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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 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.
Per Grinnell College policy, “All students are required to have a U.S.-based health insurance policy that complies with the Affordable Care Act while attending Grinnell.“ We strongly recommend maintaining the U.S.-based policy while studying off campus in order to avoid any gaps in coverage. Although this plan will not be considered primary if you study outside of the U.S., we advise against cancelling it. International study abroad health insurance plans would not provide coverage in the U.S.or your home country if you return for any reason during your OCS program.

Generally, the health insurance students have in the U.S. (or their home country) does not provide comprehensive coverage while abroad. The Grinnell student health insurance plan, for example, covers medical evacuation but does not include evacuation services in cases of political unrest or natural disaster. Therefore, in addition to your U.S.-based policy, it is important to be covered by a comprehensive international insurance plan if studying outside of the U.S. 

Many program providers include international 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. To prepare for any health needs you may encounter, review your program's policy benefits and exclusions and discuss them with your family and healthcare provider. Summaries of most policies can be found on programs’ websites.

If you are receiving regular treatment, especially for a health condition such as anxiety, arthritis, depression, diabetes, an eating disorder, etc., consider purchasing Grinnell’s GeoBlue plan if your programs’s policy does not meet your specific needs.

Students on OCS programs outside the U.S. that do not provide international health and travel insurance or offer limited coverage are encouraged to purchase GeoBlue through a contract with a discounted rate established by the College. GeoBlue is a leader in the field, offering pre-departure advice, full service health care access anywhere outside of the U.S. or your home country, emergency evacuation, and direct pay to participating providers so that you avoid having to pay up front and seek reimbursement. The policy also covers most pre-existing conditions, mental health therapies, contraceptives, and prescription medications.

You can read detailed information about the plan's benefits in the College's GeoBlue Certificate.

Students can self-enroll online with a credit card using the group access code provided in the Grinnell College Self-Enrollment GeoBlue Member Guide. The policy allows students to purchase coverage throughout the duration of their program as well as for personal travel before or after the program's official start and end dates.
Students participating in college-sponsored or funded programs (FLAG programs, international MAPs, etc.) 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 a 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 health considerations (e.g. diabetes, allergies, etc.), and ask 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, like GeoBlue, can provide you with recommended doctors and hospitals. You can also ask your program or embassy in your host country for a list. 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 and/or dietary needs in the local language or you may wear a medic alert bracelet.
- Take enough with you for the duration of your stay as you may not be able to acquire the same medication in your host location.
- Carry prescription medicine in its original labelled container. Do not have it shipped to you (it may be seized at customs).
- 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 that are legal in the U.S. are illegal in other countries so 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).
- If applicable, carry a supply of syringes sufficient for the duration of your stay. The Centers 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.
- 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. 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.
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 offers tips for students studying abroad. Additionally, its Smart Traveler Enrollment Program allows you to receive travel alerts and warnings. The Centers for Global Education has an adaptation of the Peace Corps workbook on Personal Safety and Awareness.

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