Studying abroad with a long-term health condition

Studying abroad with a long-term health condition Erasmus people by Felipe Talavera Armero

Emily Maybanks is studying Modern Languages, Translation and Interpreting (French and Italian) at Swansea University, and is spending her year abroad as an Erasmus student at the University of Bologna in Forlì, Italy, and at the University of Geneva in Switzerland, where she is now. Here is her advice about studying abroad with a long-term health condition.

Going on a year abroad is scary enough without having a long-term health condition. I have a condition called hypothyroidism, which causes many symptoms; tiredness and fatigue, depression and muscle cramps to name a few. It also requires me to take medication each day. I knew when preparing for my year abroad that I’d need to be more prepared than other people because of my hypothyroidism, in terms of ensuring that I had enough medication with me.

In the first term of my year abroad, I was studying at the Università di Bologna in Forlì, Italy. During my time in Italy, and what I wasn’t expecting was for me to start gradually feeling worse. I put it down to the fact that I was in a new country, out of my comfort zone and feeling stressed and anxious. Therefore, I was surprised when I went to the doctor on my return to the UK at Christmas and they told me that my hypothyroidism had worsened. I hadn’t thought about it being my thyroid getting worse during my time in Italy because I had been on a stable dose of medication for such a long time. However, my hypothyroidism did affect my ability to study properly in Italy.

Learning from Italy, before I came to Geneva, in Switzerland, I made sure that I had more than enough medication, and pre-warned my doctor that I was going abroad who agreed that I could get in touch should I feel the need to. However, because my hypothyroidism has worsened, I’ve been feeling tired and depressed more than usual.

The fact is that my hypothyroidism does seriously affect me and that can make studying abroad difficult at times. What’s worse is that hypothyroidism is an invisible illness and unfortunately, in Italy, some of my flatmates made comments such as “oh you don’t look ill”, especially when I had days where I struggled to get out of bed because I felt so tired. Luckily, I’ve not had that judgement yet in Geneva.

My advice
If anyone else is struggling with any health condition on their year abroad, or worried about how their health condition may affect them if they are considering going on a year abroad, my advice would be to ensure that you have more than enough medication packed to take with you and that you have someone you can contact if you need help. Without a doubt, there will be days where you struggle more than other days and I’ve found that the best way to tackle my year abroad is one day at a time. I have days where I’m too exhausted to do anything at all which is a pain when it comes to sitting in a lecture and trying to understand ninety minutes’ worth of French, or Italian, but then I usually feel better knowing that even though it’s been a difficult day, I still got up and did it anyway.

It can also help to inform the University you’re studying at abroad that you have a health condition. After my rather rough ride in Italy, I got in touch with my home university initially and explained things, with the help of a letter from my doctor, and Swansea got in touch with the Université de Genève for me, so I know that I can get in touch with someone here in Geneva should I need to.

Studying abroad with a health condition is difficult; I won’t lie and say that it isn’t. But, I know that I’ll never get an opportunity to live and study abroad again, and therefore I am determined not to let my hypothyroidism affect my ability to enjoy my year abroad as much as I can.

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