Overseas study programs are increasing in availability and geographic diversity; they offer students an exciting opportunity for learning and cultural exchange. For students planning to study abroad, the preparations don’t end after selecting an institution, filling up forms, applying for scholarships, writing exams, applying for a visa and booking air tickets. Future international students should also spend some time to research the health needs, risks and resources available in their destination country.
Students may be at increased risk of sickness due to the environmental and cultural differences, such as climate extremes, inadequate sanitation, food choices and travel problems. Insurance requirements and Medical care quality can vary widely from one country to another. Students need to take different pre-departure measures to prepare themselves, depending on their destination.
Here are few often overlooked health-care-related questions students should consider as they plan their international studies.
Will I need to purchase health insurance?
This important aspect is often overlooked but it is always sensible to pack a safety net. Reputed overseas University websites generally contain information about health insurance requirements and options for international students. While having an insurance policy is a must in universities in the US and Schengen area, it is optional in the UK and South East Asian countries such as Singapore and Malaysia.
Some countries don’t mandate the international students to purchase insurance as they have public health care systems. For example, Sweden allows international students staying for a year or longer to receive public health benefits simply by registering with the Swedish Tax Agency. Other countries, such as Germany and Australia require foreign students to have insurance coverage.
What vaccinations do I need?
Medical professionals can help students determine what vaccines they will need based on any pre-existing health conditions, where they are going, and what they will be doing. Students going abroad for longer periods of time should have full physical and dental exams before they leave. Several universities/ countries have specific vaccination requirements that need to be fulfilled before arrival.
The three categories of vaccines to consider are required, recommended and routine.The yellow fever vaccine is an example of a required vaccination and it is required for entry into parts of South America and Africa. The recommended vaccinations include the classic travel vaccines for most developing countries where the health infrastructure is poor would be typhoid and hepatitis A. Students routine immunizations differs with respect to countries and in the U.S. for example, it includes Hepatitis A, hepatitis B, Meningococcal, Mumps and the flu.
Documentation of all immunizations should be taken and may be necessary at your host university. It is the student’s responsibility to be aware of the up-to-date health information and vaccination requirements regarding the locations to which they plan to travel.
Mental Health considerations
Overseas study programs can be a rewarding and challenging experience for all students. However, it can also present Acculturative stress for students due to culture shock, unfamiliarity, removal from home support system and language barriers. However, what can be even more challenging is the exposure to a massive degree of cultural diversity inside and outside the classrooms. Students may also stumble upon great difficulties in adapting to unfamiliar teaching styles or getting along with peers endorsing different – if not incompatible –worldviews and values. Even for enthusiastic students without a history of mental health conditions, this can influence their overall wellbeing.
Prior to departure, students should consult a mental health practitioner about their intended study abroad plans, including which countries they would visit, what you would be doing, and the duration of the program. Students can get an idea of the types of support resources for their mental health that will be required for the duration of their study abroad program.
Should I bring any over-the-counter medications?
Prescription medications in one country may be prohibited or illegal in another. Students can contact consulates or embassies to find out if certain medications can be legally used abroad.Before leaving the country, students should get a signed prescription that contains both the medication’s generic and brand names.
Food isn’t just functional, it’s emotional
Two common ways to become sick while abroad are eating and drinking contaminated food and beverages. Nowadays, Students from many countries are increasingly interested in local, organic, healthy food choices – and many universities are responding in kind. The desire for home cuisine goes deeper than just craving certain tastes. The significance of home foods may not seem so important while at home, the strength of the link between diet and identity often becomes very clear when you stay abroad for long periods. Students may be overwhelmed by the choices they make around food, especially if they are experiencing other symptoms of culture shock such as loneliness and homesickness. It is indispensable that you research the diet and cuisine of the country you are in, to see how you can satisfy your personal dietary needs.
Self-care should be a daily priority and always be prepared. For the students who are prone to seasonal allergies or have digestive problems, always take precautionary measures. Asians especially students from India can’t bear the extreme cold climate of western countries. Collect warm clothes and keep flu medicines before winter begins in their country. Take vitamin C, drink hot beverages to keep yourself healthy and hydrate your body well with sufficient water. Exercising regularly is an individual choice but the health benefits of regular exercise and physical activity are hard to ignore particularly for students. You also need to assess the risk of what’s prevalent in that country in terms of infectious diseases.
Studying abroad will undoubtedly be a magical experience of your life. It is a quintessential experience that every college student wants to have before trudging off to the “real world” of life. Precious few chances come along to go see another world and it’s a privilege to travel, hop on planes, explore new places, new culture and get some new friends. That’s why it can be so disappointing when your poor health while studying abroad gets in the way of you enjoying the expedition of your lifetime. Take care of your health and equip yourself with the people as well as tools you need to have the best trip possible.
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