to comply with medical recommendations
(Adapted from "Maintaining Strong Mental and Emotional Health" module, Pre-Service Health Training for Volunteers Binder, Peace Corps Office of Medical Services)
- Centers for Disease Control and Prevention
- World Health Organization
- Travel Health Online
- Medical Information for Americans Traveling Abroad