Monday, 17 September 2012

Expat Excellence featuring Gillian Kemmerer – Part 3

This is Gillian Kemmerer’s third week and final week as guest blogger. As the founder of Ready Set Jet, an invaluable resource helping expats under 29 deal with common concerns, she’s brilliantly placed to talk us through all things expat-related.

Part three explains how to avoid illness abroad – and what to do in the unfortunate event of falling ill.

Combating Illness Abroad

It has happened to the best of us.  Your new life in London or vacation in Buenos Aires is going brilliantly until you suddenly start to feel an overwhelming fatigue that can only mean one thing. Soon come the chills, the fever, and perhaps a strong dose of fear.  Becoming ill in another country is a serious matter, and one that can often be underestimated when the Internet is our new symptom checker.  Here are a few tips to stay as healthy as possible abroad, and – if the worst happens - to prevent you from becoming a Googlechondriac.

1.       Do your homework pre-departure

Is the water safe to drink or should you avoid the tap at all costs? Untreated water is one of the most common causes of illness abroad, and understanding common local viruses and infections (and how to avoid them) is the first step to staying healthy.  You may be warned against drinking tap water in a new city, but don’t forget that ice cubes made from tap water carry the same bacteria! The Center for Disease Control & Prevention has a particularly thorough discussion of the risks associated with contaminated water, and methods to prevent sickness.

Also, you may react to certain foods and spices which aren’t part of your normal diet.  Combine your own experiences with local research to build a list of food items that might be best avoided for your own wellbeing.  And crucially, ensure you obtain all necessary immunizations pre-departure (more information can be found here:, and invest in any bug sprays or ointments recommended to prevent illness spread by insects.

2.        Avoid self-diagnosis at all costs

The symptoms may feel familiar. We’ve all had fevers, colds and stomach pains at some point in our lives.  However, when travelling in unfamiliar territory, you may be tempted to write off your aches and pains as benign symptoms of a common condition.  The truth is that we are not always aware of the prevalent viruses and diseases in a new location, and our antibodies alone may not be enough to fight them.  So, self-diagnosis should be avoided, and proper medical care sought out as quickly as possible.  A course of antibiotics may be all you need, but be sure to remain under medical supervision until you begin to feel better.  If your sickness occurs after a particularly nasty animal scratch or bite, seek emergency care immediately.

On the other hand, hypochondria thrives due to search engines. Typing a few symptoms into Google may throw up results ranging from minor afflictions to life-threatening conditions.  There is no better diagnostic tool than a doctor’s examination.  Prevent a harrowing case of Googlechondria and use the Internet with caution when attempting to diagnose your illness.

3.       Pursue reputable medical care, as recommended by your local embassy

Your greatest resource on the ground in times of trouble is your local embassy or consulate.  Walking straight into a hospital without recommendation is advisable only in times of dire emergency. Make a quick call to your embassy or browse their website for doctor and clinic recommendations.  If you are in a region where English is not the native language, finding a doctor who can properly understand you and assess your symptoms is critical.  Embassies tend to have the low-down on the best medical care for foreigners, and may recommend expat hospitals and local pharmacies that are particularly accommodating.

4.       Remain vigilant even after you return home

If you have lived abroad for several years and are returning home, you may be tempted to become lax in your attention to health matters.  Infectious diseases and dangerous viruses can be caught at any time, particularly on an airplane. When seeking medical care after you return home, be sure to mention that you have recently travelled. Doctors at home are equally aware of the risks associated with the region in which you have lived, and may be able to diagnose you more accurately with this information.

About the author

Gillian Kemmerer is the founder of Ready Set Jet, a resource geared toward Generation Y expats. She loves to hear from young people living out their dreams abroad on the RSJ Twitter (, and is both an avid compound archer and rabid FC Barcelona fan.

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