Moving to a foreign country? Sometimes, adjusting to a new diet, climate, and living conditions can be tricky. Check out these tips on how you can stay healthy (and how to avoid getting sick) during your semester abroad!
Living in a new place, especially a new country, can take a toll on your body. Think about it....you'll be eating different food, getting exposed to new germs, sleeping in a new room (probably with a few other people) all while trying to get over jet lag. And if you're volunteering with International Language Programs, you'll be spending hours every day with the cutest kids, which is awesome, but can get pretty exhausting.
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Although your semester abroad is bound to end up being one of the best times of your life, all of these adjustments can lead to fatigue, homesickness, upset stomach, a sore throat, headaches, and other health challenges. Of course we want to help you avoid all of that, so here are a handful of simple things that will help your body to adjust more easily!
First a little disclaimer: We're not medical experts, we've just lived abroad before and understand the toll it can take on your health. These are some basic tips that really helped us!
Staying Healthy While Living Abroad
- Take Your Vitamins
- Eat Fresh
- Exercise Daily
- Get Enough Sleep
- Personal Hygiene
- Drink Water
Take Your Vitamins
In the majority of our volunteer locations, the school or a local cook will be making most (if not all) of your meals. Although we LOVE the tacos in Mexico, borscht in Russia, and curry in Thailand, your new diet may not include all of the nutrients and vitamins your body is used. Some cultures (especially in Eastern Europe) don't eat as many fresh fruits and vegetables with their meals as you might at home.
Our suggestion? Bring daily vitamins! Taking a daily multivitamin, and even Vitamin C, will help your body adjust to the new diet without losing any of those key nutrients.
+ Pack Your Own Medicines / Supplements
Your body will need some time to adjust to the food so we suggest packing common medicines (some medicines are hard to find) to help you settle your stomach. You'll also want basically all the OTC medicine you may use at home and just bring it with you in case you can't find the equivalent in country.
Another tip? Many volunteers also suggest bringing protein supplements (like maybe a powder or bar) because their diet was also lower in protein while they lived abroad.
When splurging on a meal out with your volunteer pals, we don't recommend visiting American joints. It might be tempting, especially when you're missing a good old American cheeseburger. But when living internationally, the food at spots like McDonald's, Pizza Hut, Subway, and KFC is always overpriced and usually not very fresh.
Instead, go to the local grocery store to get fresh produce (just wash it really well) and make something that tastes like home. Or go to a local hub and order something new. Intentionally adding more whole, colorful, and nutrient-dense foods to your diet will leave you feeling refreshed rather than sluggish.
But, don't get us wrong. We're totally supportive of trying out the local treats too! There's nothing quite like a Freak Shake from Lithuania's Holy Donut.
Make Sure You Wash Your Produce
Unless you can go home and wash your fruits and veggies with bottled water, you'll want to make sure to only eat fruits that you can peel. If you can't drink the water in a country, it's not a good idea to bite in an apple that probably has been washed with tap water. You should be good to go on things like bananas mangos, oranges etc since you won't be biting into the skin.
You'll most likely get to do a lot of walking during your semester. One group even hit 15 MILES in one day of walking around Rome. Whether or not you get to walk a lot, exercising daily is essential to your physical and mental health, even though it might be tempting to just relax while watching Netflix during your free time.
Many of our schools have nearby gyms, swimming pools, or even fitness classes taught by the locals. Your head teacher and the local coordinators will have specific information for your city. But, there are also so many great workout options that you can do without any equipment or gym! Here are some apps and ideas that we totally recommend.
You can even track daily steps on your phone and hold a competition with other volunteers in your group! Figure out what works best for you, but do something, and get friends to do it with you.
Get Enough Sleep
Essential. But with jet lag it may be a little hard at first, especially if you're volunteering in Africa, Europe, or Asia. Figure out when you should sleep on your long flight based on when you'll arrive at your new home. Morning? Get all the sleep you can. Night? Force yourself to stay awake as much as you can. Here are a few more tips for getting over jet lag fast!
Other tips for sleeping better throughout the semester are to avoid naps, turn off your screens at least one hour before bed, don't eat 3+ hours before bed, and read til you fall asleep. Following the other tips in this post will help as well since overall health affects sleep. While 8 hours of sleep is ideal, much more than that may leave you feeling even more tired.
This affects overall health more than we sometimes realize, plus all of your roommates will thank you for it too. And you don't have to go beyond the basics to get the benefits of this one. Deodorant, daily showers (necessary in hot hot places), brushing your teeth twice a day, washing hands—all the things you learned as a kid.
Can we include making your bed and doing dishes on here too? They obviously affect mental health more than physical, but still make a difference.
Bring So Much Hand Sanitizer
It's hard to find at international stores, and may save you from catching a cold or two. Volunteers mention wanting enough to bring for yourself and the kids you'll be teaching. Lots of times, the kids you're teaching love to stick their hands into your mouth or sneeze on you, and you'll want to have hand sanitizer handy. Some volunteers prefer to bring a larger bottle then refill the little travel sized versions so you are never without some.
Maybe the most important one in this whole post, especially if you're volunteering in a humid place like Thailand or the Dominican Republic. Basically the more you sweat, the more water you'll need to pour into your body. But water is so important to your overall health, no matter where you're living!
There's a lot of info about what your daily intake should be. Most agree that between 64 and 100 ounces or half your body weight is best. And since most people prefer cold water that they can take around with them everywhere, we totally recommend bringing a high quality water bottle to keep your drink nice and icy for hours! Volunteer favorites are the Hydroflask ($$$) and Thermoflask ($$) bottles. Might be worth sliding a reusable ice tray into your suitcase as well.
Volunteers will have access to clean drinking water while at home (and potentially while teaching). But, it's not safe to drink the tap water in many of the cities they visit on vacations, or in the city you live in. Make sure you're drinking plenty of water while abroad, especially if you're in a hot and humid area.
Want to learn more about what International Language Programs can offer you?
You'll get the chance to live abroad for a semester, trying new foods, diving into the local culture and you'll have vacation time to see even more. The program fee covers your housing, round trip airfare, meals and more!