Getting Sick Abroad [API Blog]

Today’s blog post comes to us from API Intern Abroad participant Christina DePinto. She’s doing an international internship with an Irish magazine this fall.

Christina DePinto

I rarely get sick.

I lived in a sorority house with 45 other girls during the school year and never got anything worse than a head cold. I’ve always had a strong immune system and I’m able to kick whatever comes my way very quickly. So when the pre-departure orientations mentioned medical insurance and what to do if you’re sick, I barely listened. Why would I get sick in Ireland? I never get sick in college let alone during the summer. I thought I would just be fine. 

That changed within my first 96 hours of being abroad.

From getting a nasty case of food poisoning at an event for my internship to having to go on multiple antibiotics, my time abroad has thrown a lot doctor visits my way. It sucks to get sick, but it’s even worse when you are so unfamiliar with your environment and don’t have a doctor you know to go to. But, like with all challenges while living abroad, it can serve as a great learning experience and potentially a funny story to tell later. Remember, you grow the most when you are uncomfortable so try to look at your situation in a positive way.

Dublin Ireland yellow door and bike

Here are a few things I learned as I dealt with medical care while being thousands of miles from home:

1. Don’t wait to go to the doctor

If you think you are sick or something doesn’t seem right, make an appointment or head to a walk-in clinic as soon as you can. You don’t want to get worse and have to leave work early to receive medical attention. Plus, sometimes wait times are long and a doctor can’t see you right away.

2. Don’t leave until your questions are answered.

Some countries can be dismissive about certain medical concerns and may not give you the treatment that you need. Do some research before your appointment and be up front about what your needs and symptoms are.  Don’t hesitate to ask for something that you think you need or ask the doctor to explain their thought process. I had to go to a medical clinic three times because doctors were prescribing me the incorrect antibiotics because they didn’t run any tests and just made a guess.

3. The pharmacist (most likely) knows everything.

Pharmacies work a lot different in Europe than they do in the U. S. and they can be a great resource for medical advice. So head to your local pharmacy to get your questions answered. They will be able to suggest some remedies and will tell you the best place to get medical care if they can’t help you. If you are prescribed something by a doctor, they know everything about the medicine you are taking and so it’s best to ask them all your questions. My antibiotics didn’t work because I continued to take an over the counter painkiller that my doctor said was okay. Double check with a pharmacist on all your medications because often times they know more than the doctor about all the magic potions of modern medicine. 

4. Drink water. Drink water. Drink water.

We forget how dehydrated we can get abroad and this can cause SO MANY medical problems. So do yourself a favor and make sure your drink as much water as you can to avoid any unwanted problems or dilemmas. This can be especially difficult if you cannot drink the tap water of your host country or water is expensive, so make sure you have a plan in place so then you can stay properly hydrated. Your body will thank you for it!

5. Don’t panic!

In the end, this is just one of many experiences that will push you to grow as a person while you are abroad. It may be horrible in the moment, but looking back you will be proud of yourself for getting through a more difficult time during your program and will come out with an even deeper sense of the culture and customs of your host country. 

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