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Wellness Abroad

Spanish olive grove with sun

photo by Peter Zelles '20

We encourage you to work with Student Health and Wellness (SHAW) for any health needs as you prepare for international travel. You can make an appointment with a SHAW nurse to discuss immunizations and/or health needs by calling their office. These appointments take longer than regular appointments so please call 641-269-3230 rather than use the online scheduler. SHAW nurses are able to go over the Centers for Disease Control (CDC) recommendations regarding travel health, review your immunizations, and talk through what services are available here in Grinnell and what would be needed at the University of Iowa Travel Clinic in Iowa City. They also help arrange transportation out of town, schedule appointments with local providers, fax records out ahead of appointments, and provide other support services.
We advise students not to cancel their U.S.-based insurance policy for off-campus study. The U.S. health care system is incredibly expensive for people who need medical attention but find themselves with a “gap” in coverage (a period of dates when not covered by any policy). An example would be if a program begins in September but ends in mid-December. There will be a gap in coverage for the student before and after their program dates if they cancel their U.S. based policy for the fall semester. Furthermore, in the event that the student returns to the U.S. for any reason, the U.S.-based insurance will become the primary insurance.
Students enrolled in Grinnell College's student health insurance are covered for emergency medical, travel assistance and emergency evacuation. Policies typically cover emergency services. You will likely have to pay for the services and submit the receipts to your insurer for reimbursement. Carry your card with you at all times and make an additional copy to take with you while you travel. If your current provider has minimal coverage outside the U.S., you may wish to purchase additional coverage. Note that the average cost of medical evacuation is between $10,000 and $20,000 and can run higher, so be certain that you have some sort of coverage. 

Many of the program providers on our approved list for Off-Campus Study include travel and/or medical insurance as part of their program fee. Coverage varies by program but may include: medical treatment, emergency services, medical evacuation and repatriation, and evacuation in cases of political unrest or natural disaster. Please consult your individual program for details (you may need to file a claim for reimbursement of insured expenses). Families should review the coverage to see if it meets their student’s specific health needs with their healthcare provider.
Students on programs with limited or no international healthcare coverage can purchase GeoBlue insurance coverage. GeoBlue is a leader in comprehensive international health insurance and Grinnell College's policy with GeoBlue offers pre-departure advice, full-service healthcare access, and emergency evacuation. Students can self-enroll online with a credit card using the group access code provided in the GeoBlue Student Member Guide at Enroll in a Group Plan. This coverage allows students to enroll for coverage before or after their program dates to prevent coverage gaps. You can read detailed information about the plan's benefits in the College's GeoBlue Certificate.
Students participating in college-sponsored or funded programs (international MAPs, course-embedded travel or Global Learning Program courses) and are travelling to countries other than their home country will be enrolled in GeoBlue insurance by the Institute for Global Engagement. Coverage information is available in the GeoBlue Certificate. Students are also required to complete Travel Registration.
The CDC has a Travelers' Health Guide which includes vaccinations and health notices for specific countries and study abroad. Programs will typically notify students of vaccination requirements once the student has confirmed their acceptance with a program deposit.
- Be sure to let your program provider/program director know if you have any special medical conditions (e.g. diabetes, allergies, etc.), and how they can help you in an emergency.
- If you have a documented learning, physical, or emotional disability, it is in your best interest to disclose this information to your Program Director well in advance so they can help you arrange for accommodations. You may also wish to let them know about any religious or cultural observances you need to follow. Any information you share will be kept confidential.
Research hospitals and specialists in your host city ahead of time particularly if you have a specific health need that may require attention while you are abroad. Some insurance companies can provide you with recommended doctors and hospitals. You can also ask the U.S. Embassy in your host country for a list. Finally, your program director may assist in obtaining information. If you have a health condition such as Celiac’s disease, allergies, diabetes, epilepsy, etc., you can print and carry cards with a translation of your condition, dietary needs, in the local language or you may wear a medic alert bracelet.
- Take enough with you for the duration of your stay.
- Carry medicine in its original labelled container. Do not have it shipped to you (it may be seized at customs), and you may not be able to acquire the same medicine abroad.
- Carry a letter from your doctor stating your prescription including the brand and generic names, your dosage, what it looks like, and its purpose.
- Use the original container from the pharmacy and labelled with your physician’s name, your name, and the medication name and dosage.
- Some medications which are legal in the U.S. are illegal in other countries – you should research this ahead of time. International Narcotics Control Board has regulations by country and information for travelers as well as international guidelines for travelers under treatment with internationally controlled drugs.
- Know the generic name of any medication you normally take. Brand names may differ overseas (e.g. Acetaminophen vs. Tylenol, which is a brand name in the U.S. only).
- Carry a supply of syringes sufficient for the duration of your stay. The Center for Disease Control recommends that students with diabetes or health situations that require routine or frequent injections should carry a supply of syringes sufficient to last their stay abroad.
- Bring a copy of the prescription and a statement from the prescribing physician.
- If your medication is time-sensitive, be sure to speak with your doctor about how best to adjust your dosage during your overseas flight and new time zone.

Strictly controlled, or narcotic medications

These may be strictly controlled overseas, and even a prescription and doctors note won't guarantee your ability to travel with them. All of the following drugs are subject to international controls, and it’s a good idea to ask your doctor for alternative medications.

- Barbital
- Chlordiazepoxide
- Clorazepate
- Diazepam
- Lorazepam
- Medazepam
- Meprobamate
- Oxazepam
- Phenobarbital
- Prazepam
- Temazepam
- Tetrazepam

If you have no choice but to travel with these, contact the relevant consulate well ahead of time, and try to find out whether there are specific steps you can take to make sure you don’t encounter difficulties.

With other, less strictly controlled medicines, you shouldn’t run into problems as long as you carry a prescription and a doctor’s note. The note should have your name and your doctor’s name as well as the following information:

- The name of the medicine, including the chemical and brand name
- The strength and dosage
- The form and manner of administration
- Written confirmation that you are travelling with this medicine and that it is for your personal use only

Research hospitals and specialists in your host city ahead of time particularly if you have a specific health need that may require attention while you are abroad. Some insurance companies can provide you with recommended doctors and hospitals. You can also ask the U.S. Embassy in your host country for a list. Finally, your program director may assist in obtaining information.

If you have a health condition, you can print and carry cards with a translation of your condition or dietary needs in the local language or you may wear a medic alert bracelet.
Stay away from high-risk - If you’re of legal drinking age and do choose to drink, use alcohol in moderation.  
-  NEVER abuse drugs. Illegal behavior puts you at risk for incarceration. "Not knowing the law is not an excuse", according to the U.S. State Department. You may be asked to leave the program and return home at your own cost.
- Students who struggle with alcohol or drug addictions now should be aware that studying abroad can often make the problem worse. Loneliness and culture shock symptoms can exacerbate addictions. Alcoholics Anonymous has meetings worldwide. Seek assistance when necessary.
- If sexually active, do not engage in unprotected sex. It is advisable to bring familiar and reliable contraception from home.
The U.S. State Department has tips for students studying abroad. Additionally, the Smart Traveler Enrollment Program allows you to receive travel alerts and warnings by enrolling a trip with the nearest U.S. Embassy or Consulate.  This enables the Embassy to contact you in case of an emergency as well as help your family or friends to get in touch with you. The Grinnell-in-London Resident Director enrolls all participants in this program.

The Center for Global Education has an adaptation of the Peace Corps workbook on Personal Safety and Awareness. The U.S. State Department provides annual Crime and Safety Reports for countries so that you can be aware of current issues.

MAIN THREATS, and ways to minimize them:

- Traffic accidents: know local traffic laws, safe public transportation, and pedestrian safety.  The Association for Safe International Road Travel is a non-profit that provides information on road travel safety.  This may be particularly relevant to students travelling in countries with less developed infrastructure.  The US State Department also has advice on Road Safety Overseas.

- Alcohol-related incidents: drink responsibly, go out and return home in groups, avoid vulnerable situations while under the influence, watch out for your friends.

- Petty theft: do not carry more than you can afford to lose, spread items out on your body, be vigilant in crowded areas, know pickpocket techniques.

- Sexual harassment and assault: know local gender roles and assumptions, go out and return home in groups, learn which areas of the city require caution. 

- Acute anxiety or acute depression: know the phases of cultural adjustment, know the signs of depression and anxiety (in yourself and in friends), gather resources for counselors and psychiatrists in your host city, arrange for prescription medication for pre-existing conditions for full duration of stay, alert friends and your program or Off-Campus Study if you have prolonged mood changes or have any thoughts of harming yourself or others.  The University of Michigan has created a site called Resilient Traveling with information about how to manage stress and enhance your experience. There are skills and information on resiliency.
Self- care is an important part of the transition to living in a new place. Here are some articles that offer suggestions to promote wellness.
8 Tips to Handle Study Abroad Stress
How to Practice Self-Care While Studying Abroad
Meaningful Travel Tips and Tales from

Updated April 2019