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  • Greg McNeil

Being Sick 3000 Miles Away

Written for IFSA butler - the program I studied abroad with


Most people like to discuss the good times of studying abroad. I am very much one of those people. Studying abroad in Brighton, England was an eye-opening and life-changing experience, however, it was not without its negatives. One of the worst days I had was when I was sick in England. Unlike America, England has universal health care, which coming in I was skeptical about. Like most Americans, I had heard the rhetoric about the long lines and questionable care that anti-health care proponents had grown fond of publicizing.


Getting sick abroad was an oversight I never really thought about. I tried to cover my bases when planning. I thought about how I was going to get food, how I was going to travel, etc. I never thought, “What am I going to do when I get sick?” In early October of 2015, I woke up with no voice. Figuring it would come back, I went about my normal class schedule. It was in class that I realized I still could not talk. I started to freak out; I had assignments due and plans with friends, and I did not want to be sick for them. I quickly thought about the first thing I normally do in this situation, which is to call the doctor’s office and setup an appointment. Realizing that probably was not an option, I asked my British friend and roommate, Anoshan, about what to do. He told me I needed to sign up the National Health Service (NHS), and I could just walk into the on campus clinic if I had signed for the NHS. I went online and was told there is a waiting period of at least 2 days for my application to be processed. I quickly realized that there was no way around it. I could have called the emergency medical services, but what I had did not constitute as an emergency. It was, however, making doing schoolwork exponentially more difficult. Here are some tips for what you can do to prepare for the possibility of being sick while abroad, so you can help avoid the same situation I was in:


● Before you leave, register for the National Health Service. It simple to do, but has a processing time which means if you get sick and then you register, you cannot use it immediately. You can visit their very clear website for instructions on how to actually register. Additionally, remember to bring medication. You will probably remember to bring the important medication, such as allergy pens or asthma meds, but people often forget to bring things like Tylenol or Aspirin. You can get these things when you get to school, but if your immune system is like mine, illness strikes hard and quickly, and the last thing you want to be doing is walking across campus just to get some medication.


Try to remember tips that work at home. I found myself forgetting how important it was to get sleep, drink water and eat healthy foods, just because of the amount of fun I was having.


● If you do get sick, remember to contact your professors and let them know you will not be attending class. Additionally, you should mark out the location of the nearest doctor’s office so you are prepared when you do get sick. Using common sense is probably the best advice that I can give someone not expecting to be sick. Do what you would normally do at home, but in your host county. Make sure you plan for the unexpected.


Overall, my time in Europe helped me understand the importance of planning and showed me that it is important to do research on things that we take for granted in the United States. I never thought about getting sick in England, and when I did, I was fortunate to ask people who knew the system better than I did for help. If I had to impart one bit of advice it would be that health care systems are different in every country, so make sure you do your research and ask your advisors or resident staff what to expect in the country you plan to study in.

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