Tips for Coping with COVID Abroad

Sonya Friel
April 7, 2022

I think that it’s fair to say that for anyone travelling over the past couple of years, the COVID-19 virus has been a huge additional stressor that worsens the stress of preparing for the study abroad experience. Not only is there the additional health anxiety over what could happen if you catch the illness, but there’s also the element of how to finance medication if you get sick abroad, and a whole lot more paperwork to fill out and protocols to follow when arriving/living in a foreign country. For me, COVID-19 was so anxiety-inducing that I actually decided to postpone my study abroad semester from the fall to the spring semester, in the hopes that conditions would improve before I began. You can imagine my dismay when, only a month into my experience abroad, I tested positive!!

I wasn’t surprised at all when I saw the double line slowly appear on the antigen test; I knew that I had been directly exposed a few times during the week before. However, I was still terrified of feeling sick, falling behind in classes, and missing out on social events. What a relief it was to experience the efficient, calm, and reassuring way that the kind staff of IES Abroad reacted to it! This blog is about my recommendations for coping with quarantine—how I passed my time; how I coped with loneliness; and what helped to keep my spirits up when things got overwhelming.

Top Tips for Isolation:

  1. Don’t fret about missing schoolwork. This is my number one recommendation, because I was SO STRESSED about missing classes and falling behind!! I wish I’d known that there was nothing to worry about. All of my professors were amazing, kind, and understanding about the situation, and most offered the option to join class virtually while they lectured the rest of the class in-person. Of course, this wasn’t ideal—and was actually quite frustrating at times - but rest assured that you will not be forgotten or left behind.  After I got out of quarantine, I had individual meetings with each of my professors to talk about what was covered, answer my questions and reassure any of my doubts. I was worried because I wasn’t really able to complete my assignments and homework to the best standard, as I wasn’t feeling well, but my professors were so accommodating and supported me through every step. I can confidently say that missing over a week of classes did not negatively impact my grades in any way—the IES Abroad staff and my classmates were amazing at keeping me on track academically, as well as keeping my spirits up!
  2. Enjoy being taken care of. Honestly, I don’t think I’ve ever been as well taken care of in my life! I live with a host family, and my host mother is basically the kindest person in the world—and one of the best chefs. Since I couldn’t leave my room, I had my every need catered to—Merce (my host mum) asked me regularly if I was hungry, thirsty, in pain, or needed anything, and I had a solid 3 (delicious) meals left outside my bedroom door at mealtimes—plus snacks like tea, pastries, and cookies in between! So many people checked in on me and I felt so loved and supported—I wish I’d appreciated it more instead of feeling sorry for myself being sick!
  3. Don’t be afraid to ask for what you need. When people check in on you and ask if you need anything, they mean it! Don’t be shy, embarrassed, or feel bad for asking for anything - the IES Abroad staff are so kind and friendly, and they genuinely want you to be happy and comfortable. In fact, they set up Zoom meetings every single day just to check in with us (there were quite a few who caught the virus at the same time) and ask if there was anything we needed. I asked for a yoga mat so that I could stay active, and it was brought to me pretty much immediately! As well as that, something that I am really glad that I asked for was a counselling session. My mood was pretty low, being sick and isolated, and I really felt that I needed a professional to talk to. The IES Abroad team was so supportive, and booked a virtual therapy session for me within minutes for the following day!
  4. Use your time to do things that you enjoy. Don’t be like me, and spend time fretting about homework/feeling guilty about not doing homework. You’re sick and confined to your room—you deserve some time to yourself to rest or do something you enjoy! For me, quarantine really forced me to take time out for myself and to relax a bit—I definitely needed the rest, since I had been so active juggling school, travel, and social life (I want to write a blog about this later!). So, don’t feel bad about binge-reading an entire book series or watching the entirety of Euphoria in two days. But also, try to keep to some sort of routine so that you can easily adjust once you’re out of isolation. For me, the regular mealtimes really helped with this. If you’re physically up to it, I also recommend dedicating some time during the day to moving your body a bit, be that through workouts or solo dance parties - this is the perfect opportunity to dance like no one is watching!
  5. Just because you’re physically isolated, doesn’t mean that you’re alone. This is a very important point to remember!!! Quarantine can be so overwhelming and the loneliness can creep up on you, for sure. But there are so many ways to interact with people that aren’t in-person!! Take advantage of this time to video call friends and family members from home, or to catch up with people you haven’t spoken with in a while. It doesn’t just have to be talking—I really enjoyed calling my friends to be virtual ‘study buddies’, where we both just worked on our homework but kept each other company, or watching movies ‘together’ using Netflix Party or Disney Plus. I was also super lucky, because I have a flatmate and her bedroom window opens up into the same patio that mine overlooks. Because she also had to isolate in case of contagion, we would open our windows at mealtimes and speak to each other that way—probably a little irritating for the neighbours, but it did wonders for my mental health!! I know that people living in residence halls also did something similar, where friends would stand outside the door and speak through it or leave little gifts. With IES Abroad, there’s always a network of people there to support you, and professional help is always made easily available if you need it. If you’re missing the outside world, there are also applications such as that create stimulations of different environments, such as coffee shops or parks—this really helped me to concentrate and to calm down a bit since I like to study with background noise! 

I decided to write this blog to explain a little of the process of what happens when we get sick abroad, and to reassure anyone who—like I was last semester—is reconsidering study abroad because of COVID-19. Once I tested positive, all I did was text our Center Director and stay in my room—the IES Abroad staff took care of everything else! In terms of medication/ mental health care, it was super easy for me to access as well. The way it works is that we pay directly for the medication/service and then file a claim from our insurance company and they send a cheque. After the first 100 euros, the insurance covers everything! Although this process takes some effort and can be a little overwhelming, the staff are always there to help and it is such a relief to know that we don’t have to spend more than 100 euros on healthcare issues. Overall, I 100% recommend studying abroad, even during uncertain times such as these. The IES Abroad staff really know what they are doing, and would never put us at risk. If I’d known what I do now, I never would have hesitated!

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Sonya Friel

<p>Hi, I’m Sonya! I’m a junior at Bryn Mawr College, PA, and my majors are Neuroscience and Anthropology. I’m originally from Letterkenny, Ireland, but now live in Northern Ireland (when I’m not at school, of course). I love to travel, paint, swim, meet new people and try new things. This semester I’m studying abroad in Granada, Spain, and I can’t wait to share my experiences with you all!</p>

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