Your medical needs will depend largely on your destination. To find out what is currently recommended or required, see the information provided by your program, and that available from the Centers for Disease Control, World Health Organization, and Bowdoin's Health Services (a licensed travel vaccination site). Some countries require vaccination or negative-HIV certificates. Most programs will require you to provide a medical report, consisting of a doctor's physical exam and additional information from you on your medical history and any disabilities for which you are requesting reasonable accommodations. Be candid about any physical or mental health issues, as this information helps administrators inform you about the resources you are likely to find at your destination. Note that facilities and attitudes vary widely, even within countries apparently similar to the U.S.
Appointments at Bowdoin's Health Services. Provided that you make an appointment in good time, Health Services can assist you in completing health and insurance forms; give physical exams and TB skin tests (no charge); administer HIV-antibody tests (no charge); give vaccinations (at cost); and arrange for chest x-rays. They can help you decide about preventive medications for malaria, altitude sickness, allergies, diarrhea, etc. Note that the Bowdoin College Plan and many other insurance plans do not cover preventive travel medicine, nor are such costs included in program fees. You should not delay your visit to Health Services until the last few days of the semester: all appointment slots are likely to be taken; it may be too late to start a required course of immunization and medication; and test results are probably needed in order to obtain a visa and final entry to your program.
Prescription medication. Bring sufficient prescription medication for your entire time away; Health Services can help you get a waiver from the insurance company to obtain more than the usual one-month supply. Carry prescription medication in its original container, and have a copy of the written prescription that gives the drug's generic, not U.S. brand, name. Some countries restrict the importation or supply of certain medications commonly prescribed in the U.S.; check with the consulate or embassy. If you take such a controlled medication, it will help to bring a copy of your medical records and a doctor's note in case you need to seek a prescription in the host country. Do not mail any kind of medicine. Health Services can also provide advice on birth control pills, emergency contraceptives, and the use of condoms in preventing STDs.
Mental health. Going abroad and venturing out of one's comfort zone can often be emotionally challenging. Anticipate potential sources of stress. If you are currently seeing a therapist, arrange to continue with an in-country therapist if that would be beneficial to you. Do not discontinue any prescription medication that you may be taking for depression, anxiety or other mental health conditions.
Food and nutrition. Learn about the regional diet, as it is an integral part of the culture. Be prepared to change your eating habits, both in terms of timing of meals and kinds of food, to adjust to the local culture. If you have dietary restrictions or food allergies, learn how to communicate them in the local language and in a culturally sensitive way. Take note of food and water precautions recommended by the CDC.
General health issues. If a regular health-care visit will be due while you are away (e.g., a Pap smear or dental exam), you might try to take care of it before you leave. If you have any chronic medical problems or conditions, visit Health Services to discuss your care and needs while away. If you have significant allergies or chronic medical needs, consider a MedicAlert bracelet. If you wear glasses or contact lenses, bring the written prescription, and consider bringing an extra pair. Depending on the country, you may also want to bring a supply of over-the-counter drugstore items, which can be more expensive or harder to find elsewhere, such as pain relievers, medicine for stomach upsets, and tampons.
Conditions are unsettled in many parts of the world, particularly with conflict continuing in the Middle East. The impact on Bowdoin students' safety in very diverse locations should not be overstated, but it remains extremely important for you to keep yourself well informed about your host country. Although there are no guarantees of safety for study anywhere in the world, including the U.S., there are some simple precautions to take, and some useful sources of information. The U.S. State Department issues consular information sheets and travel warnings, summarizing entry requirements and health and safety issues, for all foreign countries. Read them at the State Department website, and check the website for up-to-date information shortly before you leave. You can view another useful collection of information on health and safety issues, assembled by the SAFETI clearinghouse, at the Center for Global Education website.
Study abroad programs are in regular touch with their host-country sources, monitor U.S. State Department and local embassy recommendations, and maintain their own emergency plans. They are likely to register you with the local US Embassy. You can do this simple process online yourself. Your program staff will inform you about safety measures; ask if you still have any questions about their procedures or conditions in the host country. In the event of an international or local emergency, if their sources indicate that the safety of their students is likely to be threatened, they will of course take whatever measures they decide to be necessary and prudent, including cancellation, relocation, or even evacuation in the most extreme circumstances. Only rarely in the past has it proved necessary, because of State Department recommendations and the imminence of war in the immediate area, to cancel any programs.
Travel Warnings. If the State Department issues a Travel Warning for the country where you plan to study, Bowdoin asks you and a parent to sign a second waiver acknowledging awareness of the warning and of your responsibilities in electing to travel there. Countries for which warnings have recently been in force include Israel, Kenya, Nepal, and Sri Lanka.
Safety precautions that you can take. During your program orientation you will learn about potential hazards, and about the importance for your safety of your own responsible and intelligent behavior. Few places have the crime rates of large U.S. cities, and you should resist viewing what is strange or new to you as inevitably dangerous or hostile, but it will take a while for you to be able to interpret signs of danger in an unfamiliar country. The continuing hostilities in the Middle East and elsewhere have colored international attitudes. Americans can be seen as wealthy (even if they are not) and a target for robbery, and as representatives of U.S. foreign policy and a target for retaliation (even if they oppose that policy). Be sensible about what you wear (avoid obviously American clothing and display of expensive electronics), and how you act in public. Keep your voice low, speak the local language as much as possible, and avoid American hang-outs. Stay away from political demonstrations. Finally, be especially careful about alcohol use. Most misadventures that students have while studying abroad, especially accidental injuries and brushes with crime, occur in conjunction with unwise drinking.
When you go out, bring no more money or credit/ATM cards than you will need. A wallet or passport in a backpack is vulnerable to theft in crowded places (and backpacks look American). If you do not need valuables with you, store them in a safe place. Leave expensive watches or jewelry in the US. Before you leave, photocopy or scan your passport╒s photo and data pages and other important cards; keep a copy separate from other valuables, in the care of a program administrator or other responsible person.
You have special responsibilities in any independent travel during breaks. Your program may ask you to leave emergency contact information with the staff, but you alone are responsible for the safety of your actions if they are not part of a program-sponsored activity. Remember that in many parts of the world road travel is much less safe than in the U.S., because of road conditions, the general quality of driving and observation of road laws, or vehicle safety standards. Wear seat belts and helmets as you would at home. You are strongly advised not to drive a car while abroad. For information on traffic-related safety conditions in countries abroad, including bus safety information in your host country, consult the Association for Safe International Road Travel.
Gender and sexuality. Cultural norms related to gender and sexuality vary widely, and misunderstandings in this area are a source of confusion. Behaviors that are perfectly acceptable in one culture might be highly inappropriate in another. Educate yourself about gender norms in your host country and be mindful of how behavior that would be unremarkable in the United States might be interpreted in a different cultural context. For example, most people in the U.S. believe that men and women can have non-sexual relationships with one anothe -- they can be friends and companions without being physically intimate. In some other cultures, people believe it is difficult or impossible for non-sexual relationships to exist between men and women. Understanding your host country's social mores will help you make informed choices about where you go, with whom you interact, and what behaviors you choose. Modifying your behavior when you are living in a cultural context different from your own is not capitulating to the values of that culture. Rather, it is a prudent course of action that demonstrates respect for cultural differences.
Sexual harassment is a particularly difficult area to deal with because of the variation among cultures in socially and legally acceptable behavior. But if you conclude that the behavior of somebody with whom you come into contact on your program is making you feel threatened or uncomfortable, you should not hesitate to report it to a staff member of your program, who should be able to assist you in sorting out the situation in a culturally appropriate manner.
Students who are sexually assaulted should seek immediate medical treatment. Your program and the U.S. Embassy or Consulate can help you find support to deal with the emotional, social, medical, and legal consequences of the assault.
Emergency plans. It is wise to compile a personal emergency action plan that includes important numbers and contact information (911 equivalent, consulate/embassy, program administrators, other emergency contacts). You can find a good sample emergency plan at the Loyola Marymount Center for Global Education. Keep your plan in a safe place along with other items that you would need in an emergency.
At the start of your program, review the emergency procedures to be followed in the event of fire, earthquake, civil unrest, or terrorist attack. There will probably be emergency phone numbers, and perhaps a common assembly point if it is impossible or unsafe to meet at the program office; keep the numbers handy in your wallet. Some programs issue cell phones so that they can reach students quickly in an emergency. In such circumstances, you are unlikely to need to contact Bowdoin's Office of the Dean of Student Affairs right away, but a dean is always on call if you need follow-up assistance or advice (+1 207 725 3149). Outside normal Bowdoin office hours, call Security at +1 207 725 3314.
Executive Assistance Program. Bowdoin students abroad have access to the Executive Assistance Program, an emergency assistance service designed to assist with extraordinary needs. It is not an insurance policy and does not provide medical payments; rather it is designed to work in tandem with your existing insurance and provide assurance of benefit availability. Further details and a wallet card with emergency numbers.
Be sure that you have sufficient health and accident insurance, including travel before and after your program. Students' needs and preferences for insurance depend on the location and facilities of their program and host country, and whether they are covered by the Bowdoin College Plan, family insurance, program insurance, and optional supplementary insurance. Many private optional plans (including one from Bowdoin's agency, Gallagher Koster) exist for those who desire additional medical coverage or, for example, insurance for lost or stolen property and baggage, and trip cancellation or interruption.
All Bowdoin students must be enrolled in a health insurance plan. OCS students will be automatically enrolled in the Bowdoin College Student Accident and Sickness Insurance Plan, unless they show that they have comparable coverage for both emergency and non-emergency services. The deadline for waiving coverage in Bowdoin's plan is 8 August 2011. If you do not waive coverage by this date, you will be automatically enrolled, and the charge will remain on your student bill. Families may choose to maintain private insurance or purchase the study away program's insurance in addition to the Bowdoin Plan; in such cases, Bowdoin's Plan will be secondary to any other insurance plan. In late May, Gallagher Koster, Bowdoin's student health insurance service agency, mails more detailed information, including points for financial aid students without comparable coverage, and instructions for the on-line waiver process. Read it carefully and compare the coverage with that offered through your program or your family's private insurance to determine what is best for you. If before then you have questions about the plan design or the waiver process, please contact Gallagher Koster by phone (800.457.5599) or email, or go to the Gallagher Koster website to download information. You may direct more general questions to the Bowdoin Health Services Office by email or phone (207 798 4284).
The dates of coverage under the Bowdoin Plan are 15 August 2011 through 14 August 2012. If you will be off campus for the fall semester only and waive coverage in the Bowdoin Plan while away, you can purchase Bowdoin's coverage upon return for the spring semester only. If you will be off campus for the full year, you must either purchase or waive coverage for the entire year; you may not change your coverage mid-year unless you have a qualifying event. If you will be off campus for the spring semester only, you must either purchase or waive coverage for the entire year (i.e., there is no fall-only plan).
A supplement to the above, though not sufficient as sole coverage, is provided by the International Student Identity Card, which offers basic insurance for accident medical expense (up to $25,000, including $500 emergency dental coverage), sickness and hospital expenses ($165 a day, up to 61 days), emergency evacuation ($300,000), repatriation of remains ($25,000), accidental death and dismemberment (air $5,000, excluding air $1,000), lost document replacement ($500), baggage delay ($100), and travel delay ($100). See the ISIC website for full details.