Getting Sick Abroad: What Do I Do?

Eleanor Desing headshot
Eleanor Desing
January 26, 2023
A picture of a pharmacy in Nantes

Just one week after arriving in Nantes, I got sick. I had a horrible sore throat and cold. It was far from what I imagined the beginning of my study abroad journey would be. Before leaving, this was one of my biggest worries being in a foreign country and unfamiliar with the city. The mixture of long travel days, lack of rest, and the change in climate all contributed to the creation of the perfect environment for sickness.

However, as with many of my other fears about studying abroad, there was no need for me to worry. My host mom expressed all of the typical concerns that a mother would: was I wearing my scarf outside, was I getting enough sleep, was my room warm enough? Although I at first felt like I was a bad guest for bringing sickness into the house right away, I was quickly assured that I was completely welcome into their home.


Here’s some of my advice about being sick abroad in case anyone with the same worries as me needs a little bit of reassurance:

Communicate with your program

  • When I first started feeling sick, I didn’t really know what to do because everything was so unfamiliar. After talking with my host mom, we decided it would be best for me to stay home from classes. After communicating this to the program directors, they were extremely helpful. They told me to stay home as long as I needed (which was a welcome change from the American attitude of continuing to work even when sick), explained exactly what I needed to do in terms of IES Abroad’s covid policy (although I did end up testing negative), and gave me directions to the nearest pharmacy with a list of medications that would help me get better. Overall, I felt very supported while figuring out this new situation.

Take time to rest

  • I think that one of my biggest downfalls was not giving my body the time it needed to relax, especially after a long plane ride back from the U.S. If you get sick, remember that there will always be more activities and things to try. It’s a better idea to just take time to recover so you can fully experience everything study abroad has to offer.

American and French pharmacies are not the same

  • In the U.S., a pharmacy sells everything from medicine to ice cream to school supplies. In France, pharmacies generally only sell health-related items. Pharmacies can be distinguished by their signs which display green crosses. The pharmacy experience is also a lot more personal in France. When I first walked into the store, I was immediately greeted by the pharmacist who asked what I was looking for. I was able to simply show him my list and he got everything for me right away. You are able to browse yourself, but some products (like pain medication) are kept behind the counter and must be asked for. In my experience, it’s easiest to just describe your symptoms, and the pharmacist will give you what you need. If you’re curious, here’s what I ended up getting: paracetamol/Doliprane (pain reliever; note—this is sold in much smaller quantities than in the U.S.), pastilles pour la gorge (cough drops), spray à l’eau de mer (nasal spray).

Remember that you have support available

  • If you need anything, just ask! Your host family, program directors, and your friends and family back home all want to help you in any way possible.


I hope that this was helpful in the (hopefully rare) situation that you find yourself sick abroad!

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Eleanor Desing headshot

Eleanor Desing

Hi, my name is Eleanor! I am majoring in French and Psychology, and I am so excited to be participating in the Nantes immersion program in order to improve my language skills and immerse myself in French culture. I love to read, cook/bake, and spend time outdoors. I can't wait to share my experience with all of you!

2023 Spring
Home University:
Loyola University Chicago
French Language
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