Health and Safety
Study abroad is an enriching and exciting experience, but changes in culture, food, language and academic expectations can also be challenging. Those challenges can create or exacerbate both mental stress and physical symptoms. It is crucial to plan ahead to safeguard your health while traveling and to be prepared for the stresses of adapting to a new situation.
All students should be prepared to confront stresses such as jet lag, culture shock, and differences in nutritional and health conditions. If you have special needs (an ongoing medical condition, counseling, a learning or physical disability), discuss them with your doctor, counselor or the study-abroad advisor and your program provider. That’s the best way to make sure you are choosing the program that can meet your needs and provide a positive study-abroad experience.
Almost all programs require a physical examination, and many visas do as well. You can have a physical examination free of charge at the Health Center. If you require lab tests, these can be done at the Health Center and billed to your insurance.
Confirm that your routine immunizations are up-to-date when you have your physical exam. A Hepatitis A vaccination is also recommended for all travelers going abroad. You can make an appointment at the Health Center for this vaccination.
If you are traveling anywhere outside of Western Europe, you will most likely need additional vaccinations. The Centers for Disease Control, your program provider, and the Health Center can help you figure out which immunizations you need. The travel nurse at the Health Center, can also tell you how much your immunizations will cost.
As soon as you apply to a program that will require immunizations, contact Diann Lynch at the Health Center (315-859-4111) to schedule an appointment. Most immunizations must be completed at least a month prior to travel, and some require several shots over a one-month period. Be sure to make an appointment early enough to complete all your immunizations in a timely fashion! This is also the time to ask about any special medications required for your destination, such as anti-malarial drugs.
If you are unable to use the Health Center, you can also call 315-798-5747 for an appointment at the Oneida County Health Travel Clinic located in Utica, or use the Travel Health Clinic Locator to find a clinic near your home.
Routine Medical Examinations
Plan ahead and complete any medical checkups that would be scheduled while you are away. This includes dental, vision and gynecological examinations. Be sure to obtain a copy of any important records (blood type, continuing prescriptions, vision prescriptions, x-rays) you might need for medical care abroad, and carry them with you. Also carry contact information such as phone and fax numbers for your health-care providers at home.
Talk to your medical care or mental health care provider
Let your doctor or counselor know that you are studying abroad so that they can prescribe a full supply of the medication you need for the entire time that you are away. Once the prescription has been written your insurance will need to authorize the prescription amount. This includes any regular prescriptions you use and also special travel medications, such as antimalarial drugs.
Check the State Department's country guide
If you rely regularly on any over the counter medicine, consider bringing it with you. In addition, you will want to check the State Department's country guides to make sure that your prescription medicine and OTC medicine is permitted in your host country.
Carry prescription and keep medicine in their original containers and packaging
Carry prescription drugs in their original containers. Carry written copies of the prescriptions, including the drug's generic name.
Ongoing medical care and counseling
If you need ongoing medical care and/or counseling, we strongly urge you to share this information with your program provider early on. Your program provider can assist you in continuing care abroad. They usually have established relationships with medical care professionals, counselors, clinics, and hospitals and can be ready to assist you once you arrive.
Prior medical or mental health issues
We also recommend that you disclose any prior medical or mental health issues to your program provider so that they are aware and can take appropriate steps to identify potential resources. You may not need to rely on those resources, but in the case that you do, your program provider will be able to assist you much more quickly.
Living and adjusting to a new environment is exciting, but it can also be stressful. This may come in the form of culture shock, and sometimes the stress of study abroad can trigger mental health issues that are beyond the symptoms of culture shock. Whether or not you have been treated for mental health issues in the past, it’s important to have some tools for self-care. Have a wellness plan worked out before you leave for your program for how you might manage potential issues related to studying abroad. Below are some suggestions.
- Talk with students who have studied abroad about the stresses of being in a new and different environment.
- Meet with a counselor or other mental health care professional to discuss how you can prepare to handle the stress that you may encounter.
- Read information about your country so that you can be better prepared for some of the differences you might encounter.
Avoid Alcohol and Drugs
No matter what the country’s alcohol laws allow, drinking to excess places you at risk for accidents and judgment lapses that could lead to being victimized by crime. Don't ever leave your drink unattended. Illegal drug use not only places you at similar risks but can also have severe legal consequences. Don’t assume that as a U.S. citizen you will not be subject to your host country’s legal system!
Use Safe Transportation
Don’t hitchhike, and stick to official, licensed buses, and taxi cabs. Make sure you know how long trips will take, what the schedule for transportation is like and how you will get back. Ask your program director if you have questions about which types of local transportation are safe and reliable. See the road safety section and resources below as well.
Take Normal Crime Prevention Precautions
Use the same common-sense precautions you would take in an unfamiliar location in the U.S. Avoid unsafe areas and poorly lit or deserted streets. Travel with a buddy but avoid going in large groups of Americans. Don’t carry a lot of cash, keep your important documents safe and carry a copy of your passport page or any other identification. Remember to be aware of your surroundings and keep your wits about you.
Avoid Demonstrations and Protests
These events can quickly become volatile and dangerous, and at times can lead to arrests. Just because you’re a U.S. citizen or a student of a U.S. institution doesn’t mean the U.S. government can get you out of jail.
Avoid “American” Hangouts
Trying to blend into your host culture is part of the experience of study abroad, anyway, and it’s also a wise precaution to avoid places where Americans are known to congregate, such as particular “tourist” restaurants or bars, McDonald’s, or the U.S. Embassy.
Know How to Communicate in an Emergency
Store your program’s contact numbers in your phone and download Hamilton’s digital emergency contact card. Be sure to add phone numbers to your local study abroad office, host family or apartment, local advisor and anyone else you may need to reach in an emergency. You might want to carry the number of the nearest U.S. consulate or embassy in case you need to contact them, for instance, if you’ve lost your passport.
Stay in Touch with Your Family
Keep them apprised of your travel plans and try to maintain regular contact with them.
Please see our driving warning. Road culture, road regulations, signage, pedestrian conventions, vehicle conditions, traffic flow, and emergency response are some of the things that may be different in your host country or other countries where you may be traveling. Before departing, make sure to research your destination’s road and transportation culture. YouTube videos can also give you a glimpse of what public transportation, walking, or biking might be like at your destination. The resources below can help you start your research.
- Center for Disease Control Road Safety Tips Infographic
- U.S. State Department Information on Road Safety
- The World Health Organization interactive traffic safety map
- Association for Safe International Road Travel