What to do When You Get Sick on Study Abroad

One element of study abroad is that things don’t always go as planned. For two weeks, one of which was Spring Break, I was struck down by the flu, tonsillitis, and a killer migraine. Although it is nerve-wracking to become really sick while abroad, there are several steps that you can take to help ease this anxiety and your symptoms.

The first course of action I took while I was sick was informing my host mom and program coordinator at CIEE about my ailments. I had been sick for several days at this point, and CIEE and my host mom were both able to provide me a recommendation for Santa Isabel, a local clinic that provides translation services to its patients. While at the clinic, the interpreter was able to translate my symptoms into Spanish. This eased my anxiety as medical vocabulary is extremely technical and I’m not quite fluent enough to get around the hospital on my own. Moreover, the interpreter explained why I needed an IV to ease my migraine and flu symptoms. I’d highly recommend going to a hospital or clinic with translator services if you’re sick while abroad, as it can help to ease the anxiety that accompanies a hospital visit in a foreign country.

Another reason I’d recommend informing your host family of your symptoms is so that they can accommodate you in the best ways possible. While I was sick, I was sleeping 15 to 18
hours every day. My host mom knew about my fatigue, so I was able to rest without interruption. She also knew about my inability to eat and would prepare me food best suited for the flu and tonsillitis like lentil soup and tortilla de patatas. If I didn’t mention already, my host mom took amazing care of me. She lent me her thermometer and accompanied me to the clinic when I had to return for a second time to get antibiotics. I truly don’t know how I would have survived those two weeks without the care and compassion from my host mom.

Lentil Soup is like the Chicken Noodle Soup of Spain

One thing I wasn’t prepared for while I was sick abroad was how homesick I would become. At times there was nothing more that I wanted besides the comfort of my family, English speaking doctors, and a can of chicken noodle soup. The good news is that I was able to video chat with my parents and friends through Skype and WhatsApp. Talking with your parents and friends majorly helps to ease the anxiety of foreign clinic visits. Also, nothing beats seeing your pets over video chat while you’re sick.

Skyping with my cat Lily

After two weeks of sleeping the day away, I was finally healthy again! Once I regained my energy I contacted both my program coordinators at Wisconsin and CIEE to discuss insurance policies to cover my medical expenses. Luckily, both Wisconsin and CIEE provide health insurance to the students on their programs. With some help from my advisors, I was able to process insurance claims. These are still a work in progress, but be sure to take advantage of all the services and support that are provided to you by both the Study Abroad office at Wisconsin and through CIEE.