Karan Sandhu in Hong Kong: Staying Safe During Study Abroad

Studying abroad is a beautiful, once in a lifetime experience that everyone should embark on.

Keeping that in mind, we also have to remember that, like most things in life, there are bumps along the way.

I encountered just that on February 19 – the day of Chinese New Year. I had celebrated the Year of the Goat, watching amazing fireworks from Hong Kong’s Wan Chai district. I was also able to catch a glimpse of the big Chinese New Year parade in Tsim Sa Tsui (one of the most populated places in Hong Kong and the world). All was well and I was packing my bags to spend my Chinese New Year holiday in a country not so far away, yet equally as exotic: Thailand.

I was traveling with two other exchange students, and after arriving safely in Bangkok, Thailand, we explored a bit of the bustling southeast Asian city before arriving at our final destination on the shore of the Gulf of Thailand: Koh Tao.

As we expected, Koh Tao was nothing short of beautiful. With the sun shining for most of the day, palm trees and sandy beaches, it is truly a tropical paradise. However, my friend Andrew and I were not able to enjoy the island for long.

On the island, many people rent motorbikes in what should be a quick and fun way to get around. Koh Tao is a very small town with narrow roads that lead you over small hills. Naturally, as tourists on this small and exotic island, my friend Andrew rented his own motorbike, while I rented a four-wheeler.

Up until this point, we had not gone to the other side of the island, so we decided to drive there, which proved difficult because of the hilly terrain.

On our way back to the main side of the island, Andrew suggested he take us back to the top of the terrain on his motorbike. I agreed and jumped on the back of his bike, not thinking about how rough the terrain actually was. Before long, the bike started to lose control and as a result, we tipped to the side, both falling off the bike and rolling down the hill.

I rolled to the side and landed in the dirt – face down, unable to move. I slowly got up into a sitting position and found myself covered in blood – and purely shocked.

Thinking back on this experience, while unfortunate, it taught me some crucial lessons I don’t think I would have ever learned while in Michigan.

1. Remain calm and always think positive

Of course nobody expects to get hurt or fall ill halfway across the world, but it happens – and if it happens to you, stay calm. As I was sitting there with blood on my knees and elbows, I took in the moment, shed a few tears, and then realized that everything was going to be okay. I was thankful because the outcome could have been a lot worse.

2. Always carry your travel insurance card with you

I left my travel insurance in Hong Kong, and unfortunately had to pay for the cost of my medicine, bandages and clinic visits all out of pocket. (Note: For the cost of all my medical expenses, I paid approximately $150). Also, when returning to the United States, make sure you keep receipts of all your medical visits because you can typically get a refund with your insurance back home. Just be sure to check with your insurance provider about their policies to make a plan of action.

3. Always keep your loved ones informed

I tried to avoid telling my parents about my injuries because I didn’t want to worry them. The reality of the situation is that your parents, friends and other significant people in your life should know if you’re hurt regardless if the injury is big or small. Take a deep breath, relax and explain the situation calmly. Letting them know you are okay will ultimately give them the peace of mind they need.