Studying Abroad with T1D: Copenhagen

February 14, 2019

Caroline Malone
George Washington University
Caroline is spending the second semester of her junior year away from her home university of George Washington University in Washington, DC. Caroline has been a proud Washingtonian her whole life as she comes from Seattle, Washington. When she is back on campus, Caroline stays busy studying Human Services and Social Justice and Economics and being active in the community service community on campus. In her free-time she enjoys exploring new restaurants and she loves to disprove the stereotype that diabetics can’t eat sweets by baking, eating desserts, and talking about the summers she has spent decorating ice cream cakes at her local Ben and Jerry’s.

My mentality for living with diabetes for 13 years is that I will lead, and diabetes will follow in choosing what I want to experience in life. However, diabetes follows along like giving someone else a piggy back ride. The burden of bringing diabetes along is constantly apparent and requires adjustments to make sure it does not fall off and hurt anyone.

With my choice to spend a semester studying abroad in Copenhagen, Denmark through DIS Copenhagen, I have felt diabetes piggy-backing off of me a little bit more than usual.

It was mostly in the weeks leading up to my departure that I really wished I could just put diabetes down and walk away. I had tried starting the process of ordering six months worth of supplies in November and I naively thought that one phone call with a helpful representative would do the trick. But as many who are reading this can attest to, working with representatives in health-related industries is never as straightforward as it originally appears to be.

I had been told my supplies would be shipped on December 10th but that day came and went and no shipping notification had been received. So, in the middle of preparing for final exams I found myself back at square one making phone call after phone call, day after day. To make matters more exciting, my phone had quit making calls, so I was dependent on the phones at the office I work in (an accidental 9-1-1 call may have been made, if only they helped with medical related needs, not just emergencies).

During this process, I came to the realization that this situation needed a babysitter and that had to be me. I called Medtronic every day until I received a shipping notification and was grateful for a UnitedHealthcare representative who kept me on the phone while they gave permission to OptumRx for a vacation override.

“A piece of advice from this experience: keep detailed notes of who you talk to, when you talk to them, and what they said they would do for you. That way you can try to hold people accountable as best you can while dealing with an extremely bureaucratic system.”

Eventually though, all the supplies arrived, and it was time for them to be packed up and taken with me to Copenhagen. Infusion sets, reservoirs and bottles of strips were stuffed into shoes and took up an extra suitcase, but at least I know they will be used by the end of my time abroad, making room for the souvenirs I am bound to pick up along the way. My host family has graciously made room in their refrigerator for my numerous vials of insulin and I have been careful not to track test strips all over our apartment.

I also want to give DIS a nod of appreciation and would recommend it as a program to any diabetic planning on studying abroad. All of my accommodations I am registered to receive at my home university were transferred without issue. I even received an email from a staff member who was arranging a study tour for one of my classes when they found out the hostel we are staying in only has communal refrigeration and wanted to make sure that would suit my needs. This level of accommodation and consideration was above and beyond what I expected, and I am very grateful for it.

“As long as you give yourself time to prepare and adjust as needed, studying abroad with diabetes should not be any harder than it would be without an extra hitch-hiker.”

I am still giving diabetes a piggy-back ride through Europe, but fortunately thus far it hasn’t been any harder than it is when I am back at home. As long as you give yourself time to prepare and adjust as needed, studying abroad with diabetes should not be any harder than it would be without an extra hitch-hiker.

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