Surprising Lessons in T1D While Studying Abroad

Contributor
Hannah Young, Kennesaw State University '19

I decided to study abroad the summer after my freshman year. I can honestly say it was one of the best decisions I have made in college. Freshman year is an adjusting year—a year to figure out who you are and who you want to be. In my mind, I saw this as a perfect time to explore before I got too bogged down by my studies, but I was also scared. I was scared to leave behind my family and friends for a month, scared to not know anyone else going on the trip, and scared of being in a foreign country with diabetes.

This past summer was not the only time I have been out of the country with diabetes. My first experience traveling was a trip with my middle school, surrounded by my friends and teachers who knew what to do if any medical issues came up. I had control over my diabetes, but I still had a safety net. When studying abroad in college, I felt like I was almost completely on my own.

Once I arrived in London I had to switch all my basal rates so that I would be in the right time zone.. I thought this would be a bit of a rocky transition but it was more like running headfirst into a wall. My body was not ready to be on a five-hour-different schedule filled with more walking than I normally experience in my daily life. I cannot even count how many juice boxes and glucose tabs I went through when dealing with so many lows. I was constantly setting temporary basal rates on my pump and silencing my Dexcom alarms that were yelling at me for being low. My low glucose symptoms tend to be sweats, shakiness, weakness, and lightheadedness, but after being low all the time I stopped feeling the extent of these effects. With my CGM monitoring me all the time this did not seem like a big deal—then the transmitter for my Dexcom expired.

Without the help of my CGM, making changes to my management became more difficult. Personally, I am more afraid of being low than I am of being high. Week two, my blood sugar was high the majority of the time while I was slowly increasing my basal rates to balance it back out. This was a very draining process that made me feel horrible, but at the same time it was a wakeup call for me.

With a pump and continuous glucose monitor on my body at all times I had gotten comfortable and lazy about controlling my diabetes. Being in a foreign country, I had to always be aware of my diabetes and surroundings. If I was eating something I had to check my blood sugar while taking into account how much walking I was going to be doing that day. If I didn’t have any glucose tablets on me and felt like my blood sugar was dropping I had to figure out where the nearest grocery store was in order to get it back up. Life is not always on a set schedule and traveling with diabetes forced me to be adaptive to my constantly changing daily adventures. I definitely struggled, but I learned from it and am now more aware of how I control my disease.

As a rising sophomore, I also learned how much of an impact college experiences can have on someone. I had a very rough freshman year and, as a result, had a very pessimistic perspective about many aspects of college. However, the people who accompanied me on my trip helped me realize that if you find the right friends and have the right mindset, you will be able to make countless memories and have the time of your life.

I am so thankful that I was able to study abroad after my freshman year because it gave me more confidence than I had ever thought possible. I made irreplaceable friendships with people who started off as complete strangers, I was able to navigate around an entirely new country, I was able to make A’s in my classes while enjoying myself, and I was able to control my diabetes, despite my struggles. This trip helped me grow as a person in so many different ways and if I could do it all over again I would in a heartbeat.