Study Abroad Allows Travel Without Baggage

Lindsay Meck

When I dream of my Fall Quarter trip to India, I imagine trekking through the Himalayas, sipping a mango lassi at an open air bazaar and cheering at a cricket match. But the harsh reality of mosquitoes, food poisoning and UV rays seem to be unleashing a monsoon on my parade. After several cryptic voice mail messages from my father about the threat of avian flu, I felt the time had come to schedule a travel health appointment.

For the 20 percent of Northwestern students who travel abroad, vaccinations can be a necessary precaution as well as a serious investment of time and money. No matter how badly students miss those Evanston winters, no one wants to be emergency airlifted out of his or her host country. As the old proverb goes, “Better safe than SAR-y.”

Fortunately, reliable travel health care is readily available through University Health Service and more than a dozen private clinics along the North Shore. According to the World Health Organization (WHO), a traveler should consult a medical professional about four to six weeks before the journey. During the first appointment, the professional will evaluate the trip (destination, duration, purpose) and recommend appropriate preventative measures.

After reviewing my semester itinerary, my doctor at Searle printed out a list of risks from the WHO Web site. Required immunizations obviously vary by region. Some countries are more challenging than others. Upon learning about diseases ranging from Japanese encephalitis to “Delhi Belly,” an unpleasant gastrointestinal problem, my suspicions have been confirmed: Europe is for pansies.

My doctor quizzed me about allergies, personal history and the nature of my stay: “Do you expect to be in areas where you will be exposed to dog bites, scratches or animal excrement?” I gulped in fear, hoping she wouldn’t reveal the symptoms of such interaction. “We can probably skip that,” she said, “as long as you will be within 24 hours of dependable medical care.” I wondered if it was too late to refund my deposit.

By the time I leave in the fall, I will have become a regular at Searle, visiting the clinic at least four times for typhoid injections, polio boosters, malaria pills and assorted hepatitis sequences. And day passes at this health club aren’t cheap. The pain to your arm won’t sting as badly as the pain to your wallet. A few rounds of shots at Searle will run you a bigger tab than the wildest night at Prairie Moon.

Is the inconvenience and irritation worth it? Though the incidences of infection are isolated, the consequences are intimidating. Who wants to be remembered as that kid who came back from abroad with a tropical fever or, worse, a second head? I would have preferred a postcard.

Regardless of the health hassles, the opportunity to study in a foreign country is a life-altering experience not to be dismissed. When else in your life will you be able to see the world without the baggage of adulthood? The college years are crucial to developing one’s global consciousness and appreciation for other cultures.

So go forth, explore and may the only stomach pangs you feel be curable by a call from home and not an antibiotic.

Lindsay Meck is a Communication senior. She can be reached at [email protected]