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Living Your Best Life Overseas While Coping with a Chronic Illness

by Kyra Armstrong
AIFS Abroad student in Spain

If you have a chronic illness, you are used to being told what you cannot do. Well, I know the feeling, but I am here to tell you why you can and should study abroad despite your chronic illness.

Everyday life is more difficult for those who suffer from chronic illnesses; getting out of bed can often becomes the biggest accomplishment of the day. This means just the idea of travel and being away from home for a long period of time can be exhausting.

However, from someone who is on her second study abroad experience and has a chronic illness, I am here to tell you it is completely possible.

There are many days I struggle to get out of bed — but the beauty of study abroad is that I have many days to explore the world, unlike a vacation with an upcoming expiration date.

Step 1: Get through the application process and preparing to venture off.

The most important thing to remember during this time is to talk to your doctors and ensure you have enough of your medications for the next few months. Making sure you have adequate insurance and protection while abroad is also a key factor.

Step 2: Departure!

Departing for your big adventure, as scary as it is, it is also the most exciting part of study abroad. Pack your bag with some self-care items that may not be available abroad to keep you comfortable on the days that are more difficult. Whether it’s your favorite facemask, blanket, or socks, just bring an item or items that will make your day a little better. Being away from home and not feeling well is not easy, but there are ways to make it a bit better.

Step 3: Upon arrival, take care of yourself.

Next is being in another country, and it’s the best stage. When settling into your new residence, you should walk around and find the nearest pharmacy and grocery store. Stock up on teas, ice cream, and whatever other comforts you are accustomed to back home when you have your bad days. Some of my study abroad days have been stuck in bed drinking tea and watching Netflix, just hoping to feel better. Of course, maintenance is important as well. Sleep well, drink water, and take care of yourself. Going out on the town just because you can and because others are doing it is not always the best choice for someone who feels badly on normal days. It doesn’t mean you can’t have fun, but it just means you have to make your choices more wisely.

Step 4: Do not compare yourself with others.

The most important part is surviving the isolation and guilt. You will meet people who are traveling every weekend, partying every day, and never taking a break. You may feel completely isolated some days and guilty for not being able to do all of the things the people surrounding you are. Some of the people may even make judgments about you and your lifestyle. This is a negative part of dealing with a chronic illness — I am sure you deal with the same situation at home, but it is amplified when you are abroad. To get around this, you have to celebrate yourself as an individual without any comparisons. You are allowed to give yourself a break and you are allowed to be sick. You do not need to be anything you are not even if people make you feel otherwise. You shouldn’t let an experience of a lifetime pass by because other people cannot understand what your life is like.

Step 5: Take the time to appreciate the world around you.

Lastly, just know that studying abroad with a chronic illness will make you appreciate things in a more valuable way. Your bad days make the days of exploring a new country, learning a new language, and eating new foods more important than other people may imagine. Experiencing all of these new things will make you forget about all of the hard parts of having a chronic illness. Studying abroad will change your life. Do not let another “can’t” stand in your way. Where there is a will there is a way, and at the end you’ll be a better person.

This post was contributed by Kyra Armstrong, who is studying abroad with AIFS in Barcelona, Spain this fall. She also previously studied abroad with AIFS in Perth, Australia.

Living Your Best Life Overseas While Coping with a Chronic Illness | AIFS Study Abroad | Barcelona, Spain
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