Studying Abroad with a Chronic Medical Condition: Q&A with Claire, Tufts University

Claire, a double Biology and Community Health Major at Tufts University, is studying at DIS Copenhagen this fall. She has Ehlers-Danlos Syndrome (EDS), a connective tissue disorder, which causes chronic pain and chronic fatigue. We sat down with Claire to hear about her experience abroad so far. Keep reading to learn about Claire’s Core Course, what it’s like to live in a Rented Room, and Claire’s advice on how to manage EDS – and other chronic medical conditions – while studying abroad:

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DIS: Why did you choose DIS?

Claire P.: When looking for a place to study abroad, I knew I wanted a program that spoke English, was in Europe, and allowed me to take classes that would count towards my majors of Biology and Community Health. When I learned about DIS, I knew it was the perfect place for me because it fit all of those criteria. Plus, there was an emphasis on learning by experience and it was in Scandinavia. I am half Norwegian and have always been interested by Scandinavian culture, so I was extremely excited about the possibility of studying in Scandinavia.

DIS: What’s been your favorite ‘Danish’ experience so far?

CP: Being invited over to someone’s Homestay for a hygge dinner with a bunch of other DIS students. We enjoyed a traditional Danish meal, and I had the opportunity to speak more with this student’s hosts. It was incredible to experience a Danish home in the suburbs of Copenhagen and connect with people I would have never had the opportunity to meet otherwise. I truly appreciated the time spent with this Homestay, and it made me wish that I had signed up for a Visiting Host so that I could have had the opportunity to connect more with locals.

DIS: What has been your favorite part of your Core Course, Children in a Multicultural Context, so far?

CP: The practicum. I was placed in a special needs school where I work closely with three boys between the ages of 9 and 12 who have autism. It has been an incredible opportunity to get to know a few kids really well and see how the Danish education system works, as well as getting to know the teacher of the class very well. This has opened my eyes to many aspects of Danish childhood that I would not have been exposed to otherwise, and it has allowed me the opportunity to connect with educators and have many informative discussions.

DIS: You’re living with a local student in a Rented Room. What is that like?

CP: It’s been an amazing experience for me so far. I really enjoy the independence of being on my own, living in Copenhagen, and I love the opportunity to live like a local and really engage with Danish culture.

I am living with a Master’s student from the University of Copenhagen. She has been busy working on her thesis, but she is so sweet and always takes the opportunity to talk with Julia (another DIS student living in the apartment) and me. The Rented Room has been a perfect fit for me, and it has really helped enhance my experience of studying abroad.

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DIS: Tell us a bit about Ehlers-Danlos Syndrome (EDS), and how it has affected your study abroad experience so far?

CP: I have the hypermobile type of EDS which results in my joints moving more than they should (and even dislocating) which causes me to be in chronic pain as well as have chronic fatigue. EDS is a connective tissue disorder, so with it, I have other conditions such as heart/blood pressure problems and GI problems.

Overall, I am fortunate enough to say it has not impacted my study abroad experience very much. It is pretty similar to how I deal with EDS when I am at home or at school. I was concerned that I would have issues with my EDS that would negatively impact my study abroad experience, but that has not been the case.

A really nice thing about DIS is that it is very experience driven. There is an emphasis on learning by doing which has helped me immensely because I am no longer in a lot of pain due to being confined to a desk and studying all of the time, which happens quite frequently when I am at university in the U.S.

DIS: Do you have tips for students with chronic medical conditions who are considering studying abroad?

CP: Be on top of your medical condition before going abroad. Speaking for myself, I don’t think I would be able to get through the semester if I did not have a plan in place going into this semester. Make sure you keep lines of communication open with your medical team at home and have a plan in place with them for if something were to go wrong. Additionally, connect with the DIS Care Team sooner rather than later and don’t be afraid to stop by and ask them for help when you are here. They have been a great resource and helped me to find resources, such as a physical therapist and massage therapist.

DIS: What are you looking forward to most for the rest of your semester abroad?

CP: I am very excited to explore more of the surrounding areas of Copenhagen. I still have a few things that I want to check off, like seeing Hamlet’s Castle and the Six Forgotten Giants. Additionally, I am very excited for my week-long Study Tour in London at the end of October. It is crazy to think how fast the semester is flying by, and I am excited to take every opportunity I have to experience new things.

Claire writes her own personal blog about her time abroad in Copenhagen. Read more about her story here.

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