I can be a klutz. More often than not, you’ll see me on the sidewalk outside Pavement Coffeehouse juggling a bagel, an iced coffee, an overdue research paper, carbon-copied lab notes and my laptop charger — all of which I’m about to drop. This summer, I found myself in a familiar situation when I was abroad in Kaunas, Lithuania, where I had been shadowing doctors interacting with their patients for about two weeks. About halfway through, I was excited to learn more about anesthesiology. I was to be in operating rooms all the time, seeing surgeons perform wild operations … until I landed a jump awkwardly and my left ankle wedged itself into sidewalk cobblestone.
The rest of the week went on. I was fine, and am now fully healed (I think).
But what happened to my foot was still pretty unsettling, as I had not prepared well enough before I went to Lithuania for an emergency like that.
Thankfully, my experience turned out to be a great learning opportunity. Here are five things that everyone should do before traveling to a foreign country, just in case an accident happens and you get injured.
1. Learn at least a little bit of the language
Language barriers are no joke. They’re something you must prepare yourself for. Had I been alone in such a situation, I’d need to rely on an English-speaking passerby for help on one of Lithuania’s streets. At the time, I didn’t know the Lithuanian words for “help,” “injury” or “phone.” Download Duolingo or spend 30 minutes on Google Translate writing key words down in a language you’ll need before your next trip abroad. It will be so worth it.
2. Figure out insurance
Next, insurance? That scary word? Yup. Time to “adult” and figure it all out. I was asked again and again about my insurance when getting crutches, filling out paperwork, and so on. Although a boring subject, it definitely is an important one. Save yourself from paying for the international call to your mother.
3. Bring a first-aid kit
Luckily, my friend happened to be carrying Ibuprofen when I fell. But, I wished more and more that I had brought my own stash, as well as Tylenol PM or some Melatonin. So, either by making a first aid kit yourself or buying one at your local CVS in the United States, do take the time to bring with you an assortment of pills you may need, bandages, ointment, whatever. The benefits include saving money and avoiding the hassle of having to buy medicine elsewhere — having the pharmacist translate some of the foreign labels into English can be understandably time consuming.
4. Don’t take your ability for granted
I am lucky to have only suffered a minor injury. Remember how grateful and lucky you are to even get the opportunity to travel abroad. If an injury is what results from the trip, at least you got to go on the trip to begin with. Now just take these new precautions onto your next one.
5. Remember the bright side
Yes, not being able to go shadow doctors while everyone else on the program was in the field did kind of suck. But, I got to lay in bed and order much-too-many potato pancakes and mushroom sauce from our residence’s café. Finish that book that you brought with you but thought you wouldn’t read. Grab a pen and some paper and write any ideas you’ve come up with. Look up that recipe for the soufflé you want to bake when you return home.
Most importantly, this injury allowed me to make deeper connections with my peers on the trip. The friends I made during the two weeks came to visit me every day after the injury when they were done shadowing. We’d laugh, gossip, share stories and really bond. You’ll find that the best way to make connections with people is when you all share close moments with one another. And as unfortunate as my sprained ankle was, it allowed me to form relationships with friends that will last a lifetime.