Dealing with My Health in Ireland
I decided to study abroad in Northern Ireland because it’s a different and underrated part of the world, and it happened to have a great media studies program. With an open mind and a full suitcase, I hopped on a plane in January ready to have the time of my life. But, flash forward to now: I’m unexpectedly back home two months earlier than planned with an even fuller suitcase and a confused state of mind.
My major speed bump to my experience abroad was dealing with my health in Ireland. Trying to get your health figured out in a new and unfamiliar country isn’t easy to do. Doctors don’t have complete knowledge of your past medical history, so they don’t understand your health as well as you do. The healthcare system in Ireland is also a lot different than it is in America. Instead of popping into health services on campus, you instead get paired with a general practitioner (GP).
Healthcare is free in Northern Ireland, which is a huge advantage because free is an awesome word to hear especially when you’re a poor college student. On the other hand, sometimes this means not receiving the right medical treatment.
The first of my many appointments began with seeing my GP. I told him that I woke up feeling sick to my stomach, short of breath, and tired. He advised me to go home, rest, and drink plenty of fluids. Thinking that this was just a weird stomach bug, I took his advice to just rest and wait it out. What I hoped for was a quick recovery, but what I got were more health complications and the continuous advice to rest and drink plenty of fluids. After two trips to the emergency room during the same week of my initial visit to the GP, I still felt awful and was starting to lose my patience. I wanted so badly to return to my energetic self, but no matter how hard I tried, my body and my mind wouldn’t cooperate.
Because my health had started to take a mental toll on me, I went to see a counselor on campus. We had a short, but helpful conversation. She let me know that I could fill out an EC-1 form, which explains to my professors that I’ve been sick and allows me to make up work (yes, there’s a “wee” bit of studying during the whole abroad experience). That took some temporary weight off of my shoulders, but I was still stressed out because physically, I wasn’t improving. I exhausted my resources completely after I reached out to my study abroad program and my college back home. I was also exhausted—both physically and mentally.
This whole process lasted for about a month, with some days being better than others. My friends from the university, as well as my family motivated me to push through whatever I was feeling on some days, but on other days, I couldn’t find any motivation.
Though I didn’t have the easiest study abroad experience, it doesn’t change the way I feel about Ireland. It’s still a beautiful place with great people, and I would never tell anyone not to go there just because of my health experience.
Sometimes, it’s really hard to put your health first above all other desires in life. What I have learned is that whether you’re traveling or not, it’s never good to ignore your health. Even if you have something as small as a cold, take the time to rest and realize that it is okay to be feeling unwell in a new country. When I was sick in Northern Ireland, I constantly felt like I was wasting time by being sick. I didn’t want to be on bed rest when I was supposed to be out exploring the world and finding myself.
Despite my experience, I was still fortunate enough to be able to go abroad for two months. I was able to explore Ireland and discover things about myself in more ways than I could have ever imagined. It’s going to take time to figure out what the next steps are with my physical and mental health, but I know one thing for sure: traveling and living in another country are some of the greatest experiences. Places are always going to be there to travel to, and I’m excited to travel again when my health is better.