Keeping students safe and healthy while they are abroad is a top priority for Case Western Reserve University, and students should make their own health and safety a top individual priority as well. For this reason, all students studying abroad for a semester or longer are required to attend a Pre-Departure Orientation, which reviews important health and safety information.
Use the links below to jump to a section within this page.
- Emergency Contact Card
- In Case of Emergency
- Health and Wellness
- Health Services and Insurance Abroad
- Mental Health, Stress and Culture Shock
- Staying Safe
- Alcohol and Drug Use
- Sexual Health
You should fill out your emergency contact card and keep it on your person at all times. In addition, if you have any allergies, you should carry written documentation of your allergies.
If you are traveling to a country that has a native language other than English, you may also want to translate this information. If you don’t speak the language of the country to which you’re traveling and you need help translating allergy information, contact the Office of Education Abroad at firstname.lastname@example.org or in Tomlinson Hall, Suite 143.
In case of an emergency abroad, follow these steps:
- Dial the equivalent of 911, if appropriate. Find the number for 911 in your host country.
- Call your faculty/program director. Let them know you’re OK. In case of a national emergency (e.g. earthquake, terrorist attack), they will give you instructions on how to proceed.
- Call your parents/spouse. Contact one person back home to let them know you’re safe. Then allow that person to call others on your behalf. In case of a national emergency, it’s not a good idea to tie up phone lines on unnecessary calls.
- Contact the Office of Education Abroad. If you’re on a faculty-led program, this step is not necessary as your faculty director will contact us. If you’re traveling independently, however, it is vital that you contact someone from the CWRU Office of Education Abroad.
- Call the CWRU Campus Police at +01.216.368.3333. The police line is staffed 24/7. They will know who to contact to remediate the situation, as they have the direct cell phone numbers of relevant staff on CWRU's campus.
- In the event you can’t use the telephone, please email. Telephone is the recommended way to contact us as it allows us to respond immediately. However, sometimes phone lines can be tied up after a national emergency. If this is the case, contact us by whatever means possible, including emailing email@example.com (Study Abroad Advisor) or firstname.lastname@example.org (Molly Watkins).
- If appropriate, contact the U.S. Embassy closest to you. In times of emergency, the embassy can often provide advice and resources to U.S. citizens.
- Remain calm. Remember: You are not an expert in the host culture and you probably will not immediately know the best course of action. Wait for instructions and follow them when given.
Managing your health abroad begins with preparing before you go. Make sure you receive full medical, dental and wellness check-ups before departing on your study abroad program. University Health and Counseling Services offers pre-travel check-ups for this purpose.
Medications and Prescription Drugs
Bring a well-stocked first-aid kit with you when traveling. See our packing guide for a list of recommended medications. Take copies of all prescriptions alongside any required prescription drugs. Whenever possible, bring enough of your prescription to last your entire study abroad experience. If refills are required while you are overseas, develop a plan with your doctor and in-country advisor. You may be able to fill the prescriptions overseas, or you may wish to have them mailed from home. Note that some FDA-approved medications (Ritalin, for example) are considered controlled substances in some countries. If you take such medicine, you may need a letter from your doctor and a letter from the Drug Enforcement Agency. Please consult with your study abroad advisor if you have any questions about taking medications abroad.
Some destinations require special vaccinations. Read up on what vaccines are necessary and recommended for your travel destination at cdc.gov/travel. You can get vaccines from your local doctor or at University Hospitals’ Roe Green Center for Travel Medicine. Also, be prepared to take a list of your current immunizations with you.
Each country has health services available to you, but the services vary depending upon your destination. For long-term study abroad, your semester/academic year study abroad institution will have information for you regarding recommended health facilities, many of which are on campus. For short-term study abroad, the leaders of faculty-led programs should be able to assist you in the event that you need medical care. Before leaving, investigate the services available to you knowing that these services vary. If you have questions or concerns related to a specific medical issue, discuss your concerns with the faculty leader or your study abroad advisor.
All study abroad students are enrolled in CWRU’s free Travel Policy, but this policy does not cover pre-existing conditions. Especially in the case of episodic health issues such as anxiety or depression, it is important to have an action plan of how you will be covered if you experience a health issue while abroad. This plan does not replace a general medical insurance plan.
Check your medical coverage! Your family’s medical insurance may cover you while you’re abroad. If it does, make sure you get a letter that states this so you can present it to the hospital. Your program abroad may also require you to enroll in an insurance program. You will need to know your plan information before going abroad.
Traveling abroad can be stressful. Dealing with everyday homesickness and culture shock can be challenging for all students. If you have a mental health concern, these normal situations can become more extreme.
Culture shock is considered a natural (and perhaps even necessary) part of the adjustment process to living abroad. Symptoms can include depression, sleeping difficulties, homesickness, trouble concentrating, an urge to isolate yourself and irritation with your host culture.
For most students, these symptoms last only a short time, but there are some techniques that can be used to combat culture shock symptoms.
- Learn as much as possible about your host culture.
- Keep yourself busy doing things you enjoy. When you have free time, visit museums, go to movies and tour local areas of interest.
- Keep in touch with your family and friends at home. Letters, phone calls or email contact will make you feel less isolated.
Managing Mental Health Conditions
Before traveling, create a plan with your mental health care provider to manage your condition while abroad, including determining what types of continuing treatment (counseling, medications, etc.) you will need to continue while on your study abroad program.
Additionally, you can talk to your study abroad advisor about what health services are available to you in your host country. You also want to research the mental health culture and attitudes of your destination. Learn how mental illnesses are viewed and treated so that you are aware of the support you can expect.
Finally, develop a support system and action plan so that you can receive the help you need while overseas.
The United States Department of State travel website contains a wealth of safety information on every country in the world. Look at the profile of your destination country to learn specific safety tips.
Obey Local Laws
Remember that by entering another country, you have agreed to abide by their laws. If you choose not to abide by their laws, you are beholden to whatever punishments they impose. If you are arrested, contact the U.S. Embassy for assistance, but note that they do not have the power to ask for your release.
Food and Water Safety
Research whether the water in your country is safe for travelers to drink. If not, you’ll also want to avoid eating uncooked fruits and vegetables that may have been washed in the water, and ice that may be made from the water. If you are traveling to a less-developed country, ask your program director what restaurants have a good reputation for sanitation. If you do get food poisoning, be sure to drink plenty of fluids to keep yourself hydrated.
Be Aware of Your Surroundings
Travelers are targeted as victims of theft more than any other crime. To avoid being a victim, you can take the following preventive measures:
- Don’t carry more cash than you need. No one can steal what you don’t have.
- Make sure the cash you carry is well protected. Don’t rely on your pocket or one zipper to protect you from theft. Consider purchasing a neck or waist safe.
- If possible, blend in with locals. If thieves don’t recognize you as a traveler, they are less likely to target you.
- Be aware of your surroundings. If someone around you is acting suspicious, leave the situation.
- Stay sober. It’s much easier to be aware of your surroundings when you have all of your faculties intact.
Many accidents involving study abroad participants are related to the use and abuse of alcohol. Make sure that alcohol use falls within the CWRU alcohol policy, and never drink to excess. Never use illegal drugs. In many countries, the penalties for illegal drug use are stricter than those of the United States, and some countries even administer the death penalty for illegal drug use.
At all times, remember that you are an ambassador for yourself, CWRU and your country.
CWRU does not encourage the use of alcohol or condone drinking patterns or behaviors that are detrimental to the health, safety and welfare of the individual, the CWRU community or the community at large. Alcohol may be consumed, but not abused, by students who are of legal age in their host countries. Students who choose to consume alcohol do so with the knowledge that they remain responsible for their actions at all times. CWRU discourages the use of alcohol in any of its education abroad activities, prohibits the illegal use of alcohol in the host country, and prohibits the distribution of alcohol to students who are not of legal drinking age in their host countries. Any student who commits an alcohol infraction—including drunkenness or any abuse of alcohol during study abroad—may be subject to university disciplinary action.
Illegal Drug Use
The use of illegal drugs is no more acceptable in foreign cultures than in our own and is a serious criminal offense. Illegal activities place not only the individual but the group and the program in jeopardy. By virtue of enrolling in study abroad programs, all participants agree that they will refrain from using illegal drugs. The consequences of illegal drug use during the program may include immediate expulsion from the program, total forfeiture of all fees paid to the program, and loss of all course credit. In addition, diplomatic representatives and U.S. laws will be able to offer little or no help to students arrested and/or convicted of drug-related or other crimes. Program participants take responsibility—individually and as a group—for assuring that policies regarding illegal drugs are strictly observed.
Assistance with Alcohol and Substance Abuse Problems
If a study abroad participant has alcohol- or substance-abuse problems, the lead faculty/staff member should provide assistance. If a student becomes incapacitated due to alcohol overuse and/or illegal drug use, or if he or she needs medical attention, other participants are required to immediately seek medical treatment and contact the group leader in order to protect the health and well-being of the affected student. After providing appropriate follow-up, the leader should contact the CWRU Office of Education Abroad.
On those occasions when alcohol is present during a CWRU-sponsored event abroad, the following conditions apply:
- A participant or guest who is deemed underage in the host country shall not be served alcohol or have access to alcohol beverages.
- Alcohol-free beverages must be as readily available as alcohol beverages.
- Food should be served and readily available during the time when alcohol is served.
- At events where alcohol is provided free of charge, food must also be readily available without charge to all participants.
- Access to the event should be limited to invited guests only.
- CWRU faculty and staff should work with servers of any alcoholic beverages at CWRU- and host country-sponsored events to ensure that students are never served too much to drink.
Medical Amnesty Policy
Case Western Reserve has a medical amnesty policy for individuals who seek medical attention related to medical emergencies for alcohol and drugs. Students should familiarize themselves with this policy before traveling abroad with a group of students.
Alcohol and Drug Use Policy Intent
The intent of the alcohol and substance abuse policy is to help CWRU achieve the following goals:
- Protect the safety of our students and program participants;
- Lower the potential risk of students becoming a victim of crime;
- Warn students that overconsumption of alcohol puts them at risk for, mugging, assault and sexual assault;
- Lower the potential risk of accident and injury;
- Ensure that the consumption of alcohol is not the sole purpose of any CWRU event;
- Communicate to program participants that they are expected to act responsibly regarding their consumption of alcohol while living abroad;
- Raise students’ awareness that, when choosing to consume alcohol abroad, they are subject to the local laws related to alcohol consumption;
- Remind CWRU faculty and staff that they should strive to create an atmosphere that does not encourage students to drink alcohol and that they should respect those who choose to abstain, and assist those who may need help;
- Warn students that excessive drinking or drunkenness is not condoned and will never serve as an excuse for misconduct;
- Encourage students to be aware of local customs and laws related to alcohol consumption and illegal drug use, and to support fellow students in making safe decisions; and
- Raise awareness of the potentially dangerous interaction of prescription medications with alcohol and illegal drugs.
If you plan to be sexually active abroad, it is important to be aware of cultural views, norms and laws related to sexual activity. What might be accepted behavior in public in the United States could be culturally unacceptable abroad. Conversely, what might be seen as offensive in the U.S. could be common practice in your host country. The more you are aware of the norms, the easier your adjustment should be.
Safe Sex and Contraception
Contraception does not always meet the same quality standards in other countries, and in some areas it may be difficult to obtain. If you use oral contraceptives, bring a supply that will last for your entire study abroad experience, as these may be difficult to find. Also, it is highly recommended that men and women bring condoms from the U.S., even if you are not planning on being sexually active. If you have any questions about using contraception abroad, talk to your medical provider or the Office of Education Abroad before you go.
Sexually transmitted infectious diseases or infections (STDs or STIs)—such as chlamydia, gonorrhea, hepatitis B, herpes, human papillomavirus (HPV), Human Immunodeficiency Virus (HIV) and syphilis—continue to pose serious health risks in virtually every country. HIV, which is responsible for AIDS, is not only transmitted sexually but also through contaminated hypodermic needles and infected blood supplies. Please exercise caution, including the use of condoms, to prevent the spread of STDs.
Case Western Reserve University is a community based upon trust and respect for its constituent members. Sexual misconduct is a violation of that trust and respect and will not be tolerated. Members of the Case Western Reserve community have the right to be free from sexual misconduct, as well as domestic violence, dating violence and stalking. The CWRU sexual misconduct policy applies to all members of the community, including those studying abroad regardless of the cultural norms of the host country. The university strongly encourages persons who experience sexual misconduct to report the misconduct, to seek assistance and to pursue university action for their own protection and that of the entire campus community. Information on reporting can be found in the CWRU student handbook.
Throughout the world, different cultures produce different perceptions and beliefs. This includes not only gender roles, sexual orientation and gender identity, but also what society perceives as a disability.
Disability accommodations and acknowledgement of a disability are subject to social customs. Thus, certain accommodations may be provided for but in an unfamiliar way, and not all countries have the same accessibility laws as in the United States. Also be aware that a change in environment, diet, the stress of travel, and a new atmosphere may actually exacerbate certain symptoms or conditions during the adjustment period.
- Alert the program staff and faculty early on to your disability so they may make the appropriate arrangements.
- Before you go to the host country, find out how the culture views disability; read, talk to other students and attend pre-departure orientations.
- Consider beforehand how you will explain you disability in a foreign language.
- Learn about the medical care and costs in the host country and consult with your physician on health care needs and whether you are in a well enough condition to travel.
Questions to Consider
- How is disability defined in the host country and how will questions about it be answered?
- What are the airline’s accommodation capabilities for disabilities?
- Is the airline you are traveling on able to accommodate a service animal if one is necessary?
- What types of accommodations will you require traveling throughout the buildings and in between destinations?
- If some academic activities take place outside and require mobility, will assistance be provided and who will provide it? What is the condition of the streets and sidewalks?
- Are there substantive additional finances due to accommodations; if so, how will these costs be funded? Also, are personal care assistance services available in the host country and what are the costs? How will those costs be covered?
- Are service animals allowed in the host country? Are there conditions? Are there certain places where a service animal is prohibited from entering?
- Are veterinary services available in the host country?
- What types of housing options are available? Are the bathroom, shower and bedroom arrangements physically accessible for you? If not, how can these problems be addressed? Are there alternative housing options?
Related Links & Resources
The following links provide useful tips, information, and possible programs and services for disabled students planning to travel abroad: