Health and safety
To have a healthy and successful experience abroad, you must prepare for good health as well, both physical and emotional.
International Engineering Studies & Programs does not require students to have a physical exam before going abroad. However, it may be required for certain countries/visas. We do recommend that you schedule a visit with your medical provider to discuss any concerns; mild physical or psychological disorders can become serious under the stresses of life while studying abroad. We also recommend that you have a dental check-up and complete any necessary dental work before you go abroad.
Consult with your physician about any immunizations you should have before leaving for the countries in which you will be studying or to which you will travel. It is ultimately your responsibility to have all the necessary vaccines for the region in which you are studying or traveling before, during or after the program. Immunizations should be recorded and certified in the yellow "International Certificate of Vaccination" pamphlet. These pamphlets are available from the Post Office or from physicians.
University Health Services (and other medical providers) have travel appointments designed specifically to prepare you for international travel and study. Look into charges and coverage at UHS and your home provider, as these fees can vary widely.
If you take prescription medicine regularly or expect to take any while you are away, you should take a sufficient supply with you for your entire stay. Most insurance companies allow you to fill prescriptions for extended periods of time for travel. Insurance companies may ask for a letter to certify that you will be studying overseas. The Registrar's Office will issue this letter if you need it. You should also ask your doctor about the availability abroad of any prescription medicine you take regularly. Even if the prescription is available, it may be simpler to take an adequate supply along for the period abroad (provided it is not perishable). Be sure to keep all prescription medications in their original bottles with the pharmacy’s labels to facilitate clearance through customs. In many countries, you will also need to carry a letter from your physician, stating why you need the prescription medication. Other countries may require prior authorization for carrying medications into the country.
You should also be sure to carry a copy of all current prescriptions, including for eyeglasses and contact lenses. All prescription medicines should be packed in carry-on luggage in case the checked baggage is lost or delayed.
On campus, you can consult University Health Services. The travel clinic at UHS offers support to students traveling or studying abroad. You can make an appointment for a travel consultation by calling the UHS number at (608) 265-5600. More information is available on the web site, and travel tips are available as well.
On the web, you can consult:
Travel takes you out of your comfort zone, which means that you are likely to experience emotional highs as well as lows. While traveling and living abroad, it’s always a good idea to take care of yourself physically, especially after arrival: eat well, drink lots of water, get exercise, and rest. However, these habits will help with emotional health as well, as will preparing for culture shock and making sure you are equipped to deal with any existing emotional concerns before you go abroad.
It’s important to remember that new challenges can exacerbate existing issues. For any concerns related to emotional or mental health, be sure to assess your needs honestly and to consult with your doctor or other care provider to plan ahead (including for prescriptions) before you travel.
As you know, you must protect yourself with regard to sexual activity in terms of both personal safety from violence and in terms of sexually transmitted diseases. Avoid unsafe sex abroad as you would in the United States, and take all appropriate precautions, as the consequences can be severe: disease, unintended pregnancy, and social and emotional issues.
As with many customs, crosscultural differences exist in the consumption of alcohol. Depending on the host country, students may find the availability and public consumption of alcohol greatly increased or decreased. Often, rules about the acceptability of alcohol use in certain situations or contexts are very different than at home. If students are in recovery or think they may have a problem, we encourage them to contact an IESP staff member with whom they feel comfortable, so that we can pursue finding support contacts at the program site. Also, please be aware that there are Alcoholics Anonymous meetings internationally which are held in many cities abroad.
Alcohol use for women abroad
Please be aware that the overconsumption of alcohol can especially put women in unsafe circumstances. Women who are publicly drunk may be looked at differently abroad than in the U.S. In many countries, a woman who is publicly drunk is looked upon as "loose" or "unladylike" or inviting advances from men.
Illegal drug use
Illegal drug use and possession are serious crimes. While drugs in some countries may seem easily available, this does not mean they are legal. Penalties for use or possession of illegal drugs can include jail terms, hard labor, and even the death penalty. If a student is arrested, he or she is subject to the host country's laws and neither the UW-Madison nor the U.S. Embassy can protect the student from the local legal consequences. In some places, even association with people possessing or using illegal drugs is considered the same as personal use or possession.
While on a UW-Madison study abroad program, participants are responsible for obeying all local laws. In addition, as UW-Madison students, they are expected to abide by Wisconsin laws, including the legal drinking age of 21. If IESP hears reports that participants on its programs are using drugs or breaking other local laws, they will be confronted with the issue and may be asked to leave the program.
There are many cross-cultural differences in the meanings of food and in standards of beauty. Students with eating disorders may find these differences create additional challenges for them. A well-meaning host may insist on serving more food to students than they care to eat, or someone may intend to compliment them by saying that they have put on weight. This is simply a reflection of the speaker's cultural beliefs and values. Students with eating disorders should be sure to discuss their plans to study abroad with health care providers before leaving. We also encourage students to contact IESP, so that we can pursue finding support networks at the program site.
General safety tips
- Know where you are going. Do your homework before traveling: read guidebooks, look at maps, check local websites, review host university information, etc.
- Leave expensive or expensive-looking jewelry at home.
- Do not carry valuables, even in a backpack or locked luggage. If you must carry a laptop, camera, radio, etc. don't leave them unattended.
- Do not flaunt wallets, purses, cell phones or cameras. Wear a money belt, concealed under your clothing.
- Put valuables in the hotel safe, lock them in your suitcase or ask your local contact about storing valuables while at the program site (when possible).
- Avoid unlit places and walking alone. Stick to well-traveled streets and walk in groups at night. Be especially cautious when you are new to a city and know little about what parts of town may be less safe.
Personal safety for female travelers
While it is impossible to generalize about the experience of women traveling in all places in the world, they may experience some gender-specific challenges when living or traveling abroad. This is not to say that it is more dangerous to be a woman in countries other than the U.S. In fact, the incidence of violent crime against women is higher in the U.S. than in many other countries. Language and cultural differences however might mean that what a woman considers appropriate dress and behavior in the U.S. will be interpreted much differently by the men — and women — of her host country. This is further compounded by the fact that the people in some other countries may have distorted or stereotyped notions about American women, based on images acquired through American films and advertising. Traits such independence and strength which is generally valued by U.S. women, may be perceived differently in other countries. Some safety suggestions women on past programs have made include:
- Take a self-defense class before leaving the U.S. to increase your confidence and teach you important skills.
- Use travel guides and resources to learn as much as possible about the host country; talk to women who have visited it as well. The more you know about local customs and traditions, the better prepared you will be to go there.
- Follow the example of women from your host country, in terms of culturally appropriate dress and demeanor.
- Trust your instincts. If you do not feel safe in a situation or someone's behavior is making you uncomfortable, get out of the situation immediately.
- Travel in groups of at least two, especially when you are unfamiliar with a city or town.
- Lock hotel rooms when traveling. Do not stay in hotels without adequate locks. It is not worth the savings to put yourself at risk.
- Walk with purpose and avoid eye contact with strangers.
- Firmly say "no" to any invitation you do not want and turn away. Ignore persistent overtures.
- Do not drink alcohol in excess.
Safety precautions in times of political or social unrest or conflict
In times of political or social unrest in the host country or region, or when the United States becomes a party to a political conflict anywhere in the world, additional precautions are advisable. Please note the following recommendations regarding this issue:
- Be aware of the current political situations by listening daily to the television or radio if available. If this is not possible, ask friends, host family, and colleagues to share with you any relevant information they learn. In case of an emergency, advisories may be made to the general public through the media. In case of an emergency, remain in contact with the on-site staff.
- Make sure that you are registered with the closest U.S. (or your country of citizenship) Embassy or Consulate. Registration is strongly recommended and can be done online. For more information, consult the State Department's information on travel registration.
- When in large cities and other popular tourist destinations, avoid places frequented by North Americans: bars, discos, and fast food restaurants associated with the U.S., branches of U.S. banks, American churches, U.S. businesses and offices, U.S. Consulates or Embassies.
- Keep away from areas known to have large concentrations of residents aligned with interests unfriendly to the United States and its allies. Always consult with the on-site officials before undertaking travel to neighboring cities or popular tourist destinations.
- Be as inconspicuous in dress and demeanor as possible. Wear moderate colors and conservative clothing. Avoid American logos on your belongings and clothing. Avoid large loud groups.
- Keep away from political demonstrations, particularly those directed toward the United States. If you see a situation developing, resist the temptation to satisfy your curiosity and investigate what is happening. Walk the other way.
- Do not agree to newspaper or other media interviews regarding political conflicts. It is important to remain as inconspicuous as possible. Do not make reference to your program group. In such cases, always say "no comment" and hang up or walk the other way.
Safety and travel resources
Consult the State Department's Bureau of Consular Affairs (Travel.state.gov) for general information or specific travel warnings and alerts.