Question 15 of 20: How To Vet A Gap Year Organization

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These questions were developed out of the understanding that having the full 54 pages of AGA Standards in front of most people would be utterly useless. See them here to understand their complexity: www.americangap.org/2013_AGA_Standards.pdf. So, we created these 20 Questions as a way to help the individual navigate their own program. These may be for the more intrepid and independent traveler – someone who’s already done their fair share of traveling: a veteran sojourner. Or, perhaps these might be appropriate for someone who’s truly on a budget and the scholarships and financial aid available to them through another program isn’t sufficient. Obviously, the full 54 pages of Standards make great sense for an AGA organization to run through – ensuring the best quality and safety in an organized program. But not every student will want to do one of our accredited programs. http://www.americangap.org/assets/20_Questions.pdf


Q15: What happens in the event of a medical emergency? How far will a doctor be?  What if my appendix bursts?  What are the 911/emergency systems like?

First of all, it’s always better to prepare for the worst and be pleasantly surprised when the worst doesn’t happen. Some places are easier than others to navigate in times of an emergency, but that doesn’t make it impossible to deal with. Before you leave, make sure you have updated health insurance and talked to your doctor about any concerns they may have about you traveling to your program location with any known medical conditions. Get advice from trusted websites, such as travel.state.gov, which highlights how to contact the US embassy in a country to help handle medical emergencies and get help from home should you need it.  The CDC also has helpful information about bringing current prescriptions abroad with you, as well as vaccine recommendations, etc.
So, here you are in your program, loving it, when all of a sudden, bam: something happens. Something bigger than a sprain, or TD (good ol’ TD!), and what now?! First off, don’t panic. Whatever that something is, it definitely won’t be made better by an emotional breakdown or an immediate reaction like “it’s all gone to hell.” Remember that old World War II poster in Britain: “Keep Calm and Carry On:” everything will be fine, and if you can calmly address the situation, it will go much smoother. Easier said than done, I know, but asking your program contacts for resources so that you’re not alone in dealing with the problem will no doubt save you trouble at the least … perhaps more at the worst. In most countries there are direct services that can aid you, like the police, or some other authorities that can help should you have a concern. Now, these services may not be to the same standards as you’re used to, so having a good understanding about the proximity of medical services is a key factor for any program. Definitely make sure your program has that knowledge for the program site, and is able to undertake the necessary actions should you need immediate care.
TRUE STORY:
When I was in Cambodia, one of our staff unfortunately caught Dengue Fever. He had luckily updated his travel insurance before arrival, and so was covered. We took him to the hospital in Siem Reap, which was luckily where we were staying at the time, where he recouped and was treated for a week. Again, getting medical care in less developed countries can be a disaster if you aren’t fully aware of the systems there, so make sure your supervisor has an understanding of the area and is aware of the medical facilities should there be an emergency.

In this kind of situation, we were able to quickly take him where he needed to go because we were in a city. We knew where the hospital was (because a few of us had given blood there the day before), and we were prepared to get him the care he needed. One thing to keep in mind is rural areas. If you are going to be serving far from a bigger city, what kind of emergency transportation is available, and be sure you will have access to it at all times should you need a quick ride somewhere. In my experience, this has always been possible, and for peace of mind is best if covered pre-departure.

Blog contributed by Jenny Clark, International Partnership for Service Learning Masters Candidate.

Question 14 of 20: How To Vet A Gap Year Organization

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These questions were developed out of the understanding that having the full 54 pages of AGA Standards in front of most people would be utterly useless. See them here to understand their complexity: www.americangap.org/2013_AGA_Standards.pdf. So, we created these 20 Questions as a way to help the individual navigate their own program. These may be for the more intrepid and independent traveler – someone who’s already done their fair share of traveling: a veteran sojourner. Or, perhaps these might be appropriate for someone who’s truly on a budget and the scholarships and financial aid available to them through another program isn’t sufficient. Obviously, the full 54 pages of Standards make great sense for an AGA organization to run through – ensuring the best quality and safety in an organized program. But not every student will want to do one of our accredited programs. http://www.americangap.org/assets/20_Questions.pdf


Q14. I am on prescription medications, what is the best way to handle that while traveling?

The US Department of State recommends carrying any prescription medications the original container with the labels on them. They also recommend bringing a copy of your doctor’s prescription along with you in case customs officials want to see it; make sure it has both the brand and generic name on it so they’ll understand what it is, and also in case the brand isn’t available overseas you have the chemical name so a pharmacist will know. Carrying your medication in your carry-on bag will ensure that you’ll have it available at all times and won’t have to scramble to replace it if your luggage is lost. If you are traveling internationally, it might be a good idea to check with your destination country’s embassy or consulate before you go to make sure your specific medication is legal to bring into the country as transporting a controlled substance isn’t something you want to get arrested for on the first day of your Gap Year!

Probably the simplest way to deal with refilling prescriptions abroad is to just make sure bring enough with you from home (plus a little extra in case your travel plans back home are delayed or changed because you’re having such a great time). If that isn’t possible, or if your medication gets lost, make sure you research ahead of time where and how you will be able to get a refill in the area you will be traveling. Some places may accept a prescription from your doctor back home, while others might require that you obtain a prescription from a doctor licensed in the country you are in.  Some places may not have your particular medication available, so any changes to your medication should be done in consultation with your original physician … mental health medications in particular as switching their dosage can increase suicide rates if done without great care!  If you do need to refill a prescription while you’re traveling for whatever reason, make sure it is from a reputable source since some of the meds in India, for instance, aren’t what they’re labeled to be.  Many medications may have spent so much time in 100+ degree weather as to be well past their effective dates … and you don’t want poorly working malaria meds, birth control pills, or other prescriptions!

If you are on prescribed medication, it is not a good idea to stop taking it while you are traveling, regardless of what the medication is for. Even if you are feeling better or think that you would like to try lowering your does or stopping taking it altogether, it is advisable to wait until you return home and do so under your doctor’s supervision.

TRUE STORY:

The first trip I took overseas I was on three different kinds of prescribed medications. Luckily, at that time, my doctor was more than happy to fill all three for the entire duration of my time abroad, so I encountered very few problems. In terms of going through immigration, she recommended I cover as many of my bases as possible just in case I was given any issues. So, wanting to err on the side of over-preparedness, I had a letter from my doctor outlining the reasons for my prescriptions, the prescriptions themselves, and the medications in their original containers. I had them in their own ziplock bag, separate from my liquids, etc, so that the officers could take them out and look at them if they needed to.

As it turned out for me, they didn’t care about my medications. They were more concerned about my reasons for visiting the country and my plan for the next few months. However, that’s not to say that a different officer wouldn’t have wanted to see that documentation, so be over-prepared! It wouldn’t hurt to go a quick internet search asking about traveler experiences based on country. At the end of the day, it’s important to remember that immigration is the final say for whether or not you’re allowed to enter the country, so the more official documentation you have and the more polite you are, the easier the process will be for you.

 

Article Submitted by Jenny Clark.  IPSL Masters’ Candidate and AGA Intern

Question 13 of 20: How To Vet A Gap Year Organization

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These questions were developed out of the understanding that having the full 54 pages of AGA Standards in front of most people would be utterly useless. See them here to understand their complexity: www.americangap.org/2013_AGA_Standards.pdf. So, we created these 20 Questions as a way to help the individual navigate their own program. These may be for the more intrepid and independent traveler – someone who’s already done their fair share of traveling: a veteran sojourner. Or, perhaps these might be appropriate for someone who’s truly on a budget and the scholarships and financial aid available to them through another program isn’t sufficient. Obviously, the full 54 pages of Standards make great sense for an AGA organization to run through – ensuring the best quality and safety in an organized program. But not every student will want to do one of our accredited programs. http://www.americangap.org/assets/20_Questions.pdf


Q13: I have __________ dietary needs/restrictions – can they be accommodated?

If you have food allergies or any kind of food intolerance, it’s important that you first notify the program and explain the full extent of your allergy or restriction.  For a severe peanut allergy, for instance, some airlines will switch from peanuts to pretzels.  In some countries, accommodating such severe allergies is easier than in others – such as peanut allergies in Thailand can understandably be a significant threat.

It’s also a good idea to research the area where you will be staying, look into the local cuisine and familiarize yourself with the typical kinds of meals the locals eat so you can be more prepared. I also encourage you to fully consider the differences between dietary needs, versus dietary desires. Throughout my time traveling and working abroad the truth is, you almost always won’t have access to the types of food or drink that you “like” … but this is part of a new experience!  Understandably, however, if you have a history of stomach sensitivity, food allergies, or other, more serious dietary restrictions, notify your doctor, ask your program, and do a bit of research.

For basic stomach sensitivity, there are a number of over-the-counter probiotics (and some prescription) that can help build stomach flora if/when you introduce new foods into your body. Usually you can get these in bulk and, as long as you keep the original container, you should have no problem getting them through customs. In the past, I’ve taken a probiotic every other day as a kind of daily vitamin just to help prepare my system for the change … mostly because I’ve had a history of stomach sensitivity and I know what helps. You know your body better than anyone, so if you see something you think might not sit so well then trust your gut … [small pun intended]. That said, just be mindful of the culture you are in, and try to politely decline by saying you’re allergic or have religious prohibitions (especially if in a homestay).

Most cultures can accommodate vegetarianism and even veganism. It takes being very mindful on your part, to not offend, but rather to ask nicely…patience goes a long way in these situations as some cultures may not understand why you wouldn’t want to eat meat. In most situations (not just with food, but in life too), as long as you are kind and polite, no offense should be taken. You should never feel overly pressured into doing or eating something you don’t want, but part of traveling is pushing those boundaries as well, trying cooked bugs (yes, I know), different meats, street food, etc, to really experience the culture. It’s your health and your life, and also your Gap Year experience, so make the most of it!

True Story:
Traveling the world will inevitably catch up with you, so it’s better to be a little over-prepared than not prepared enough. The first time I went to Turkey, I was recovering from some chronic stomach issues, so I figured I’d need a little extra something to help me through my first weeks in Asia. I went to my doctor and he told me to get an over-the-counter probiotic called “Align,” that would help build my stomach flora and protect it from foreign bacteria (which it was bound to encounter while in Turkey). I stocked up, taking enough to last me the entire time there plus a little over in case I met any other travelers who may be in need.

I also, just to be double safe, got a prescription from my doctor for an antibiotic in case I got a nasty case of TD, or traveler’s diarrhea, which you will most likely encounter at some point during your travels. The great thing about TD is you can kind of expect that it will pop into your day at some point regardless of where you go. You’re putting your body in new environments, and situations in which it will have to adjust, and that lovely little adjustment period is where our pesky friend TD drops in for a quick visit.  In those situations, prescription antibiotics can be helpful, and the most common ones are ciprofloxacin or levofloxacin.  Granted, it should be said that you should complete the entire antibiotic course and not just stop when you start feeling better … that just makes the bugs stronger!  Cipro has helped me through a rough couple of days in the recent past, and it’s helpful to remember that you can still function during these times. I wasn’t bedridden or doubled over in immense pain, it was more of an inconvenience having to be constantly aware of where the toilets were (which can be difficult in Cambodia…).  Also, fluid replacement is the most important part of recovery for this and any diarrheal illness, so drink plenty of fluids, Gatorade (if you can find it), and stay away from sugary, caffeinated, and alcoholic drinks until you feel back to normal.

Anyways, you shouldn’t let TD, or any other minor sickness deter you in your travels. Since you know yourself and your health, research the area, the food, etc, and get an idea of what you should have with you for your “just in case” situation.

 

Article Submitted by Jenny Clark.  IPSL Masters’ Candidate and AGA Intern

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