Editor's note: Read Caroline's first blog about studying abroad in Copenhagen here!
Something everyone who is studying abroad has to prepare themselves for is temporarily uprooting themselves from the comfort and community of their home campuses. I know for me it was hard because as I entered the fall semester of my junior year, I finally felt like I was in a groove and was loving where I was at in terms of academics, work, and friends. But then I decided to leave all that behind for a semester.
A part of the community I was leaving behind was the diabetes community and support system I have. I find value in knowing other type one diabetics and having them in my life, which is a large part of why I chose to start a Chapter of the CDN on my campus when I arrived.
At home, I am comfortable letting friends and co-workers know that I have diabetes, so they know what I am doing if I am poking my fingers or audibly grumbling at my insulin pump. Plus, I share more with those who I especially trust and am close to, such as what to do if I were to pass out from a low blood sugar. My parents are also only 3 hours behind when I am at school instead of 9 in Copenhagen. At home, I also am functioning in a healthcare system that I am familiar with in case of emergency.
But here in Copenhagen I am pretty much flying solo.
It doesn’t bother me too much, but there are times when I notice the loneliness of being a diabetic abroad more than others.
I have been surprised to be unable to spot any CGMs, pumps or meters on any other student who is studying abroad within my same program. In a group of 1,300 students, you would think the odds would be pretty high for there to be another diabetic in the bunch. Instead I found myself getting giddy while watching my host brother’s middle school musical performance in which I spotted a CGM on the arm of another performer.
For the first time in a while I got asked “What is that? Is that a pedometer?” when I pulled out my insulin pump in class. I explained what my pump is and why I have it but the comment still caused me to pause and remember that I am not in a group right now that widely knows I am a T1D.
In terms of peer support, I am lucky to have one of my closest friends from home studying here with me. I am confident that I can rely on her for emotional support if I am feeling burned out, and she can help keep me in check when we go out for drinks in case things took a turn for the worse. However, with friends I am making here, I am a little more reluctant to share with them I have diabetes - I don’t know how long these relationships are going to last so sharing that “fun fact” about myself isn’t the first one I let slip.
When studying abroad there are bound to be times where you feel lonely as you pull yourself away from all that is going on back at home. I think feeling like the only diabetic can capitalize this loneliness a little more because we bring with us some extra needs that require attention. Unlike the normal fear of missing out (FOMO), a T1D’s needs are not as easy for others to empathize with.
As a diabetic before you go abroad, think about what support systems you have in place when you’re at school and how you can bring those with you when you’re studying abroad. We can be grateful that parents and close friends are only a text or video call away, but also find people who are abroad with you who you can confide in and trust with your diabetes.
If you put a safety net in place ahead of time, it will be there to catch you if you need it, which is a lot better than finding yourself falling and scrambling to put one together.