How to Get Sick: A User’s Guide

The stomach of steel is a myth.

Sorry to break it to ya, especially you “tough as nails” folk, but ABROAD WILL TAKE YOU DOWN. It’s really a question of when rather than if.

But I – No.  I haven’t – No.  I’m tougher – Still no.

They lay it right out there during orientation – you will get sick. It’s far better to accept it, acknowledge it, and move on. Chalk it up to just another study abroad experience. Strange food, strange cooking, stress – your immune system just ain’t up for it for 4 months. So take heed of a few tips from those of us who have already lost the battle:


Give it a week before you go all “Bizarre Foods Study Abroad Edition”

I’m all for being adventurous – it’s study abroad after all – but let your system become accustomed a bit before you eat the worms.

No matter what country you travel to, there’s going to be something awesome and ethnic and cultural to eat. It might be cuy (guinea pig), it might be alpaca, it might be real live octopus, but chances are day two isn’t going to be the only time or the best time to try it. And farther down the line, it might not make you want to throw up, either. 😉

Aimee Schneider, MSID Ecuador 2014, considers her worm carefully before taking the first bite. There are all types of learning while abroad - even learning to eat worms!
The audacious Aimee Schneider, MSID Ecuador 2014, considers her worm carefully before taking the first bite. There are all types of learning while abroad – even learning to eat worms
The daring Emma Kaplan, MSID Ecuador 2014, tosses one back - one worm that is - while studying in the Ecuadorian Amazon.
The daring Emma Kaplan, MSID Ecuador 2014, tosses one back – one worm that is – while studying in the Ecuadorian Amazon


Gettin’ Some Air

 While we come from a mile high, that sneaky altitude can still get ya. Some cities – such as Quito in Ecuador and La Paz in Bolivia – lie high up in the mountains (in the case of Quito and La Paz, in the Andes) where the altitude is almost double that of Denver. It certainly is an advantage to come from Rocky Mountain High where the sky is clear and the air is thin, but be prepared. My new friend Brenna had a horrible stomach ache the entire first week we were in Quito, which she attributed to nerves and new food. After taking every type of medication she had brought with her and several our host families had recommended, it finally occurred to her that going from Minnesota land of the flat to Quito at over 9,000 ft might have had some affect. After taking her altitude meds and drinking a lake full of water, no sign of the stomach ache since.

Take that 14ers! 9000ft weren't enough for us, we needed even higher altitude. Volcano Pichincha in Quito, Ecuador. (Maddie Doering, Aimee Schneider, Emma Kaplan - MSID Ecuador 2014)
Take that 14ers! 9000ft weren’t enough for us, we needed even higher altitude. Volcano Pichincha in Quito, Ecuador. (Maddie Doering, Aimee Schneider, Emma Kaplan – MSID Ecuador 2014)
Brenna and myself climbing Cotopaxi
Brenna and myself climbing Cotopaxi

The Thirst for Adventure

 Water. To drink or not to drink, that is the question.

In this case, do as the locals do. If they’re not drinking tap water, odds are you probably shouldn’t be either. If you’re really worried, however, or just don’t want to constantly be buying bottles of water, definitely look into safe water techniques. Chlorine tablets, iodine drops, and even UV lights that kill bacteria in water are all great options.

Look how refreshing that water looks! - MSID Ecuador 2014
Look how refreshing that water looks! – MSID Ecuador 2014

Going Native

Getting sick is all part of the experience, as is getting better. So as you want to heave your cookies, just think about what a wonderful experience this is to discover more about the local culture. When I got sick, my host mom made more tea than I thought I could possibly contain. I practically floated for two days. But I got to see how she made it all directly from the actual plant (no tea bags here!) and I did end up feeling better. I also got to experience “limpio de huevo” – the egg cleaning – technique to get rid of all my bad energy. She essentially rubbed an egg all over me then cracked it in water. Where the white floated to the surface was where my “energia negativa” was contained. So really, I’m just holistically a more well person right now.

egg doctor


So friends. Get sick and get some culture. Hopefully these tips will help you so that while you may lose the battle, you can win the war. Happy travels!

-Madeline Doering – DUSA Blogger


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