Thursday, November 23

Clea Wurster: Study abroad program must make health care information more accessible


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Joe Bruin is in Argentina with the flu, which is rendering him incapable of wandering the streets of Buenos Aires to find a doctor in a language he has a hard time grasping. Luckily, he attended an orientation at the beginning of his UCLA study abroad program, but can’t find information about healthcare now that he needs it.

If only there was an easy-to-use website that could help him find medical attention. But sadly, no such website exists.

The needs of students at UCLA mirror those of students abroad. They need easy access to healthcare services, academic advising and psychological services, among other resources.

However, many students preparing to study abroad are not aware of these resources. This could spell danger for students who experience emergencies, both physical and mental. A user-friendly website would enable students to find treatment when necessary and experience new cultures without unnecessary stress about their well-being.

The study abroad program does provide students the necessary resources. Associate Director of International Exchange Programs Magdalena Barragan said via email that while abroad, students can access resources like those of UCLA’s Arthur Ashe Student Health and Wellness Center and Counseling and Psychological Services. She added that study abroad offices are supposed to support students in utilizing them.

But despite the availability of these resources, it seems that UCLA has forgotten to effectively inform students about them. Third-year microbiology, immunology and molecular genetics student Peggy Ho said that she was unsure how her insurance might have worked while she studied in Dublin, Ireland.

Ho said that to see a doctor, she would have had to make an appointment off-campus – markedly more inconvenient than walking to the Ashe Center at UCLA. She added that she was not sure whether UCLA would provide assistance in finding adequate physicians or healthcare practices when students need them.

Though not all students feel as unsupported abroad as Ho did, they still lack access to the information they might need. Fourth-year political science student and Undergraduate Students Association Council’s Community Service Commissioner Zack Dameron said that he had access to resources while abroad, though he did not need any.

He said he was not introduced to psychological counseling services, which shows that he was not fully aware of the resources he could have used. But other students could very easily need these resources. If they aren’t aware they exist, their health could suffer.

Study abroad has predeparture and on-site orientations to help students adjust to new environments and inform them of resources. Clearly, these don’t accomplish much, given that many students were either never informed of resources or did not know how to access the information later on.

As of now, the study abroad website gives little information about the individual programs and their extent to which they meet student needs. As the search for a program gets more detailed, the information provided offers little specific guidance about counseling options. On top of that, the website has almost no information regarding how to access the resources once abroad – anything but handy.

Clearly, there is a disconnect between the study abroad program offices and the thousands of students they serve each year. The UC Education Abroad Program website needs to be more thorough in order to better inform students of their resources and prevent lapses in psychological or medical care that could be detrimental to students’ well-being. Students should be able to access relevant information easily and quickly should an emergency arise.

Information could easily be distributed by improving the current website to compile all relevant information in one convenient place, with drop-down menus and links that lead to financial, academic and healthcare services – much the same way the MyUCLA website does for students at UCLA. It could also provide links to documents provided at orientation. This would eliminate some confusion and aid students in seeking services and information comparable to what they have here.

Students are adults and some might argue they should be capable of finding medical care and academic services themselves. However, this task is daunting – even in the familiar environment of UCLA’s campus. Students are already taking a huge leap in traveling to new places, so it is the responsibility of UCLA to ensure that they are well-informed of the support students have.

Because these resources are already available, the issue lies in the means of communication, which is clearly flawed. Simply improving an existing website should not be a significant burden for an office that claims to support students attempting to broaden their horizons.

Students need access to information and available resources much sooner than when they send in their applications, and in a more useful form than the current website. The study abroad office must revamp its website before more students abroad end up aimlessly seeking urgent care in foreign countries.

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