Before you leave to study abroad, it is wise to have both dental and physical check-ups. If you wear glasses or contact lenses, be sure to take an extra pair, along with your prescription. People with medical problems which are not easily recognized (e.g., diabetes, allergic reactions to antibiotics or bee stings, heart conditions, epilepsy, etc.) should consider obtaining a medic alert identification tag from a doctor or pharmacy as these are internationally recognized.
If you need medical help while abroad, contact your host university health center, program provider or the U.S. Consulate office for a list of local doctors who speak English.
All students should make an appointment with the W&M Student Health Center BEFORE going abroad to ensure that all immunizations are up-to-date. It is a good idea to make sure that your childhood vaccines for measles, mumps, rubella, and diphtheria are current before going abroad. It is advisable to carry a copy of your immunizations at all times and scan a copy to your email, in case of emergency. Leave the original document at home.
Foreign countries often require certain immunizations that you would not normally have during a physical examination in the U.S. For information about which immunizations are needed for specific regions of the world, please contact the Center for Disease Control hotline at (800) 232-2522. Travel Health of Williamsburg (757) 220-9008 is also qualified to give up-to-date, expert advice on recommended immunizations for all parts of the world. You may also wish to check the World Health Organization for detailed listing of problems in specific countries.
If you know you will require medication while traveling abroad, obtain a full supply before you leave (enough to last for the duration of your stay, because you may not be able to find the same medication overseas). You should carry up-to-date prescriptions and a statement from your doctor, especially if you will be carrying insulin, a syringe or any narcotic drug. Check with the embassy of your destination country about the legality of bringing medicines with you. Keep all vital medicines in your carry-on luggage to ensure a constant supply if your luggage is lost or delayed.
You may want to buy a medical alert bracelet if you have a specific medical condition that requires regular injections.
Everyone reacts differently to new foods, eating habits, and new environments. Remember it may take a few weeks for your body to adjust to the new cuisine you will be eating. Tasting new foods is half the fun of learning more about the new culture, though you may want to carry a few medications from home such as aspirin, Tums, etc. Read the food section of any travel guide for recommendations of national dishes to try, but be aware of standards of cleanliness and water quality. Especially in developing countries, eat where others are eating, avoid street food, drink bottled water, and eat only fruits you can peel.
As Americans, our understanding of sexuality, sexual activity, dating, and relationships is informed by dominant social and cultural norms. It is important to keep in mind that other cultures have varying perspectives on what constitutes normative sexuality and dating, some of which may differ significantly from what you are used to in America.
Take some time to do a little research about the laws and cultural norms in your host country surrounding relationships, dating, and public displays of affection, among both same-sex and opposite-sex couples. In some cultures, public displays of affection are widely accepted, while in others it can lead to legal problems. In some places, perceived same-sex desire (behavior, dress) is illegal. Please read the passages about gender issues and LGBT individuals for more details about gender roles, stereotypes, and dating. These issues should be taken into consideration with regard to relationships and dating abroad.
Relationships and Dating
In other cultures, dating rituals may be different than what you are used to. For example, dating in groups is much more common in some cultures than individual dating, which is reserved for serious, long-term relationships. Sex may or may not be a common component of dating in your host country. Like in America, acceptance of interracial couples varies by region; some places are very accepting, while in others interracial dating is widely unaccepted. A little research in advance will give you a general sense of dating practices in your host country, and may help offset possible misunderstandings and uncomfortable situations.
For sexually active women, you should request extra supplies of birth control/contraception from your healthcare provider to cover your entire stay abroad. If you are unable to do so, you should research a local physician/pharmacy in your host country. Make sure to inquire about cost and prescription requirements etc. Contraception may not as readily available abroad, and it's best to arrive prepared. In America, condom production and packaging is monitored by the U.S. Food and Drug Administration. This is not the case in all countries, so it's best to bring condoms from home. If you plan to have birth control medication sent to you abroad, be aware that it will probably be confiscated.
Like in America, STI/STDs and HIV/AIDS exist abroad. Be aware that in some regions, HIV/AIDS is more rampant than others. In some nations, well over 25% of adults are HIV-positive. In some regions, STI/STDs and birth control are not discussed publically and are widely misunderstood. You may find it challenging to find a healthcare center that offers STI/STD testing, so conduct research ahead of time, and keep yourself informed.
Even though these suggestions lead to safer sex, the only guaranteed form of prevention for STI/STDs and pregnancy is abstinence. If you choose to be sexually active while abroad, please take control of your sexual health; only you can keep yourself safe.
If you or someone you know has been sexually assaulted while abroad, please contact:
- The Reves Center: (757) 221-3594 (Monday thru Friday, 8:00am-5:00pm EST)
- Campus Police: (757) 221-4596 (Anytime)
In addition, you can find immediate resources on W&M's Sexual Assault Resources and Education website. The Counseling Center (757-221-3620) also has counselors on call 24/7 who are there to help.
Information provided by NAFSA's "Sexual Health Abroad: A Guide to Healthy Practices During Education Abroad" by Melissa Chambers.
The following sites provide more detailed information on health issues while abroad. Please take time to peruse them before you leave.
- The International Society of Travel Medicine (ISTM)
- The World Health Organization
- Travel Health Online
- U.S. Department of Health and Human Services
- Center for Disease Control: Travelers' Health
- International Association for Medical Assistance to Travelers (IAMAT)
IAMAT, as well as most U.S. Embassies abroad, can likewise provide you with a list of doctors worldwide who speak English.