Staying healthy while abroad can usually be a seamless transition as long as you prepare well in advance and are knowledgable about your resources ahead of time. Carefully read the resources below for more information:
Learn About Your Destination
- U.S. Department of State "Before You Go" Resources
- The Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC): Once on the CDC's Traveler's Health website, you will see a section that asks you where you are going. Please select the country you would like to research and click "Go." You will then have access to country-specific information such as:
- Travel health notices
- Healthy travel packing list
- Personal Security
- Transportation safety
- How to find local medical care (doctors and hospitals)
- Eating and drinking safely
- Vaccines and Medicines
DETERMINE IF YOUR MEDICATION IS LEGAL IN THE HOST COUNTRY
Just because your medication is legal in the U.S. does not automatically mean it is legal in the host country. Ensure you work with GeoBlue (the international health insurance provider you will be covered under) and your Doctor in the U.S. to determine the best plan of action for treatment while abroad.
Talk To Your Loved Ones
Talk to members of your support system in the U.S. about mutual expectations regarding keeping in touch while you are away so that you continue to have access to established support systems.
Identify and practice realistic self-care and stress management techniques that you will be able to use when you are abroad; remember that the practices that you use in the U.S. may not be practical or safe when you are abroad
prepare to be Flexible
Be prepared for things to be different! This is easier said than done, but do your best to keep an open mind and try to be flexible when things don’t go as planned. Just know that you'll have resources on site (Faculty Director, host university or affiliate provider staff, etc.) who are there to assist you in the event of an emergency or any other situation you may need help with.
Prepare to Continue Treatment Abroad
Students managing chronic medical, psychiatric, or psychological conditions need to continue treatment while studying abroad.
- Discuss with your healthcare provider whether traveling abroad is appropriate at this time.
- It is important to discuss the potential stresses of traveling abroad with your therapist. Work with a mental health care provider to create a mental health plan for your study abroad. Be sure to identify how you will access social support, engage in self-care behaviors, and cope with emergencies while you are abroad.
- If you are currently being prescribed medication, find out whether your medication will be available in your destination country and information about carrying prescription medication abroad. Make sure your prescriptions and over-the-counter medications are permissible in the countries you expect to visit.
- Do not plan on sending medications abroad since it will require customs paperwork and may be delayed in delivery. Be aware that your medications may not be available in your host country. They may have a different name or have a different strength
- Consider confiding in a “travel buddy” about your health condition in case of an emergency provide that person with emergency contact information for your health care provider in the U.S. so that they can assist you if you become overwhelmed.
- Understand your international health insurance policy. This is a mandatory enrollment that OEA will facilitate once you have been approved to go abroad. You will have access to the full policy, insurance card, and website through GeoBlue
Prepare to Handle Allergies
- If you are studying in a non-English-speaking country, be sure to learn the name for your allergy in the native language so that you will be able to declare your allergy whenever necessary. Consider also writing the name of your allergy/allergen down in the native language(s) on a card that you keep with you at all times so you can show it if asked.
- Be sure to advocate for yourself and disclose your allergies to anyone who may need to be aware. Even if you disclose once, be sure to give reminders. You are responsible for your own health and ensuring that you avoid anything that may compromise your health.
- Take any preventative medications or medications used to counter an allergic reaction with you abroad (e.g. antihistamines, EpiPens, etc.)
Recognize that requests for certain food allergy accommodations may not always be possible, particularly when eating out as part of a large group. Be sure to disclose the allergy as far in advance as possible. Before ordering any food, ask if a dish contains the specific ingredient that you are allergic to.
Note about Dietary Restrictions: Remember to be flexible and keep an open mind, as other countries may not be as willing, or able, to accommodate certain dietary restrictions to the same extent you might be used to in the U.S. Your dining options may be limited, or you may need to find another restaurant that can better meet your needs.
Make sure you know the medical term for the medication (and not just the brand name) as it can vary across countries what a particular medication is called.
Do your research in advance about the particular environmental factors you might need to consider while traveling in your host country (e.g. smog, pollen). Discuss appropriate preventative measures with your doctor before departure.
Be sure to communicate with your Faculty Director, host institution, and provider (as applicable) while traveling abroad if any health issues or concerns should arise. They will be your best support system and advocate while on the ground.
Many students struggle with disclosing their mental health or other concerns with Education Abroad. Some students fear the stigma associated with mental illness or feel that they will be able to handle it on their own. There are a number of things to consider before you to decide to disclose or decide not to disclose any mental health concerns. Remember, when you have been diagnosed with a mental health-related disability, your medical information is confidential. This information can only be shared with your written permission or in the case of an emergency. Disclosing mental health issues will NOT prevent your acceptance into a program. If you are participating in a faculty-led study abroad program, it is very important that you disclose such information in the appropriate questionnaire so that your faculty director has information to assist you throughout the program. The information you disclose would ONLY be disclosed to the faculty director for such purposes.
When to disclose: Individuals can choose to disclose any time during the process of applying for, enrolling in, or attending a program or international exchange experience. You can also choose not to disclose at all. However, keep in mind that self-advocacy and communicating your needs are important tools for success. Additionally, if OEA or program staff do not know you have a condition, they will not be able to assist you. According to U.S. non-discrimination law, programs cannot ask about nor consider disability status during the application process. Keep in mind that the longer you wait to disclose this information, the less likely accommodations can be made for you abroad, depending on what those accommodations are.
- Prepare to expect additional stress on a study abroad program, at least initially.
- See proactive planning as a way to make the experience more successful.
- Bring your treatment with you whether it is medication, personal strategies, or a support network through remote telecommunications.
When disclosing, you might want to:
- Provide your plan for arrangements if your condition were to worsen overseas; some may choose a legal route with an advance directive, which is a document to clearly establish who you empower to make treatment decisions, if needed, in the case of declining health.
- Ensure that they keep this information in their confidential files. Ask what procedures they have in place for protecting confidential information.
Cultural and Educational Setting Differences
- How is the classroom setting and physical environment (e.g. noise level, crowded desks, etc.) in the host country different from UNC Charlotte?
- What are the cultural attitudes toward people with physical or mental health-related conditions or disabilities in the host country?
- Are there general cultural differences that I should be aware of that impact my condition?
Health and Medical Services
- What kinds of treatment are available for my conditions or common conditions (i.e., colds), and under what circumstances?
- Are the same student health center and hospital services available in the host country as in the United States? If not, what kind of health services can I count on? Is there a local crisis telephone hotline?
- Will my insurance cover my medications, therapy or other related needs while overseas?
- If so, what is the payment/reimbursement process?
- If not, what alternative accommodations and services can be provided that still fulfill my needs? (e.g. Are there other free or low-cost counselors/support groups in the host community? Will I have access to my home clinical specialist?)
- Will my insurance pay for me to bring enough medication with me for the entire time I am abroad?
- If not, how will I obtain the medication that I need abroad? What is the payment/reimbursement process?
- If I am not fluent in the language of the host country, are these services available in my native language? If not, who can provide simultaneous translation should I be in need of medical care or be hospitalized?
- Who will I ask to provide a translated psychiatrist/psychologist letter to inform “professional to professional” the seriousness of my condition?
- Are there pharmacies near where I will be living?
- How do I find out what overseas equivalent of my medications are available? How can I get medication from home if the local medication isn’t effective or if my usual medication needs to be changed or is lost?
- What if I feel my condition has improved overseas, and I stop taking medication that I’m typically on? What effects could this have? Who will I consult for medical advice about discontinuing or decreasing my medication?
- How soon do I need to consult with my clinical specialist about availability of medications abroad and the possibility of taking enough medication abroad with me to cover my entire time abroad?
- What happens if I am taking medications that are still under strict patent in the United States or may not be legal overseas?
- If I can’t find the same medications, how much time will my doctor need to change the prescription and make sure my condition is stable before traveling abroad?
- Are there any medications that I will need to take while abroad (e.g., anti-malarial medication) that could interfere with my current medication? If so, what is the best way to manage this?
- How do I adjust my medication regimen when crossing time zones? (Some travelers start to adjust their schedules gradually while in transit, while others change to a new schedule after adjusting to the new time zone. Your clinical specialist can provide guidance on making adjustments.)
- Will there be a contact person overseas for me to work with who is familiar with U.S. legislation regarding the provision of accommodations and services to people with disabilities and/or who has experience with my type of disability?
- What is the policy for overseas staff regarding confidentiality about my disability?
- Will specific information regarding my disability be shared only on a “need-to-know” basis or when it’s strictly medically necessary? Who will be able to access my disability information and why?
- What privacy protections apply abroad?
- What grievance-related systems can I make use of if I run into resistance regarding the provision of appropriate accommodations and services?
- What are the laws or procedures in the host country regarding hospitalizations for psychiatric disabilities? What are my rights in the host country?
- What policies or contingency plans does my education abroad program have in place regarding emergency return to the United States?
- If I am under 21, do my parents need to sign a mental health release for inpatient care, and/or my attending mental health provider? How do I write about how I want things to be handled if my condition were to become unstable while abroad? If I decide to write an advance directive, who will be responsible for seeing that it is properly carried out? (see “Disclosure and Making Advance Arrangements” section)
- If I encounter barriers after disclosure of my mental health-related condition to education abroad advisors regarding my acceptance into the program, what recourse do I have? (TIP: Read the free online publication “Rights and Responsibilities”)
Culture shock is not a psychological disorder, but in fact, it is a developmental phase that is both common and expected when one adjusts “properly” in a cross-cultural context. Culture shock is perfectly natural. Culture shock can be described as a clash between one’s personal way of viewing and interacting with the world (which is determined by one’s home culture) and the new cultural environment. When a person struggles through such a challenge, the person grows and they mature.
Culture shock can result from differences related to food, health, relationships, finances, transport, communication, worldviews or values, academic demands and more. Many students are unprepared for the intense feelings that accompany studying in a different culture. These intense feelings can affect your emotional well-being, including mood, stress level, behavior, identity development.
In addition, the process of adjusting to a new culture can aggravate preexisting concerns or challenges you may have been managing quite well at home. Most students expect to quickly adapt to the new culture—and they need to adjust rapidly if they are to effectively meet the academic demands placed upon them. However, the many cultural differences that seem exciting to them at first can also be distressing and quickly lead to feelings of misunderstanding, loneliness, and culture shock.
UNC Charlotte's Counseling Center
158 Atkins Building
Please note that the Counseling Center cannot provide remote counseling sessions (i.e. via Skype)
UNC Charlotte Free Online Mental Health Screening
UNC Charlotte Title IX Office
If you experience any relationship or sexual violence while abroad, whether from someone else on your program, someone you know personally, or from someone you meet abroad, you are encouraged to report it to the Title IX Office. You are also encouraged to review the Title IX Office's resources before departure.
Office of Education Abroad
9201 University City Blvd
Charlotte, NC 28223-0001
Phone (M-F, 8a - 5p): +1 704 687 6647
Phone (Emergencies only, after hours): +1 704 687 2200 (Campus Police)
Sexual Assault Support & Help for Americans Abroad (SASHAA)
Provides sexual assault prevention & response regardless of age, race, gender, and sexual orientation all around the world.
American Psychological Association
The resources above are adapted from the Counseling Center at the University of South Florida and information from the Counseling Center at the University of North Carolina Charlotte. The information provided above is intended as a resource for students studying abroad through UNC Charlotte. All information is subject to change.