Getting Sick While Abroad

Without giving too many of the details, let’s just say that a couple of weeks ago, I spent an uncomfortable night awake with a stomach bug. I had no idea what to do, where to see a doctor, or how to get out of the test I was supposed to take the next morning. Here are some tips, from my experience, on what to do if you get sick in France (or really anywhere new and different).

1.Rely on your health insurance providers

I know not all providers are the same, but I was lucky enough that mine not only answered the phone at 5am EST, but also gave me suggestions on where I could go to see a doctor as soon as possible. GeoBlue has a system on their website where you can find doctor’s offices, hospitals, etc., but they actually cover my visit to wherever I choose to go. They paid for my visit up front and I didn’t even have to deal with a copay, which was super helpful!

2. Find somewhere that speaks English

Super important. No matter how well you know the country’s language, I guarantee that you will not want to be translating back and forth or thinking through what the doctor is saying to you when you’re running on 2 hours of sleep and no food. I don’t think I know the French words for “food poisoning” “stomach bug” or “prescription” anyway, so going somewhere that only spoke French probably wouldn’t have been the most productive. At the hospital where I went, everyone’s primary language was French, but they also all had a working level of English and seemed to be quite used to people responding to their “Bonjour”s with “Hello”s.

3. Get a doctor’s note

People in France seem to care a lot about paperwork and bureaucracy, and unfortunately, getting sick does not give you a free ticket out of this system. For me, my professor emailed me the morning I missed my test saying I couldn’t take it another time unless I got a signed note. It was almost like making sure I was feeling better was an afterthought. This seems to be pretty standard for all jobs, universities, etc. in France. Just do your best to work with the system, and it’ll all end up okay in the end (my make-up test is actually way shorter and more simple than the original one was, so thank goodness it all worked out).

4. Don’t push yourself too hard

Skip a class if you don’t feel up to it. Sleep. Like for days straight. Don’t eat anything that makes you feel nauseated, even if you think you need the nutrients. Overall, just take it easy, because getting sick is stressful, and getting sick in a foreign country where you don’t know what to do is even more stressful.

5. Call your mom

Honestly, this was what got me through the whole ordeal. Shoutout to my mother for calming me down as I was panicking in the middle of the night about missing my test, helping me figure out where I could see a doctor, and giving me advice on what to eat and do as I was recovering. Find the person who will always be there for you and don’t feel bad about reaching out. If you get as clueless and stressed as I do when I’m sick, you will not want to go through this alone.

Finally, for your enjoyment, here’s a pic of me in my (very first ever) hospital gown as I waited for my doctor to come in. It was quite a day, but thankfully, I have so many resources available to me and it was just a matter of finding them and putting them to use. Everything else took care of itself.


One response to “Getting Sick While Abroad”

  1. […] exactly three years ago, I shared my saga of getting a killer gastrointestinal virus in France here. Unfortunately, I had a very similar experience just a few days ago. Maybe Octobers in Paris just […]


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