Some areas/regions will present more dietary challenges. Pay attention to any precautions regarding food or water in the area in which you are traveling. If you are told not to eat food from street stands, not to drink tap water, or not to eat raw or unwashed foods, remember the old adage, “Peel it, boil it, cook it, or forget it.”
- BE SURE TO EXERCISE—Exercise is important for both physical and mental health regardless of where you are. It's an excellent counterbalance to jet lag, dietary change, and the emotional ups and downs of culture shock-and it may be easier to do in your destination than it was at home. For instance, you'll probably walk more than in the United States because student housing is often farther from where classes are held and cars are less common in many regions of the world. Ask program directors about safe routes for walking to class, and follow their recommendations. Although many locations are very safe, don't assume that because you are in a different place you are automatically safe. Always ask!
- AVOID ALCOHOL ABUSE—Alcohol abuse can plague students overseas, even some who didn't suffer from it at home. Some countries have more lenient drinking laws, and some cultures follow traditions different for many Americans about the position of alcohol in everyday social life. All of a sudden, you may find that the rules you knew at home are gone, replaced by new or unknown ones.
Don't let that situation get the better of you, and don't let yourself be pressured into drinking excessively, or at all if you don't want to. Not only can alcohol abuse damage the body and emotions considerably, but the legal implications can be more serious in other countries, even those with more lenient drinking ages. Driving-while-intoxicated laws, for example, may be far more severe abroad than they are in the United States. Just be mindful and cautious with alcohol.
- AVOID SUBSTANCE ABUSE—While most countries, except those with religious prohibitions, tolerate social drinking, the use of mood- or mind-altering drugs is rarely allowed anywhere, under any circumstances. And the consequences for illegal substance use/ abuse can be devastating. It is damaging not only to the body, but the severe legal consequences can affect your visa status as a visiting student. Some countries slap down stiff penalties for drug use, and they don't lighten them just because you are a student and/or a U.S. citizen.
- BE AWARE OF EMOTIONAL ISSUES—Don't expect that going abroad will help you "get away from it all"! If you have emotional issues at home, travel and living abroad won't cure them, especially when you consider that now you are dealing with culture shock, a different diet, and a new exercise pattern. In fact, travel abroad may make your emotional issues feel even more overwhelming. If you start feeling emotional distress, seek out counseling and available support systems where you are studying. Organizations such as Alcoholics Anonymous exist worldwide, as do other groups designed to help you cope. Your program director can help you locate them.
- STAY VIGILANT ABOUT STDS AND AIDS—By now you realize that cultural attitudes and behaviors can differ vastly from one region to another, and sexual attitudes and behavior are not exceptions. No matter where you are, though, unhealthy and unprotected sexual behavior carries serious health risks just the same as it does in the U.S.
STDs such as gonorrhea, herpes, chlamydia, and syphilis pose health threats in virtually every country of the world. Take the same precautions you would take at home to avoid exposure to all of these. HIV, the virus responsible for AIDS, can be transmitted through contaminated hypodermic needles/syringes and blood supplies as well as sexually. Follow the health advisories, especially in areas where AIDS is endemic.