“Travel isn’t always pretty. It isn’t always comfortable. Sometimes it hurts, it even breaks your heart. But that’s okay. The journey changes you; it should change you.” – Anthony Bourdain, No Reservations
As you consider whether, when and where to study abroad, please ask yourself the questions in the OCS Health Self-Assessment developed by Colby’s Off-Campus Study and the Garrison-Foster Health Center.
Study abroad can be physically and mentally challenging and the range of services may vary significantly from location to location and from what you are accustomed here on campus. For your safety and well-being it is vital that you inform your program of any of any physical or psychological difficulties or special needs you have or may have experienced in the past.
Students are urged to take appropriate health precautions, particularly if going to a developing country. Check with your program sponsors and the Centers for Disease Control to determine what inoculations or special precautions may be needed. Be aware that many of these inoculations must be obtained several weeks prior to departure.
Even if this is not required, consider having a medical exam/physical and bring your vaccinations up to date. Get a dental and vision check-up.
Study abroad can be physically and mentally challenging and the range of services may vary significantly from location to location and from what you are accustomed here on campus. For your safety and well-being, it is vital that you take these concerns into account and discuss any physical or psychological difficulties or special needs with your doctor or counselor, a potential program and/or the OCS office.
If you have an ongoing medical condition and take a prescription medication on a regular basis, it is very important that you discuss your plans with your doctor. You should plan to bring with you a supply for the entire semester and bring a written Doctor’s RX indicating the generic name for the medication. You should also make a note of any allergies you may have to certain medicines and remember to mention them also to your program or any attending doctor.
Many study abroad programs require a medical/physical exam before departure (not all programs do require this). Even if this is not required, consider having one anywayand bring your vaccinations up to date. Get a dental and vision check-up as well. You may also be required to have certain vaccinations or prophylaxis depending on the country to which you are traveling. Be aware that many of these inoculations must be obtained several weeks prior to departure. Discuss this with the doctor during your visit.
You can do this at Colby’s Garrison-Foster Health Center or your home physician. Call 207/859-4460 x 1 or stop by the Health Center to schedule an appointment. Don’t forget to bring any program forms or other records to the meeting!
If you have any dietary restrictions, allergies or are a vegetarian or vegan, it is important that you inform your program and consider what type of living arrangement will be best for you.
Prescription and Over-the-Counter Medicine
It’s a good idea to pack non-prescription drugs you are likely to use, such as antacids, aspirin and ibuprofen, and anti-diuretics. You might also want to include a modest first-aid kit.
If you are taking prescription medication on a regular basis, including birth control pills, please either plan to bring with you a supply for the entire semester or bring a written Doctor’s RX indicating the generic name for the medication. If your condition requires monitoring, please bring a copy of your medical records with you and inform the resident director as soon as possible (before you leave). You should also make a note of any allergies you may have to certain medicines and remember to mention them also to any attending doctor.
If you wear contact lenses, bring supplies. Also bring eyeglasses in case you can’t wear your lenses. Bring a spare pair of eyeglasses in case one gets lost or broken.
AIDS and Other STDs
If you choose to be sexually active overseas, it is best to bring a supply of contraceptives from the U.S. Although most countries sell condoms, they may not be manufactured and/or stored properly so as to provide maximum protection against STDs.
Risk of hepatitis A infections is high in the Caribbean, Mexico, Africa, and Central and South America. If you are traveling to any of these areas, ask your doctor about getting immune globulin injections, which provide increased protection against hepatitis A.
Your Mental Health
The opportunity to study abroad is accompanied by many important considerations, including your mental health. Regardless of whether or not you have a history of mental health concerns, you should take the following information into consideration in your decisions around where to study, which programs to pursue, or even if studying abroad is a good fit for you.
Studying abroad, like any growth promoting educational experience, by its very nature is intellectually and emotionally challenging. While we encourage students to pursue such challenges, we also encourage students to be thoughtful around which opportunities they pursue and to be aware of the challenges they may encounter. It is important to recognize that adjusting to living and studying in a different culture is inherently stressful in the best of conditions. The degrees of cultural and linguistic differences and one’s comfort level and ability to adapt to those differences are important factors to keep in mind. Other factors such as living arrangements, program structure, peer support and social environment, and the program’s academic rigor are also important to consider in terms of anticipated levels of stress.
For some, the stress of this adjustment may exacerbate already existing emotional struggles like depression, anxiety, or eating and body image concerns, or may be a trigger for the onset of emotional concerns. It is not unusual for a student to encounter some level of struggle emotionally while studying abroad and for a subset of those students to consider seeking out supportive counseling.
Not all countries and study abroad programs are created equal in terms of the mental health support services available to students. We encourage students to research what, if any, mental health support services are available through the programs of interest to them and to inquire about how those resources can be accessed, as well as their associated costs. This information is particularly important for students who are in ongoing counseling during this exploratory process, or who anticipate pursuing counseling while abroad. For students taking medication(s) for their concerns, it is important for those students to talk with their prescribing professional about their interest in studying abroad and how they can maintain their prescribed regimen. The need for supportive counseling and/or the use of medication are very rarely barriers to studying abroad, but rather are issues that can be successfully managed with the proper research and planning.
Consult with Colby’s Office of Off-Campus Study and/or Colby Counseling Services for further information and support as you navigate this process. You can contact Counseling Services by sending an email to firstname.lastname@example.org, or you may schedule an appointment online by going to myColby and clicking on the Counseling tab.
Mental Health & Counseling Abroad
Studying abroad is an exciting and rich educational experience that can also, at times, be quite stressful and challenging emotionally. A healthy mind and body are essential to a successful study abroad experience. If you are currently in mental health counseling, or for any reason anticipate needing counseling while abroad, there are several important considerations.
Mental health services abroad vary greatly and can be quite different from country to country and program to program. You should not assume that the range of services available to you here at Colby will be available while you are abroad. You should talk with the sponsoring program about what mental health services are available for students, how students go about accessing those services, the associated fees, and how students generally pay for services.
If you are taking medication for your emotional concerns, you will need to talk with the prescribing physician about bringing a sufficient amount with you to get you through your stay, or try to figure out an alternative way of getting them while abroad. It is quite possible that the medication(s) you take will not be available in your host country.
If you are taking a prescription medication,
- Bring an adequate supply in the original container, and a prescription with your physician’s explanation of the condition, as well as the generic and brand names of the medication and dosage information.
- Check with the embassies of the countries you expect to visit to make sure your medications are not illegal there.
- Review potential side effects of your medications with your provider, as your body may react differently because of adjustment to new sleep habits, time zones, activities, and diet.
- Do not plan on sending medications abroad since it will require customs paperwork and may be delayed in delivery.
- Consult with your physician about any necessary adjustments to your dosage due to significant changes in time zones.
It is normal to feel homesick, sad or lonely while living in a new country. It can be helpful to push yourself to “get out there” and make new friends. However, if these feelings persist or worsen during your semester, don’t hesitate to seek out assistance from your program or by reaching out to someone at Colby.
If you have any questions or concerns regarding the above information, you can talk further with the Colby College Office of Off-Campus Study. You may also want to meet with a professional counselor at Colby Counseling Services. Counseling at Colby is free and confidential and appointments can be made by going to myColby and clicking on the Counseling tab.
Before you go…
- Assess your physical and mental health (self assessment)
- Visit your doctor or counselor
- Investigate what services will be available at your destination by disclosing to your program, the Colby counseling center or your study abroad office
- Prepare to bring any medications you need with you and carry a list of your medications with the copy of your passport in case you need emergency medical help
- Understand how your insurance will work while abroad
- Put a plan in place in case you need it while you are abroad
Many OCS programs and foreign universities can usually accommodate learning differences to the extent that local regulations allow and within the constraints of the host culture. You may need to bring documentation with you from your file in Colby’s Dean of Students Office. Please check with your program director or the OCS office as soon as possible if you have further questions, and in order for us to look into available resources and accommodations where you are going.
If you have any other learning or physical disability or any other concern that could affect your participation, we would be pleased to help you identify program options that can provide you with the support you need.
If you have allergies to foods, please inform your program. It is important that your host family know about your allergies. If you are a vegetarian, make sure you let the resident director know early on so that you can be placed in a family that can accommodate you. Vegetarianism is less common in other parts of the world than in the U.S., and it may not be possible to stick to a completely vegetarian diet. You should be prepared to remain as flexible as possible, particularly when dining out and participating in group activities.