Take the following steps to stay as healthy as possible while you are abroad.
Obtain study abroad health insurance
Northwestern requires all study abroad students to have GeoBlue health insurance coverage (exemptions apply) for the period of time they are studying and traveling abroad. GeoBlue global health staff can help you prepare for your program by answering questions about importing prescription medications or pre-arranging for needed or known treatment, such as allergy shots or therapy/counseling.
Get a medical examination before departure
Especially if you are taking prescription medication or are in regular treatment, we strongly recommend that you have a medical examination before you leave. To maximize the effectiveness of your appointment, take a copy of your program information as well as a printout of the CDC requirements for your program location. An illness could negatively affect your experience abroad, so it’s best to take care of health conditions before you go.
Northwestern University staff or faculty will not contact you regarding any required immunizations. It is your responsibility to ensure that your routine immunizations are up-to-date; to ask your healthcare provider if there are recommended and/or required immunizations or medications for the country/countries you will visit (including any countries that are not part of your study abroad program's itinerary); and to review educational resources relevant to your personal health and safety.
In addition to your program's resources, please review the information on Immunizations and Prophylactic Medications on the Office of Global Safety and Security's website. As indicated, the best resource for researching required and recommended immunizations and medication for all overseas destinations is the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention Travelers’ Health page.
Learn about traveling with medications
The Office of Global Safety and Security provides guidance on a variety of issues associated with taking medications abroad.
Disclose and plan for health conditions
It’s important to disclose any health conditions as well as past or current treatment or medications on your Northwestern health assessment form, to GeoBlue, and/or to your program so they can help you continue treatment abroad. You'll find resources and suggestions for dealing with mental health conditions abroad on the Office of Global Safety and Security's website.
If you have a health condition, we strongly encourage you to develop a medical management plan in cooperation with GeoBlue because changes in air quality, elevation, diet, climate and geography/topography as well as stress factors related to culture and language, can exacerbate symptoms. Furthermore, students that require regular medical care, including counseling, blood work, physical therapy, allergy shots, etc., can continue such treatment abroad, but the GeoBlue staff needs to know this in advance of departure to provide the best service. You can contact GeoBlue staff by phone at 1-610-254-8771 or by email at firstname.lastname@example.org. Be sure to clarify that you are not presently abroad nor in current need of medical attention, but instead seeking pre-departure advice. You should also be prepared to provide:
- First and last name
- Institutional affiliation (Northwestern University)
- Main overseas location (city and country)
- An overview of the condition, its severity and current management plan
- The name (brand and generic, if known) and dosages of all prescription medication(s)
- Your GeoBlue certificate number, if coverage has already been ordered or purchased (this information is NOT required, just helpful if available)
Read about travel stress and shock
Travel stress or “culture shock” is a normal developmental phase of adjustment to a new cultural environment. It occurs when one’s values and typical ways of viewing the world clash with the values and viewpoints of the new culture.
Know your local health services
Know how to access health services, both for non-emergency routine care and emergencies. If you do need to seek medical treatment while abroad, make sure to request and keep any medical records and receipts for the treatment, as you may need to submit them for reimbursement.
Do not use drugs and use good judgment if you consume alcohol
Alcohol and drug use carries serious health, cultural and legal risks for all travelers. The use of drugs is not permitted under any circumstances. Drugs are illegal in most countries in the world, with very severe penalties.
Alcohol may be legal in your host country, but it is important to consume it safely. The risks to your personal safety and the safety of others increase with the consumption of alcohol: you are more likely to be the target of abuse, criminal behavior, or other offenses when you have been drinking and your faculties are impaired, so it is essential that you make good choices about your drinking behavior. Do not accept drinks from others. Do not leave restaurants or bars alone, and do not walk around after you have been drinking. Have a plan for returning home and communicate and coordinate this plan with others.
In addition to these issues, alcohol and drug use can lead to disciplinary actions for Northwestern study abroad students, who must abide by the Northwestern Code of Conduct. Excessive or irresponsible intoxication and behavior that interferes with your personal safety and that of others is subject to immediate disciplinary action, including dismissal from the program, parental notification, and return home at your own expense. Review the alcohol and drug use information on the Office of Global Safety and Security's website, including the consequences for irresponsible and disruptive behavior as well as alcohol and drug use abroad.
Eat well, exercise regularly, and get enough sleep
An important part of maintaining your health while abroad is eating and drinking properly – stay hydrated! Remember that in addition to the cultural and emotional adjustments you’ll be making, your body will be adjusting to a new climate, new time zone, new food, etc. and eating right, exercising and getting rest will help ease that adjustment.
Engage in healthy relationships
The “rules” of dating vary from culture to culture. It is important that you consider your behavior and inform yourself as best as possible about how dating and relationships generally function in your host culture.
Remember, HIV and other STIs are prevalent everywhere in the world. To protect yourself, do not have unprotected sex. We strongly recommend that students pack condoms, since they are not always widely available overseas. Overall, we encourage students to be cautious about their sexual activity while abroad.