We want you to enjoy your experience abroad, and hope that your health and safety will be your top priorities. Below are some simple precautions to maintain your health and enjoy your study abroad experience.
- Before you leave assess your own health and any requirements for your host country. Some countries will require you to have a physical exam due to visa regulations. Others may require or recommend vaccinations. See the Center for Disease Control for more information on your host country.
- Consult a travel clinic prior to your departure date. Make an appointment with your medical professional or with another reputable healthcare service or physician. Although most family healthcare providers administer routine immunizations, they may not stock specialized vaccines for your destination.
- Update your prescriptions. If you take prescription medication (including allergy shots or birth control pills, or if you wear prescription contact lenses), make sure you have an adequate supply for the duration of your stay. For medications, obtain statements from your prescribing doctor which are signed and dated by your doctor, indicating the generic and brand name of the medication, any major health problems, and recommended dosage. This will be vital information in case of an emergency.
- Pack wisely. Pack your prescriptions and medications in original packaging in your carry-on luggage. Make sure the name on the prescription appears the same as on your passport. It is also helpful to have notes from your physician explaining the need for the medication. Customs officials may ask to see this.
- Plan for long term medication needs. If you take prescriptions on a regular and long-term basis, or if you will need anti-malarial medication, we strongly encourage you to talk with your health care provider to obtain medication for the duration of the program well in advance of departure. If prescriptions cannot be filled for the length of your program, investigate if your prescription can be filled abroad OR how you will be able to have prescriptions filled in the U.S. and have the medication shipped abroad. If your medication has to be shipped, check with customs officials in your host country to check for any restrictions.
- Document any medical conditions. If you have asthma, allergies, diabetes, or any other condition that may require emergency care, you should also carry a card, tag, or bracelet that identifies your medical condition. If you have (or have had) any medical or psychological conditions, be aware that the stress of adjustment overseas may cause the recurrence of conditions for which you have been successfully treated in the past.
- Pack necessities. Certain products may be more expensive or difficult to obtain overseas, or the brands and products may be unfamiliar. Thus, you may want to consider taking the following items with you: your preferred pain reliever or cold medication, contact lens solution, extra pair of glasses/contacts, syringes for medical injections, and feminine hygiene products.
- Practice abstinence or safe sex. We encourage students to be cautious about their sexual activity while abroad. HIV and other sexually-transmitted diseases are prevalent everywhere in the world. In some countries, the availability of condoms and other prophylactics is restricted, so if you plan to be sexually active, we recommend you pack your own.
- Avoid alcohol and caffeine. Remember that jetlag can worsen by dehydration. Caffeine and alcohol contribute to dehydration, so avoid them and drink plenty of other liquids, such as juice or water. The extra vitamins in juice will also help boost your immune system.
- Reset your body’s internal clock. Try to adjust your sleep schedule to the time zone of your destination. If you start doing this a few days before you depart, it may help reduce jetlag.
When You Arrive
- Take care! The first few days or weeks in your study abroad location will be very exciting and you may be tempted to overdo it. Remember that in addition to your cultural adjustments, your body will be going through a physical adjustment to a new climate, time zone, food, etc. Eat reasonably, drink plenty of water, and get plenty of rest.
- Drink water. You may want to start with bottled water if you are unsure of the tap water in your new environment. This will help reduce the likelihood of becoming dehydrated or having diarrhea.
- Look for health services. Make sure you know how to access health services, both for routine care and emergencies, in your new environment. This information may be included at your host university orientation. If not, contact the international office at your host institution.
- Use moderation when drinking alcohol. If you consume alcohol, consume it in moderation and follow the UNCP alcohol policy. Because students under 21 are legally permitted to drink in many countries, American students are sometimes tempted to overdo it overseas. Alcohol can dehydrate you, further stress your body, and impair your judgment, all of which add strain in a new environment.
Your mental health is also a concern while studying abroad. Adjusting to another culture typically involves stress for study abroad students, and stress is the number one cause of exacerbation of a preexisting mental illness. IP and staff at your host university can help put you in touch with the appropriate resources for counseling and advice. If you have a mental health condition, it is important that you go to your doctor prior to departure, sign a release for medical records, and take a copy of your records with you on the study abroad program. This will aid the process if you need to meet with a doctor overseas. For students with the UNC system health insurance (required for all UNCP programs), the insurance provider (HTH) can help identify a counselor abroad in advance so that medical records can be released directly.3
- If you are studying abroad through UNCP, ISEP or Magellan, you are required to purchase the UNC system health insurance (HTH). The UNC system policy provides low-cost comprehensive primary medical coverage with no deductible. Further information will be given to you at orientation. You can also maintain your own secondary insurance.
- Prior to departure, you will receive your insurance card. You should print this card and carry the card with you at all times. Also carry a claim form with you whenever you travel. Submitting a completed claim form, although not required, will expedite your reimbursement if you do need to file a claim.
- If you plan to travel before or after the program dates, you are eligible to purchase up to 30 days of additional insurance through IP. The cost of the additional insurance is $2.63 per day. Insurance payments should be made directly to the IP, and are due at least 1 month before you leave the U.S.
Most U.S. citizens who go abroad encounter no vast differences in safety or crime. However, no place in the world is completely without risk, and you should use simple precautions to improve your chances of staying safe, healthy, and happy while abroad.
In this handbook and at the Pre-Departure Orientation, we will address general health and safety, along with emergency procedures. It will be important for you to use common sense and remember: if it is not something you would do at home, do not do it abroad. Be open to new experiences, but keep your wits about you. For general safety, learn from the locals, but also follow some general guidelines. We suggest that you spend the first few days abroad orienting yourself to your new environment. Attend your host university on-site orientation, learn which neighborhoods should be avoided, learn the transport system, and observe social cues such as appropriate dress and language.
Traveling can be exciting, educational, exhausting and energizing, and the food you enjoy while traveling can be absolutely enticing. However, culinary excursions while traveling can be a hazard to your health if you're not paying attention to proper food safety practices.
The golden rule when it comes to food safety is proper hand washing. Wash your hands whenever possible with soap and water, especially before you eat and after you use the bathroom. Use an alcohol-based hand sanitizer when soap and water aren't available.
There may be times, for reasons of personal safety, that you do not want to be marked as an American or otherwise identified as an easy target for theft or assault. If you are concerned about anti-American sentiment, you may want to refer to an organization such as The Glimpse Foundation (www.glimpseabroad.org). They have published a Cultural Acclimation Guide called “American Identity Abroad,” which “aims to help study abroad students navigate the sticky issues that surround being a citizen of the world’s only superpower.”
How does the Study Abroad Office monitor safety?
- IP pays special attention to the U.S. Department of State website and receives immediate notification of international travel announcements and warnings. Travel warnings are issued when the State Department decides, based on all relevant information, to recommend that Americans avoid travel to a certain country. IP staff will review this information, along with a variety of other reliable sources, to have up-to-the minute information on any countries where students are or will be studying.
- IP and the UNCP Safety Coordinator are in place to manage any emergencies that may occur while students are abroad. This team is available 24 hours a day through the UNCP Campus Police.
- All students studying abroad are required to submit several forms, including an Emergency Contact Form, which enables the IP to aid in an emergency.
- All students studying abroad are required to purchase the UNC system health insurance, which includes emergency assistance evacuation, and repatriation. You should carry your insurance card with you at all times.
In Case of Emergency
An emergency is an occurrence or situation that poses a genuine and sometimes immediate risk to the health and wellbeing of program participants. Student safety is our highest priority. If you have an emergency abroad, first contact your on-site program coordinator. If there is an emergency that requires you to contact the Study Abroad Office, you may call 910-775-4095 during business hours, or UNCP Campus Police at 910-521-6235 (available 24 hours/day). Both IP and Campus Police will accept collect international calls. If you can only make one call, you may call UNCP Campus Police. They have instructions to accept collect calls, and then to call a member of the Study Abroad Emergency Response Team. If you would like a family member or friend to be available to travel to your host country in case of an emergency, make sure they have valid passports.
Emergencies at Home
People need to know how to get in touch with you while you are away. You should have a conversation with your family before you leave to discuss what you will do in the event that there is a death or serious emergency in your family. Please be sure that your host university coordinator and the Study Abroad Office have your complete contact information, and inform both if there has been a family emergency.
U.S. Embassy Assistance
U.S. Embassy personnel provide routine citizenship services (such as passport replacement) and emergency assistance for American citizens abroad. They also provide assistance to Americans abroad, and their families, in cases of death, serious medical emergency, or legal difficulties. You should locate the U.S. Embassy closest to your location by visiting http://usembassy.state.gov. You will also be required to enroll in the Department of State STEP program. This program will have a way for your family to reach out to you while you are overseas.
- Students with disabilities are increasingly participating in study abroad programs around the world. As with other issues mentioned in this section, the key to a successful experience is advanced planning. Accessibility and accommodation for students with emotional, mental, learning, or physical disabilities may vary at different program sites. Be sure to consult with staff at your host university or IP about any accommodations you may need before you leave for your program.
- You may also want to check out Mobility International USA, an organization dedicated to international opportunities for people with disabilities
- Adjusting to another culture can pose some challenges for interactions and relationships. Often what Americans perceive as appropriate behavior between the sexes, acceptable gender roles, are not the same in other cultures. Take cues from natives of your host country to gauge what is appropriate. Overall, when evaluating the gender differences in your host country, both male and female students should keep an open mind and see these differences as an opportunity to gain insights into a new culture.
- Female students in particular may find their behavior restricted. Because many cultures around the world have been exposed to images of the U.S. and American women in movies, TV shows, and advertising, foreign nationals sometimes make stereotypical assumptions about American women. Female students should be aware of how their dress, body language, and eye contact communicate to people in their host culture.
Race & Ethnicity
- Although you may think of race and ethnicity as universally defined, they are very much culturally determined. While abroad, you may find that you are an ethnic minority or majority for the first time in your life, or you may find that the ethnic identity you have always felt to be an integral part of yourself is viewed in a completely different way in your host country. If you are visiting a country where you have ethnic or racial roots, you may find you are expected to behave according to the host country norms in a way that Americans of a different background are not. Or, you may find that you are considered an American first, and your ethnic or racial identity is considered unimportant.
- In many countries, there are homegrown ethnic or racial conflicts, and you may find you are identified with one group or another because of your physical appearance, until people discover you are American. It is unlikely that any of these situations will involve any threat of physical harm to you as an international student. However, by researching the situation of your host country, you can prepare yourself for situations you may encounter. Upon request IP staff will try to put you in contact with a student or staff member at UNCP who has experience in your host country and can address these issues with you.
You may already identify yourself as heterosexual, gay, lesbian, bisexual, or transgender, or you may still be exploring these issues. In any case, you may find the social climate, laws, and personal interactions of your host culture differ from those in the United States. Keep in mind that many of the ideas held in the U.S. about sexuality and sexual orientation are culturally-based and may be different in your host country. In some cultures, Western understandings of “gay” and “straight” do not exist or do not carry the same importance; people in same-sex relationships may not see this behavior or preference as an identity. In other cultures, there are active social movements for civil rights for sexual minorities. So, in preparing to study abroad, it may be important for you to research the LGBT climate of the countries you will be visiting. Though research might lead to frightening information, it will help you to be better prepared to face the environment you will encounter abroad. Even if you do not plan to have sexual relations while abroad, you should be informed about specific laws pertaining to sexual behavior and sexual/gender orientation. When doing research, you should try to ascertain:
- The legality of same-sex sexual behavior
- The age consent for sexual behavior
- Restrictions on freedom of associate or expression for individuals who identify as LGBT
- Anti-discrimination laws (national or local)
- Sodomy laws
You may find that other cultures have more liberal behavior than the U.S. or that you will need to hide your sexual preferences to avoid cultural ostracism or arrest.