International Student and Scholar Services

Staying Healthy


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Adjusting to life in a new country means excitement, challenge, and the unexpected. No amount of preparation can guarantee a trouble-free transition. There is one area, however, in which you do not want to face the unexpected: medical care for yourself and your family. The United States does not have a national health plan, and the government is not a major provider of medical care. Arranging and paying for medical care is your responsibility. Because medical care in the United States is very expensive, the best way to meet this responsibility is to obtain comprehensive health-insurance coverage to protect you and your family from exorbitant costs.

Student Assurance Services, Inc. Health Insurance Plan
UM-St. Louis has a mandatory insurance plan for all students if F-1 and J-1 status through Student Assurance Services, Inc. If you are sponsored by a government organization such as USAID, one of the Fulbright programs or your embassy, that includes adequate health insurance as part of your program, then you may have not have to purchase the UMSL plan. Contact ISSS for specific instructions on how to apply for an insurance waiver.

It is very important to have a good understanding of your health insurance - waiting until you are sick or injured is a bad time to find out about your coverage. For specific information on the international student health insurance plan offered by Student Assurance Services, visit their website at If you have any other questions about your health insurance, ISSS is a good place to start.

Where to Go for Medical Care
What should you do if you are sick and need to see a doctor?

If you are feeling sick, do not hesitate to get help. Unless you have a real emergency, however, such as uncontrolled bleeding or a broken bone, do not go to a hospital emergency room for treatment. Emergency rooms are very expensive and, if your condition is not life threatening, you may have to wait a long time for care.

When you need medical care, first go to University Health Services at 125 Millennium Student Center. University Health Services is staffed by a Nurse Practitioner, who is able to prescribe medication, and several Registered Nurses. If University Health Services is able to treat you, they will do so, or if not you will be referred to a clinic or hospital. By getting a referral from University Health Services, you will receive a 50% reduction of your $50 deductible.

Depending on the severity of your symptoms, you may receive care immediately, later the same day, or the next day. If you are referred to a doctor, you should check to make sure they are in the insurance network. Go to to locate a doctor that is preferred by the insurance plan. You may be offered a choice of doctors or other health-care providers. Consider whether you would prefer to see a man or a woman, an older practitioner or a younger one, etc. Even if you are not asked, you should make your preferences known. For the best medical care, it is important to choose one clinic and use it throughout your stay. This way, all those who see you will know you and your medical history and will be able to treat you most appropriately.

The time you spend with health-care providers may seem very brief, with little opportunity for conversation. The doctor or nurse will ask you many questions; some may appear unnecessary or intrusive, but you should try to answer them as completely as possible. You may think the approach abrupt and impersonal; however, the workers are only trying to be efficient and thorough, characteristics central to American culture. It is expected that patients will ask questions about their health, diagnosis, treatment, and costs. American physicians expect their patients to participate in making decisions about medications and treatment choices. If you ever have difficulty understanding anything about your medical status or treatment, ask for clarification. You can ask workers to talk more slowly, to repeat, or to write something down. If you think you will need a translator, ask when you make your appointment if someone can assist you, or bring a friend.

International students often hesitate to consult professionals about mental-health problems. You may never have had the need to talk to a psychologist, psychiatric social worker, or psychiatrist at home, and you may think only "crazy" people with very severe mental problems are treated by such professionals. It is not uncommon in the United States, however, for students or other individuals with emotional problems to seek professional help. As an international student, far from home and lacking your usual support system of family and close friends, you may find it helpful to consult a mental-health professional when dealing with issues of adjustment, depression, or strain. UMSL offers personal, academic and career counseling services to all of its students. Counseling Services is located in 126 Millennium Student Center. The process will be completely confidential.

What About AIDS?
You are undoubtedly aware of AIDS, or Acquired Immune Deficiency Syndrome. You may wonder whether you will be at risk for developing AIDS in the United States. The answer is simple: you are no more at risk in the United States than you would be at home; your risk of infection depends almost entirely on your own behavior.

As you probably know, you do not get AIDS in the same way you get a cold, influenza, or other contagious illnesses. You can become infected with the virus only if it gets into your blood through contact with the blood, semen, or vaginal secretions of an infected person. This can happen only if you engage in sexual activities involving the exchange of body fluids, or if you share needles (for example, for injecting drugs, acupuncture, tattooing, or ear piercing) with someone who is infected. Always use a condom if you have sex and, in any activity involving needles, make certain the needles are sterilized.

You cannot get AIDS from:

For more information, consult University Health Services.

Exercise and Eating Right
An important part of staying healthy is eating a nutritious and balanced diet. Finding the right foods in a new country may be difficult. The food everyone is eating may not appeal to you.

It may help to find some traditional foods from home, especially when you first arrive. International student clubs on campus can tell you where to shop. If you have special dietary requirements, the campus cafeteria may be able to accommodate you. Be sure to check with the food-service director about your requirements if you do not readily find the foods you need. It is perfectly acceptable to be assertive when looking for a diet that meets your needs and preferences.

Exercise can also contribute to your health. If you exercise regularly you will get sick less often, have more energy, and feel less stress. UMSL offers the Mark Twain Athletic Building, which is free to all students. Here you will find a full gym, weight room, pool, track, and tennis courts. Aerobic classes are offered each semester for a fee.

Staying healthy in a new environment, with all the differences in climate, food, and language, is a challenge. If you have adequate health insurance, get medical care when you need it, eat a nutritious diet, and get regular exercise, you will stay healthy and get much more out of your experience as a international student in the United States. All of these factors will, of course, improve your academic performance.

Dressing for Cold Weather
While the winters are not always extremely cold in St. Louis, cold weather is common. It is important to be prepared when the snow and northern winds arrive. You will hear reports of "wind chill factor." This is what the temperature feels like when considering the wind. The lower the air temperature and stronger the wind, the lower and more dangerous the wind chill. In spite of this, with a little preparation the cold won't seem so bad.

Wear several layers of clothes. Several layers of clothes will keep you warmer than one heavy layer. With this you also have the opportunity to take things off when you are inside in the sometimes overheated buildings.

Choose warm fabrics. Goose down, wool and cotton are good natural fabrics for insulation. There are also some excellent artificial materials like Goretex and Thinsulate. It's also important to combine these warm fabrics with clothing made for winter. Tight clothing does not keep you warmer. Get a good coat, hat, boots, and gloves. Don't be a slave to fashion! Stay warm!

Cover yourself. Exposed skin losing heat quickly, and on especially windy days skin is susceptible to frostbite (damage caused by freezing).