Diversity Abroad: Studying Abroad as a Type 1 Diabetic
When preparing to study abroad, I knew I’d have extra challenges to overcome because I am a Type 1 diabetic. To ensure I had the medical supplies and medication to last me the duration of my program, I needed to bring five months’ worth with me. This required getting authorization from my insurance for my supply company and pharmacy to fill those prescriptions in advance. This proved to be not only difficult but impossible. I spent over 28 total hours on the phone between my supply company, my insurance, and sometimes both at once. Luckily, they approved a six-month prescription of insulin, but after an emotionally grueling process, I was unable to convince them to approve the supplies for my insulin pump. This meant I had the insulin, but no feasible way to use it. I sat down and did some math—I had about two months’ worth of supplies in my possession in December and was due for another three-month shipment before I was supposed to leave in January, which meant I’d have just barely enough supplies to bring with me when I left, but I would have enough. I’d expected study abroad to challenge me; I just hadn’t expected it to start before I left!
Another challenge was keeping my insulin cold on the journey overseas. Insulin must stay refrigerated or it loses its efficacy, so I had to make sure it stayed cold during my 20+ hours of travel to France. I found a high-quality cooler that I deemed worthy of the task and my insulin ended up staying cold the whole way to Paris.
Navigating TSA was easier than I’d anticipated. Usually, I must undergo extra checks for my pump, and I anticipated bringing so many supplies would cause even more issues. But it turns out TSA offers you an advocate if you warn them in advance that you have a disability or other situation which may complicate security checks. I did this and was through security faster than I ever have been before.
Once I arrived in Paris, I was finally able to relax rather than being stressed about having enough diabetes supplies. That is, until I returned from my spring break to discover that my apartment had lost power while I was gone and all the remaining insulin in my fridge was lukewarm and would soon be useless. Understandably, I panicked. I made many plans, one of which was asking my U.S. endocrinologist to write me an emergency prescription to see if I could get it filled onsite. It turns out, I could! It was a painless process and I’m still refilling that same prescription.
Studying abroad with Type 1 diabetes has been difficult and required resiliency. I made a friend in my program who’s also a Type 1 diabetic, and we’ve commiserated over the challenges many times. Just like any disability, diabetes comes with its own unique challenges, but it doesn’t stop me from making the most of my time abroad!
Emily Counts is the Spring 2022 CEA MOJO Blogger in Paris, France, and is currently studying at Nebraska Wesleyan University.