As someone who has wanted to study abroad for as long as I can remember, it is fair to say I have done countless hours of research. I found most of my knowledge by reading blogs, scrolling through Instagram accounts, and gathering advice from my friends who have studied abroad. I was constantly told, “Pack light!” and “Stay ahead of your schoolwork!” and “Shop around for the best flights!” While all of this is sound advice, I personally wanted more.
I wanted to know about not only the good, but the bad and the ugly of study abroad. Why not prepare myself for anything and everything? For example, it is so important to remain healthy during the exciting weeks abroad. Without maintaining one’s health, the fun experiences of study abroad will pass one by.
After just two short weeks into my semester abroad, here are a few things I did (or should have done) to remain healthy that I think you should consider, too.
Before saying “arrivederci!” to the United States…
1. Talk to Your Doctor
Are you going somewhere that requires shots? Do you have any prescription medication? Do you have seasonal allergies? There are a host of reasons to talk to your primary care physician, and you may not discover them all until you do. I would highly recommend making an appointment about a month before you leave to talk over everything. This way, you have enough time to get prepared and make any necessary adjustments.
If you have prescription medications, it may take some time to get enough refills to last your semester abroad. Some insurance companies may require you to call them directly. Regardless, it is vital to check in and make sure you will be taken care of while you are gone.
2. Boost Your Immune System
If you have traveled before, especially by air, you know that it can take a toll on your body. You are surrounded by people from different walks of life for hours on end. This can be a great way to meet new people, but also an easy way to share germs with your arm rest buddy.
When I travel, I always give my immune system a little boost by taking some vitamin C or Emergen-C. By doing so, it gives me peace of mind that I am giving myself a little TLC before I actually need it.
I also try to remain hydrated, especially on overnight flights. Personally, I find it best to drink a full bottle or two before getting on a plane. Then, while flying, to have more. It’s easy to want to fall asleep for 8 hours and wake up in another country, but I always find myself better off if I wake up and have some water every now and then.
I’m Here, Now What?
1. Just Landed? Hit the Ground Running!
Jet lag is all too real. It is not fun, at all. But as everyone says, it’s so much easier to deal with if you push through it in your first few days. I know it would be so nice to take a quick nap, but I guarantee it you’ll wake up feeling even worse. Power through and get adjusted to the time difference!
2. Maintain Your Routine
Do you religiously workout a few days a week at home? Are you someone who cannot function without breakfast? Do you have to sleep eight hours every night to feel like yourself? Something that I have seen that is critical for lots of people is to get a sense of normalcy. Don’t sell yourself short by thinking you have to change everything about your routine just because you are in a new place.
Find a good running route to pass your favorite landmarks in your new home (in my case, the Arno River), have breakfast at that cafe on the way to class, and get in your Z’s! Your body will thank you.
3. Balance Your Diet
Luckily for me, I chose to study abroad in Florence, where all of my Italian cravings are a reality. I am surrounded by good pasta, gelato, and pizza. What’s not to love?
In these first few weeks, I have had to force myself to find healthy options to enjoy. While I still eat pasta almost every day, I am still making the effort to have a balanced diet that includes fruits and vegetables.
4. Water is Your Friend
Free water, especially. Something incredibly common in Europe is to charge for water. As a college student on a budget, I drink free water like it’s my job. While in a lot of countries in Europe, water could cost anywhere between €1 and €4. By no means is this expensive, but it is something my friends and I have become more aware of. Make an effort to fill up a water bottle at home each morning! If not, check around to see if there are any public fountains in your city. Florence has a few that have a choice between still or sparkling! Generally, water is simple way to maintain your health.
5. Be Mindful of Your Mental Health
As every college student knows, school can sometimes be stressful and overwhelming. For many students, your day-to-day routine at your home university may consist of class, meals, clubs, practice, events, homework, and a variety of other things. This can take a toll on anyone. While studying abroad, you will still have some of the same stressors along with sorting out weekend trips and living in a completely new environment.
Give yourself the time you need to make sure you have a healthy mind. Relax one evening with a facemask, a Facetime call to mom, a good Netflix series, a book, or whatever puts your mind at ease. Your mental health is just as important, if not more important, while studying abroad than it is at home.
Overall, it is important to figure out what works for you. The best memories are ones that are made on your own terms, with a healthy body and mind ready for whatever a new day’s adventures may bring.
This post was contributed by Hannah Ryans, who is spending her spring semester studying abroad with AIFS in Florence, Italy.