Summer 2013 ISV Magazine Scholarship Finalist: Sarah Bunce

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Sarah Bunce from the United Kingdom studying at George Washington University is a finalist for our Summer 2013 ISV Magazine Scholarship! Her main struggle as an international student? Finding an affordable insurance plan.

As I approach the start of my year studying in Washington D.C., one thing that has given me a lot of anxiety has definitely been the arranging of sufficient health insurance in the United States. Now, as a student from the United Kingdom, at first I had thought of this as a rather personal challenge – but the more I consider it, the more I can see that it will impact every international student who goes abroad to the United States to study.

Since I was diagnosed with type one diabetes, at the start of 2008, my appreciation and admiration of the UK’s National Health Service has grown and grown. I’m not exaggerating when I say that I would quite literally be dead without it. Therefore, one of the first thoughts that popped into my head when I contemplated partaking in a degree with a year abroad option was “how am I going to get my medication”. At the time, August 2013 seemed (and sounded!) a lifetime away, so I was quite content moving it to the “cross that bridge when we come to it” part of my mind. In the last couple of months, though, everything has gone full steam ahead, and just what I would do started to become a very real problem.

I am in no way judging the United States for their lack of a social health care program – or suggesting that the UK is better off because of the NHS – but when faced with the options on health insurance, I became quite amazed by the lack of choice I had. The insurance policy recommended and promoted by my American university will cost me just shy of $2,300 – quite a lot to ask from a girl whose household income is incredibly low. No problem, I thought, I’ll just shop around. So I started to research other suppliers and policies. However, these were rarely comprehensive enough – mainly because so many of them excluded pre-existing conditions. Even those that didn’t completely refuse to acknowledge my predicament had a six-eighteen month waiting period before the exclusion was lifted. But see, the problem with pre-existing conditions is that they are, well, pre-existing. My diabetes wasn’t going to go away for six-eighteen months (I wish) before presenting itself again when I would be able to afford an emergency hospitalisation, or a few prescriptions of supplies. Then I thought, well if the university’s policy is the most comprehensive, it must be worth the money! So I started to read the wording carefully, to figure out what they could do with me and my diagnosis. Talk about small print! Deductibles and copays clogged it.

Specifically, health insurance poses a challenge to students abroad in the United States because we are so far from home, and completely out of our comfort zone. Chances are the time we spend abroad will be much longer than your average holiday, so bringing supplies from home (especially when those can be bulky and heavy) is not really an option. Additionally, who wants to have that stress upon themselves when they’re supposed to be having an awesome, once in a lifetime adventure?! The security that comes with knowing that whatever happens you won’t end up dying or broke shouldn’t be underestimated.

This brings me to the benefit that this scholarship would bring me. $750 is a third of my university’s chosen health insurance – which I am going to have to take out, regardless of any unexpected (or unavoidable) costs that may occur. If I have learnt anything from my education so far, and a type one diabetes diagnosis, it’s that two of the most important things to be are happy and healthy. Those are some of my main long-term goals! Obviously, I am thrilled to have been presented with an opportunity as incredible as studying abroad for a whole year, in one of my favourite countries. I am determined the seize every chance I get to make it worthwhile, and want to do as much as I can in the time that I have in the States. But in order to do so I need to be stable and secure with my health. Having diabetes is a constant balancing act, and maintaining my blood sugar levels can take a lot of effort! But at the end of the day I know that when I’m feeling down it is due in at least some small part to where my sugars are running. Similarly, when I’m at a good level I feel ready to take on anything. I worry that without the knowledge that my medication is readily available, my mood will deteriorate as much as my body does without insulin.

This becomes even more worrying when  I remember that – first and foremost – I am in the United States in order to study. I have always been passionate about my education, and put my all into my work. But stress and high sugar levels are enormously detrimental to my efforts – I become lethargic and unmotivated when faced with menial everyday tasks, let alone essays and presentations. This scholarship will give me the ability to relax more about the things that I have taken for granted at home, as well as freeing up my savings for activities that will help me to embrace the experience of studying abroad. The time I spend in America does count towards my final degree back in the UK, so it will help me to spend time working hard on my schoolwork, as well as exploring other avenues. I am hoping to be a journalist when I come out of university, so I will be looking to get involved in student – and perhaps even the local – media. Channelling my youth and energy into expanding my horizons is something I desperately don’t want to miss out on, especially as I am passionate about bringing the difference between type one and type two diabetes to the public’s understanding. I think it is important to be very proactive in life, and if I want something I will do everything I can to go out and get it. I don’t want to be spending all of my time cooped up indoors either ill, or worrying about procuring medication at the lowest possible cost.

I am aware that students from all countries will feel the sting of having to take out healthcare, which is an essential component of living away from home for a significant time period. But coming from a background such as mine, I am finding it particularly difficult to see how I will manage to optimise my time in America when I have such important concerns on my mind. This scholarship would be a welcome relief, and a step towards my happy, healthy future.

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