Deanelle Thompson, University of North Carolina at Chapel Hill
I had just received my acceptance letter to study abroad in Sevilla, Spain for the spring semester. I was excited (literally shedding tears of joy), especially since this would be my first time going to Europe. Although I was really excited to travel across Europe and study in Spain, I was also extremely anxious. There were a couple of reasons why I had anxiety: I was leaving home to live across the Atlantic Ocean for six months, I knew that I would eventually get homesick, I was not proficient in the Spanish, and I worried about the dark but constant shadow of diabetes hanging clearly on my mind. Luckily, I had a few months to prepare.
Despite having a few months to prepare, I procrastinated a bit. The root of this procrastination did not stem from laziness but from being swamped with paperwork, fundraising to go abroad, diabetes related costs and appointments, work, and juggling my fall semester all at the same time. I thought for a second that I would have to rescind my application to study abroad because it was a lot to balance, but things worked out! The key for me was communication and planning. I talked with my parents, friends, family, church, neighbors, endocrinologist, College Diabetes Network (CDN) Chapter, and everyone I knew in my support network. I also talked to my insurance and diabetes supply company so that I could have enough supplies for the entire time I would stay in Spain.
Things were going well with my preparation. I not only readied my mind mentally to physically leave my home for six months, but I also researched a lot. I looked into Spanish cultural, common Spanish phrases, temperature, countries and cities that I wanted to visit. I also wanted to know about traveling with diabetes because I needed to make myself feel confident enough to know that I could handle it on my own. Some websites that I found helpful were the American Diabetes Association (ADA) and CDN, which both have a checklist of things you need to do before going abroad. The most important thing was memorizing diabetes terminology in Spanish ahead of time. This is essential for talking to people in a different language that are interested in how diabetes works, your experience with diabetes, getting through airports, and in case of emergencies communicating with one that may not know English.
I went to a lot of places in and around Spain. I enjoyed each place that I traveled to. My favorite part about studying abroad with diabetes was the opportunity to talk to people who speak a different language about my type 1 diabetes (T1D) experience. The worst part about studying abroad and diabetes were the bad days where my blood sugar was high and nothing seemed to be going right. Those bad days made me feel lonely, scared, and homesick. To deal, I shared with others within my program how I felt, and I would call home using WhatsApp.
From this trip I learned many things. I learned how to navigate a metro in a foreign country and how to make others who speak a different language laugh. I learned about my interests and more about who I am, and I was reminded that diabetes is not a hindrance. Although it is bothersome and I cry about it sometimes, it is who I am and only makes me stronger each time I conquer the day with it. My time abroad with T1D was a blast.