Most days your study abroad will go off without much of a hitch. You’ll go to class. You will meet up with friends. You’ll have dinner and life goes on. Sometimes emergencies DO happen, as I learned today sitting on the pavement in the middle of campus wondering just how to deal with my now extremely painful foot. Although spraining your foot is never fun, I learned a few important things that I would like to share with you all in case you (or a friend) end up in a sticky situation like this.
- Keep all relevant contact information with you at all times. It is extremely useful to have your program/resident director’s phone number on hand, as they are usually a great resource in situations like this. Also make sure to know the emergency number of your host country, which we definitely did not. These are important numbers to have with you, so program them into your phone or keep them in your wallet/purse just in case.
- Know when to take help from the locals. I turned down the help of a couple of locals once my friend called our resident director, who then told us to call for an ambulance. We both speak fairly good German, but not well enough to explain the accident exactly or to describe where we were. After this realization we were again offered help from a friendly student and she was able to call the ambulance for us. Remember, the locals probably know the area better than you do and they know exactly how to describe the situation to the dispatcher.
- Keep your insurance card on you. If you have not received one yet, as was my case, it is helpful to at least have the name of the insurance company you are insured through to help with the bill.
- Always have an ID. Whether it’s your passport or a driver’s license from home, be sure to keep an ID on you. This helps a lot with clarifying your name, especially if it is not a typical name in your host country, and for the obvious identification and insurance issues.
- Don’t be embarrassed if you have to speak English or use a local to interpret for you. When situations like these arise, don’t be embarrassed to switch to English or have someone help you to clarify the important parts. It is important that you are honest with the doctors and nurses about what you do and do not understand. They are examining you and possibly giving you medication and it is important that they know your allergies, where it hurts, etc. If you cannot explain it in your host country’s language there is no shame is reverting back to English or asking for help.
- Try to laugh (especially if your injury is minor). If you did something minor, like I did tripping down two stairs, after the pain and shock have subsided it is important that you do not let the embarrassment overwhelm you. I definitely did this and it made the experience that much worse. After I got over the embarrassment and laughed at myself the whole thing was that much less stressful. Yeah, I was still hurt. Yeah, I was sitting on the cold pavement, waiting for an ambulance while people I knew stood around me and countless strangers looked on, but I still did my best to keep my humor about me. We joked and kept it as lighthearted as possible, which made the time waiting for the ambulance that much more bearable.
- Think of the silver lining. It is cliché, but it works. Even though I tripped and sprained my foot, I realized how much of an amazing support network I have here in Germany. Many of my friends rushed to the scene to make sure I was okay (oh, the joys of group Facebook messages) and both my program director and resident director were quickly there. My friends helped me get up to the fourth floor of our elevator-less apartment building and my roommate called me a taxi for my appointment in the morning. It is in moments where things really go down the drain, that you realize who is really there for you. Even though I’m injured and thousands of miles from my family and fiancé, I still have people who will take care of me here. It does not hurt that I get to relax in bed the rest of the week either. I also realized something about the culture that made the negative parts of my culture shock seem silly. Even though German people do not always ask how you are or start-up small talk with you, they are still very compassionate and helpful people when something is really wrong. Many strangers asked if they could help and one very helpful girl called the ambulance for me.
That is my tidbit of hard-earned wisdom I have to offer all you current and future study abroad students out there. Until next time!