Study abroad and self-care

Being abroad is an incredibly exciting period in life. It’s a massive privilege, for starters, as being abroad makes you one of relatively few people in the world who not only get to attend college, but get to spend part of that college career in another country. Because of this, and rightly so, most of us feel the need to take advantage of every possible moment we can while abroad. And that’s good! Part of the benefit of studying abroad is pushing yourself out of your comfort zone and discovering new skills and capabilities of which you were previously unaware. It’s discovering a new side of yourself that can only be revealed under pressure, specifically the pressure of coming face to face with a brand new country and culture and trying not to embarrass yourself too much in the process.

Exploring new things (and old cathedrals) in Manchester, England.
In the midst of the desire to grow and develop as a person and see as many museums or ancient structures as possible, it’s easy to let self-care get lost in the shuffle. I recently developed a wicked case of food poisoning, so self-care has been on my mind lately. Here’s 4 tips to help take care of yourself while abroad.
1. Don’t be a typhoid Mary. There’s going to come a point in your abroad experience where you’ll get sick-whether that’s briefly from food poisoning, a cold, or something even more serious, it’s fairly likely you’ll come down with something. The odds are even better if you’re on a longer term abroad experience. But if you find yourself getting sick, don’t push yourself to continue all your usual activities. It’s not doing anyone any favors to be around you while you’re hacking and coughing and sneezing your germs everywhere. At the very least, give yourself a day or two for cold recovery, longer if you’ve come down with the flu or a sinus infection or something more contagious. Taking a day to take care of yourself, sleep a lot, drink a lot of water, and not pass your germs along can only be a good thing.
Good self-care ultimately results in more time to do cool things like take day trips to new cities
2. Learn to recognize social exhaustion. Granted, this is coming from me as an introvert. So if you find yourself on the more extraverted end of the spectrum, take the following with a grain of salt. Being abroad comes with a lot of pressure to make good friends with whom you’ll experience amazing new things. Making friends is an essential part of being abroad, and it’s a good idea to step out of your comfort zone when building a new network in a new country. But do learn to recognize when you need a break. You don’t need to do something social every night in order to make friends. Sometimes it’s just fine to take a night to yourself and go to bed early or watch Netflix or read a book, or do whatever it is that helps you recharge and feel like you’re not being spread too thin.
I am a big fan of sitting in quiet coffee shops to take a break.
Taking some personal time makes social interactions that much better. 🙂
3. Call your parents every so often. I know, I know, you want to live as much in the moment as possible and not be constantly thinking about home. That’s good. Being connected to your host country is important. It speeds up the settling-in process, helps you overcome culture shock, and enriches your experience overall. But don’t completely neglect family. It can be really helpful and refreshing to fill your mom or dad in on whatever’s gone down in the past week, get advice if you need it, and have them make your dogs say hello over skype. And besides, your parents will feel much better seeing you in real time once in awhile than just via your Instagram photos.
My family are a big bunch of nerds who love their footie pajamas, our dogs, and seeing movies together. And I love them for it.
4. Take a few solo walks around your host city. Do it within the bounds of common-sense safety, definitely. But just take half an hour and stroll around a part of the city you haven’t been to yet. Maybe take some of your favorite music along and get a coffee, and just watch the world go by for a little while. Listen to what the birds sound like. Figure out what kind of urban wildlife exists in your new hometown. Mostly, take a little time to breathe and be in your city without feeling the need to rush off somewhere. Taking time to just be in York and not run around it was what helped me really start to feel like a local; like I belong here.
I’m grinning because I just saw two geese fighting a swan. The swan won.
Of course, none of this is an either-or proposition. The whirlwind sightseeing can be great fun! But finding a balance between going a million miles an hour and stopping to (perhaps literally) smell the roses can be the key to really making the most of your study abroad experience.
-Faith Lierheimer, DUSA blogger

Down with the Sickness?

Background information: I have a horribly lacking immune system, so here are some words on how to cope when really feeling ill in another country.

The first time I started feeling sick (yeah, I have been sick multiple times… leave me alone) I kept pushing myself to do more things over the weekend and accomplish everything on my list instead of taking a break to feel better. Pro-tip: if you don’t rest, it will get worse. The minute you really start feeling like that stomach ache is getting suspicious or whatnot, park yourself down, start drinking more than the usual amount of water, and only do as much as you feel you can. The main mistake that people make while studying abroad is pushing themselves too far, or pretending they aren’t sick so that they can have more fun on the weekends. This means that you will miss classes and ultimately have more work to do for the next weekend. Rest while you can, and recover quickly. (also the usual LIQUIDS tip that everyone has… lots of liquids.)

So as for the practical packing tips- what medication should you bring, and what should you expect abroad?

World-Travel-Packing-Tips-–-Tim-Ferriss

In my personal experience in Hungary you can expect the same types of medications as are in the US, but the issue of translations can certainly get in the way. For the sake of fewer worries (and not having to make trips to the store while actually sick) here are a few absolute basics that will be handy in case of any emergencies:

  • Dayquil/Nyquil (help with congestion, sleep and basic cold symptoms. Have plenty with you- the Common cold is the most Common issue)
  • Ibuprofen  or Advil (for basically any other pain-related issue)
  • Pepto Bismol (for any basic stomach issue)
  • Benadryl  (can help with sleep but also any allergic reactions you may have- if you are not prone to allergies then don’t worry about it as much, but it can still be great as a backup)
  • Immodium (“gut glue” anti-diarrhea)

…and any other medication suited to your particular needs. I brought along melatonin sleep aid for the first day or so as well as for travel issues.

As for doctors’ appointments abroad, I can only really tell you about my friend’s experiences in Hungary. Medication is cheap, and the doctors are kind. But you do have to have a translator along, someone you can trust. Usually there is someone in your schools adviser department who will be willing. Prices vary, but for one friend she got three different prescriptions for thirty dollars, and another friend had a much more serious doctor’s appointment for only 60 dollars. Hopefully you will never have to worry about this, but before you go to whichever country you are planning on, it is nice to ask your advisers about medical facilities to get a good idea of backup systems once you do get to the country.

For things like cuts and scratches (just to help with the easiest medical kit for abroad) I just brought medical tape. It works better than blister bandages and if you put a bit of gauze or fabric underneath it then it is an instant Band-Aid. Blister bandages don’t allow the wound to breathe and heal itself, and any time you remove a blister Band-Aid often times the skin goes with it. That’s why medical tape is optimal because it can breathe and it won’t necessarily remove skin with every replacement. Neosporin is also useful for these things.

OK so If I were to sum up the best first aid kit to take with you while traveling this is what it would be:

  • health
  • Dayquil/Nyquil
  • Ibuprofen
  • pepto bismol
  • Benadryl
  • Imodium
  • Sports Tape
  • Neosporin
  • Hand sanitizer
  • sunscreen/aloe
  • insect repellent (Depending where you are)
  • hydrocortisone
  • lozenges
  • any of your own personal medications
  • handkerchief

I know the last one is really odd but when I traveled in Japan it became a religion for me. It is always a good backup when bathrooms don’t have hand towels, or if someone gets a bloody nose or needs a quick injury fix. They may seem old-fashioned, but honestly they take up little to no space and you will be surprised how often you use it if you are willing.

I hope this list is helpful for you, leave comments if you think of any other useful items to have in your “snake bite kit,” as my mother calls it. You can also find lists like this online, lots of medical websites have suggestions, mine is just the dumbed-down version of what already exists.

Honestly I hope none of you will have to deal with being sick or ill abroad- but it is always good to have a backup.

-Miranda Blank, studying abroad in Budapest, Hungary – fall 2013