Why Taking A Breath Does More For Your Body than Just Breathing

June 28th, 2021 by Jennifer Frankel

Feeling stressed out? How many times have you heard, just breathe! In fact, when you look at many different relaxation techniques, whether it’s yoga or meditation, you will notice that there is a lot of focus on the types of breaths we take. In this blog we will talk about what research is finding when it comes to our breath and its connection to our emotions. We will also explore different breathing techniques as well as popular apps that might be helpful to incorporate into your lifestyle.

Pacemakers Explained

It turns out that there are two pacemaker cells in our body: one that is located in the heart and regulates our heartbeat and one that is in our brain that regulates our breath. The pacemaker in our heart cannot be controlled, it’s what we call involuntary, and it beats to its own rhythm. But the cluster of cells that regulate our breath are actually located in our brain, which sends signals to our spinal cord, over to our skeletal muscles, which then expands our lungs. Since these clusters of cells are in our brain, breathing can be voluntary or involuntary. You may find yourself breathing without thinking about it, but you can also take a deep breath or hold your breath when you want to. More and more studies that are coming out show that the breaths we take have a distinct effect on our emotions. 

Think about it. Why does hyperventilating make us anxious and why does breathing slowly make us calmer?

The Connection Between Breath & Emotions

Much of this is still being discovered, but findings go back to research done in 1991 when a study co-authored by Jack Feldman, a professor of neurology at UCLA, found a cluster of neurons in the brainstem that was thought to be the important mechanism for the respiratory rhythm in mammals, including humans.

By identifying these neurons, scientists then looked at how breath, emotions, and alertness all worked together – and indeed, found a link between these neurons and alertness. These studies showed that there was a link between breath and emotions, and explained why when we breathe rapidly we are anxious and when we breathe slowly we are calm.

Other studies continued to reinforce this idea, including a study done by Pierre Phillipot. Phillipot and his team found that different emotions are linked to specific respiratory patterns. In Phillipot’s study, he asked participants to generate an emotion such as sadness, fear, and happiness and they looked closely at the different respiration patterns. After looking at these patterns, they found that every emotion had a distinct breath pattern. There was even a follow up study that had a different group of participants come to the lab and they were instructed on how to breathe. These participants were then asked to report how they felt – and they reported the same emotional outcome that was observed in the original group!

All of this is to say, we can use our breath to control how we feel. It can serve as a powerful tool in our emotional wellness toolkit. 

Breathing Techniques

So how does one learn to do this? There are many different breathing techniques out there that you can try and practice. Finding a few that are easy to use throughout the day. 

Here are a few that we like:

Alternate nostril breathing

Also known as nadi shodhana pranayama in Sanskrit, this breathing technique is great for relaxation.You should avoid this if you are feeling sick or congested.

  1. Get comfortable and relax
  2. Exhale and use your right thumb to gently close your right nostril
  3. Inhale through your left nostril and then close your left nostril with your right pinky and ring fingers
  4. Release your thumb and exhale out through your right nostril
  5. Inhale through your right nostril and then close this nostril
  6. Release your fingers to open your left nostril and exhale through this side
  7. Repeat up to 5 minutes and finish as you exhale on the left side
Resonant or coherent breathing

Resonant or coherent breathing is when you breathe at a rate of 5 full breaths per minute (or inhaling and exhaling for 5 counts). 

  1. Get comfortable and relax
  2. Inhale for a count of 5
  3. Exhale for a count of 5
  4. Continue for a few minutes
Pursed lip breathing

This breathing technique can be practiced at any time and puts our attention on our breath.

  1. Get comfortable and relax
  2. Inhale slowly through your nose for 2 counts (keeping your mouth closed)
  3. Exhale slowly by blowing air through your pursed lips (or puckered lips) for a count of 4.

For more information on why breath is so important and other breathing techniques, check out our video on how to destress through breath: emotional wellness for international students.

Breathing Apps

In addition to incorporating breathing techniques into your daily routine, you can also look at downloading some apps that might also help to incorporate some of these exercises. Here are a few of our favorites:

The Breathwrk App

The Breathwrk app takes your goals into consideration and develops a collection of breathing exercises to work on. Whether you are looking to relax, feel energized, or alleviate stress, this app will walk you through each exercise and send you daily reminders. Many of the exercises are free, but there are some features that do require a subscription (there is a 7-day trial to see whether it will work for you!).

The breathe2 App

The breathe2 app is another breathing app which focuses on the benefits of breathing exercises, and can also be used to relieve stress, improve focus and concentration, meditation, etc. There are a number of breathing exercises that you will learn, and it will help you to define each breathing cycle including inhale, exhale, hold.

There are an abundance of really good apps that can help those people looking to incorporate breathing into their daily lives in a more guided way. If you have a favorite app, let us know in the comments below.

While breathing exercises and awareness can be an important tool to maintaining your emotional wellness, it is important to take a holistic approach. In addition to breathing exercise, you may want to consider your exercise, diet, sleep, and your overall outlook to continue to promote and maintain your wellness. 

For more, check out our emotional wellness page for international students.

COVID-19 Vaccine Preparation and What to Expect

May 18th, 2021 by Sally Mcleod

As summer approaches, COVID-19 vaccine eligibility has expanded to anyone in the United States 16 years of age and older. So now that eligibility has been granted, what does this mean for international students and what should you do now? 

There has been a lot of discussion and ambiguity around how much vaccines cost and who is eligible, but the good news is that more time has allowed for further clarification, and it’s all positive! This is great news for international students currently residing in the United States and for the country as a whole, as anyone residing in the US, foreign nationals included, are eligible for the COVID-19 vaccine. Even better, it’s completely free regardless of whether or not your insurance covers it! 

Where to sign up

The CDC, Centers of Disease Control and Prevention, lists several ways for you to easily sign up to schedule your appointment! Visiting Vaccines.gov is a great place to start, as you can locate vaccination providers within your vicinity by typing in your zip code and selecting the type of vaccine you wish to receive. You also have the option to text the zip code in which you wish to receive your vaccine to 1-800-232-0233, or you can also speak to someone over the phone by calling the same number to assist in finding a vaccine administration site near you. 

Scheduling your appointment

Just as easy as it is to sign up, scheduling your appointment takes little effort. Whether you are getting vaccinated at a pharmacy, doctor’s office or larger vaccine location, you can most likely schedule your appointment online or over the phone and choose a time that works best for you. Depending on what you opt in for, you will receive a confirmation of your appointment and reminders via email, phone or text. 

What to expect when you arrive

When arriving for your appointment, you can expect to be kept at 6 foot distance between you and others, and you will be asked to wear a mask to cover your nose and mouth. You will receive information about the type of vaccine you are receiving and schedule your second vaccination appointment if you have opted for the Pfizer-BioNTech COVID-19 vaccine or Moderna COVID-19 vaccine. After you receive your vaccine, you will have your vaccination card filled out by your provider or staff member, that you will want to keep in a safe place to show that you have been vaccinated. If you are receiving a second vaccine, you will need to bring this card to your next appointment. 

After your injection, you will then be monitored and required to wait 15 minutes before leaving to ensure that you do not have any major side effects or health issues. If you’re lucky, there might even be stickers or buttons being given away as you leave showing that you have been vaccinated! Hooray! 

You’re vaccinated! Now what? 

To be considered fully vaccinated, it must be two weeks from the time in which you had your second vaccine if you received the Pfizer-BioNTech or Moderna and two weeks from a one shot vaccine such as Johnson & Johnson’s Janssen COVID-19 vaccine. Upon receiving your vaccine, you may notice some side effects while others may not have any. This is considered perfectly normal as your immune system is building up tolerance to the virus. Common side effects include soreness, reddening, or swelling of the arm from where the vaccine was injected and throughout your body you may feel tired and experience head and body aches, muscle pain, nausea or chills. You can expect this to subside within a few hours to a few days. 

Being fully vaccinated is a liberating feeling! You can begin to do things you maybe haven’t done since before the pandemic, such as socializing with friends and family that have also been vaccinated without masks or distancing. However, it’s important to continue to take precautions and continue to follow public guidelines as we still have much to learn. You can learn more by visiting the Centers of Disease Control and Prevention with detailed information on how to respond to the COVID-19 pandemic. 

What can I do or can’t do after receiving the Covid-19 vaccine?

April 16th, 2021 by Alexis Ponce

It has been over one year since the Covid-19 virus became a worldwide pandemic and we were all required to isolate ourselves at home. Even though at some point the pandemic felt eternal, with the development of vaccines by different pharmaceutical companies, such as Pfizer, Johnson & Johnson, Moderna, AstraZeneca and BioNTech,  life around the globe may start to return to normal within the next year.

At this moment, the Covid-19 vaccine is being administered for free by most governments. In the United States, for example, each state has developed a vaccination plan, starting with the populations that are a higher risk of complications if they were to get infected with the virus. If you’re inside the United States and you’d like to obtain more information about the vaccination plan in the state you’re currently residing in, please contact the Health Department of your state.

On March 8th, 2021, the U.S. Center for Disease Control (CDC) released recommendations for people who are fully  vaccinated on what they should and shouldn’t do, including:

Can I visit other fully vaccinated people indoors without wearing masks or physical distancing?

The answer is YES, you can! 

Can I visit unvaccinated friends and family without wearing a mask indoors?

The answer is YES, you can. The CDC does, however, recommend you  visit at a single household and only if the people living there are at low risk for severe COVID-19 disease, meaning their age group isn’t a risky population and they don’t have any health conditions that may put them at higher risk of complications arising from a COVID-19 infection. Keep in mind that the more households you visit, the higher risk of infection to you and  those close to you.

Can a fully vaccinated person refrain from quarantine and testing following a known exposure?

The answer is YES but only if the person does not develop symptoms of the disease after exposure.

Can fully vaccinated people travel within the United States and internationally?

YES! According to the CDC, people who are fully vaccinated  can travel within the US and internationally, without the need of getting  a Covid test or quarantining before or after traveling.

Note: Since each person’s body responds differently to the vaccine, it might take longer for some people than others to create immunity to the virus, and if we also take into consideration that a great number of the population hasn’t been vaccinated yet (such as young adults and children) we recommend that you keep taking the following precautions:

  • Wear a mask covering your nose and mouth when you  are out in public. 
  • Maintain 6 feet of physical distance if you are visiting unvaccinated people who are at an increased risk for severe Covid-19.
  • Avoid medium or large sized crowds.
  • If you start showing symptoms of Covid-19, get tested immediately.

The Covid-19 pandemic might finally be reaching its end with the development of these vaccines, however, until enough people have received their full dose of the vaccine, we strongly encourage you to keep taking precautions.

Please visit our Covid-19 page if you’d like to read more useful information about how to stay safe during the lockdown

Insurance Plan Updates 2021!

April 15th, 2021 by Yessica Prato

It is that time of the year when we give our plans a thorough review and go through updates. 2020 left chaos in its path but it gave us a chance to examine the coverage offered through our plans and improve them so they meet the needs of our new reality. Our most popular plans have been updated as follows: 

Student Secure plan

  • All levels of the plan will now cover virtual physicians visits the same as a regular doctor’s visit. 
  • The Elite level will cover the Covid-19 vaccination under  the wellness vaccination on all new policies purchased after April 15th.

Atlas Travel plan

  • New Emergency Quarantine Indemnity benefit will cover $50 per day, up to 10 days for a mandated quarantine.
  • The plan covers virtual physicians visits the same as a regular doctor’s visit. 

Student Health Advantage and Patriot Exchange plans

  • Covid-19 covered the same as any other illness. This benefit includes coverage for any vaccine side-effects as long as the vaccine is received after the plan’s start date.
  • Prescription medications covered up to $250,000 maximum (Up to $100,000 maximum for dependents on Student Health Advantage plans).

To find out what plan best fits your personal needs, contact our team of insurance experts and they’ll be happy to recommend a plan for you. 

Where Should I Go for Medical Care?

March 17th, 2021 by Eric Bloodworth

Healthcare in the United States is complicated to say the least. If you get sick or injured, there are many places that you can go to for medical treatment in the US. It’s important to know where to go to make sure you don’t end up running around to multiple places, spending more money than you need to, and ensuring you have a smooth claims process with your insurance company. So, which provider should you go to for medical care?

Primary Care

Primary care physicians are by far the most common providers in the United States, and are typically made up of general practitioners and family doctors. Primary care doctors can deal with a range of issues from minor colds and infections to chronic illnesses. If a condition is outside of their area of expertise, they will be able to refer you to a specialist. It is important to call in advance and make an appointment, and most are open Monday through Friday from 8 am – 5 pm. 

Walk-In/Convenient Clinics 

Walk-in clinics are a great option for minor injuries and illnesses, such as the flu or strep throat, and can also administer common vaccines. Walk-in clinics are often located inside of pharmacies such as Walgreens, Walmart, CVS, and in many supermarkets that have pharmacies on-site. They can do a thorough evaluation, administer tests, and prescribe medications for common illnesses – and you do not need an appointment to be seen (although it can be helpful to call before showing up!). Walk-in clinics should not be used if you have a more serious condition such as a broken bone. 

Urgent Care Centers

Urgent care centers are often stand-alone buildings or locations in retail spaces that offer many services that emergency rooms offer, but are excellent for many non-emergency situations. Urgent care centers do not require an appointment, and can assist you with illnesses and injuries such as mild allergic reactions, sprains, and minor fractures. Urgent care centers may also have access to x-ray machines, can conduct lab work, and may be able to do blood work depending on the facility. 

Urgent care centers will save you time and money, as the average urgent care center is cheaper, and has a much shorter waiting time of roughly an hour (which is shorter than most emergency rooms!). Urgent care centers are often open from 7 am until 9 pm on weekdays, and from 8 am until 5 pm on the weekends, but be sure to check before you go. 

Emergency Rooms

Emergency rooms are for exactly that – emergencies. Emergency typically means needing immediate treatment in order to save a life or limb. Emergency rooms can treat serious issues such as head trauma, chest pains, and severe bleeding among many more emergency situations. 

The emergency room is typically the most expensive place to go and you may have to wait longer. Because of this, it is important to only go to the emergency room if it is a true emergency. You do not need an appointment to go to the emergency room, and they are often open 24 hours a day, 7 days a week. In 2017, the average cost of an emergency room visit was an astounding $1,389. Even if you have insurance, there are often separate higher copays or additional deductibles when you go to the emergency room. 

No matter where you go, it is important to find out which providers work with your health insurance plan. Some insurance plans will let you choose where to go, while others may have a specific list of options. Learn more about provider networks and if you are insured with us, check out your Student Zone to find a provider near you.

4 Tips for Taking Classes Online

February 18th, 2021 by Natalie Holland

For most students, Spring 2021 is the first semester where you have finally gotten into the groove of taking classes completely online. The past year has been a challenge, but we are ready to face it head on this time around. Through trial and error or cautionary tales, we have all learned how we work best while being stuck at home. That being said, it never hurts to be reminded of some tips and tricks from those who are experiencing it too!

Here are four tips for taking online classes that might help you experience a better year.

1. Take advantage of the time you save not having to commute.

For many of us, getting to class on time meant leaving your house early. I used to leave an hour before class started so that I could drive to campus in time to park, walk to the classroom, and prepare my notes. Not having that commute time means I get an extra hour every morning to spend however I would like! This is a great time to focus on yourself and check in with your mental health. Try meditating or reading a few chapters of a book you like. Being inside from morning to night can take a toll on your emotional wellness. Taking a walk in your neighborhood or getting in a nice stretch in the fresh air can change your perspective on the day ahead. 

2. Get into a routine.

Life pre-pandemic was filled with strict routines for me. I got up at the same time each day, packed my lunch, had my morning coffee, and so on. The first month working and taking classes from home was a challenge as I was so out of sync with my normal day to day schedule. One of the greatest changes I made this past year was to create at home routines that mimicked my life before. I could still wake up early and prepare my lunch ahead of time. I could still enjoy my morning cup of coffee like I did before, even if I spent the whole day sitting by my coffee maker. Sticking with a routine can help you feel productive, stay on task, and break up the monotony of staying at home.

3. Have set times for work, school, and rest.

Just like how a routine can keep you accountable, having set times for different aspects of your life is key. When you are living your life in one setting all the time, it can be easy for things to overlap. For example, when you attend class in the living room it is simple to go ahead and open up your computer 15 minutes early. “Why not? I am ready anyway” you might say, but don’t get caught up in actions like these! Creating boundaries in your life is more important than ever so that you don’t become overwhelmed and burnt out. Set aside certain times for work, school, and rest so that they don’t extend over into one another. Just like how you wouldn’t catch up on sleep during class, you shouldn’t catch up on work during relaxation times. 

4. Go easy on yourself and allow for breaks.

At the start of my quarantine, I tried to use up all my free time learning new things. I taught myself how to sew, tried to pick up a new language, and baked every type of bread imaginable. As time went on, though, I found myself losing steam. While you may find yourself with more time in your days, you don’t necessarily have to fill it up with productivity. Taking breaks and allowing yourself to breathe is vital. I often forget that despite all the time that has passed, we are still living through a historical event and a global pandemic. For your health and your sanity, allow yourself to rest and recuperate. You can read our page on Emotional Wellness During the COVID-19 Outbreak for some more insight. 


While you spend your days at home, you can also check out our ISI Live Events! We come to you live with ISI’s own, Sally McLeod, to talk about topics international students face everyday. You can watch previous lives on our YouTube channel and sign up for reminders about future events.

Talking to Your Doctor – Don’t be Embarrassed!

January 22nd, 2021 by Yessica Prato

When I was younger my parents were still learning English, which meant I was the family translator for all family doctor’s appointments; at that time, we weren’t aware doctors could provide an interpreter. This, coupled with all the taboos my parents brought with them from Colombia, made going to the doctor difficult at times. At 11-years-old, I was expected to know how to translate words like “Amoxicillin” and the side effects of hypertension or high cholesterol. This experience helped me learn that I can ask questions at the doctor’s office to make sure I understood what they meant before telling my parents. 


Nowadays, while it’s difficult, and sometimes embarrassing, to ask certain questions to my own doctor, it’s important to know that your doctor has: (1) probably heard the same question before and (2) they are there to help you and they need to know if you’re experiencing any unusual symptoms. 

Let’s explore some of the questions that you should never be embarrassed to ask your doctor: 

Questions about personal hygiene

Personal hygiene is important no matter where you go in the world. However, sometimes our body undergoes changes that might make your personal hygiene routine more difficult. If you notice things like sweating more than usual or bad breath even after brushing your teeth, it is time to consult with your doctor. Certain medications can cause the chemistry of your body to change. There could also be a build up of bacteria in your body or you could have even an infection causing personal hygiene issues. 

Questions about your mental health

Anything you tell your doctor is private and protected by HIPAA in the US

The importance of our mental health has taken the spotlight this past year, especially with all the time spent indoors and socially distancing from others. However, pandemic or not, if you are feeling anxious or think you may have symptoms of depression, like change in appetite, trouble concentrating, fatigue, or mood swings, it’s important to make an appointment with your doctor to discuss how you’re feeling. Anything you tell your doctor is private and protected by HIPAA in the US, so you don’t have to worry about them disclosing this information to anyone else. Your doctor will be able to come up with a treatment plan if necessary and can refer you to a mental health counselor or prescribe you medication to help with your symptoms. 

Questions about alternative treatments or a second opinion

Many people feel uncomfortable challenging the opinion of a medical expert. However, you know your body the best. Sometimes, there are multiple routes you can take when it comes to treating a condition, so it’s okay to want a second opinion before making a decision. You can also research alternative treatments that you feel might be best for you and discuss these options with your doctor before finalizing your treatment plan.

If you think about the times that you have made a big decision in life, such as where to go study abroad or what subject to major in, you probably did not go with just the opinion of one person but rather consulted many sources and compared different countries and schools before deciding where to go and what to study. Accepting a diagnosis or treatment is no different!

Questions to help you understand your diagnosis or treatment

Similar to asking for alternative treatments or getting a second opinion, it’s important that you understand what each entails. For example, in the United States, English is spoken by the majority. If English is not your first language, medical terms can sound like a foreign language of its own. If you don’t understand what the doctor is trying to explain to you, ask him or her to clarify. They are there to help you and it is their job to effectively communicate with you and make sure you are comfortable with the options presented. If you feel more comfortable reading in English, make sure to ask your doctor to write down your treatment plan in detail so you can refer back to it once you leave your appointment, or, you can ask for an interpreter ahead of your appointment if necessary. 

Did you know: The United States does not have an official language. While English is vastly spoken, by federal and state law, medical providers must offer language access. Your insurance company can help you set up translation services too!

Questions about being able to afford care

We said it before and we will say it again: The US healthcare system is one of the most expensive in the world. Unfortunately, medical debt is more common than you may think. However, this should not deter you from obtaining the care you need. We recommend having an insurance plan to protect you from medical debt and to offer coverage when the unexpected happens!. You may also confirm with your insurance company if a certain treatment or visit to the doctor is covered under your benefits before seeking treatment.

Here are some questions you can ask your healthcare provider ahead of time of your appointment:

Not all hospitals or clinics will work with all health insurance plans. You can ask the provider to confirm if they work with a certain network or insurance company. The provider can also contact the insurance company directly and confirm your benefits on your behalf.

Many hospitals or clinics have financial assistant programs to help people obtain the help they need without spending thousands of dollars all at once. Remember, your insurance may cover some of the costs too as an out-of-network provider but you may have more out-of-pocket expenses, as it will usually be less coverage than if you chose an in-network doctor.

The doctor can give you a quote on how much a treatment could cost. If you have to take medication, you may even qualify for discount programs at local pharmacies that could reduce the overall pricing of said medication.

Some clinics and hospitals may reduce the costs of treatment if you are able to prove that you do not have sufficient income to pay for it. Places like Planned Parenthood provide their patients with birth control, pap smears, cervical cancer screenings, and more for free or at a reduced cost. Some pharmacies have walk-in clinics that can diagnose or treat small injuries or illnesses like the flu or a sprain for a reduced cost, and some may offer certain medications or immunizations at low-costs or even free of charge

Your experience as an international student or scholar should be one of the most exciting times in your life. This experience will introduce you to many different cultures and customs. It will also teach you that asking questions is important, especially when it comes to your healthcare needs. Remember, doctors want to help you feel better, so you shouldn’t be afraid to ask questions or be embarrassed to discuss how you’re feeling. As Carl Sagan said, “every question is a cry to understand the world. There is no such thing as a dumb question”.

A Closer Look at the COVID-19 Vaccines

January 6th, 2021 by Jennifer Frankel

Covid-19 numbers are continuing to soar in the United States and around the world, but as a new year is upon us there is also good news! Many countries are getting their first doses of the Covid vaccine. While taming this virus hasn’t been easy, this has definitely shined a bright light at the end of this tunnel. In this blog, we will discuss the different approved vaccines, who is eligible, and what to expect when it comes to coverage on their insurance plan.

Which Vaccines Have Been Approved in the US?

In the United States, there are three vaccines that have received emergency authorization: ​​​​Pfizer-BioNTech’s COVID-19 vaccine, Moderna’s COVID-19 vaccine, and the most recent Janssen/Johnson & Johnson COVID-19 vaccine​​. These three vaccines are being rolled out throughout the US, with a possibility of more on the way. 

According to the CDC, there are two more vaccines that are undergoing Phase 3 Clinical Trials and may get emergency authorization in the near future depending on their success. These vaccines in Phase 3 trial are the AstraZeneca’s COVID-19 vaccine and Novavax’s COVID-19 vaccine​.

As more people are learning about the vaccine, let’s take a moment to explore each approved vaccine, what to expect, and it’s effectiveness:

​​​​Pfizer-BioNTech COVID-19 vaccine

Type of vaccine: mRNA

Approved ages: 16 years of age and older

Number of shots: 2 shots, 21 days apart

This was the first vaccine on the market, and showed to be 95% effective. There are two shots given in the upper arm muscle, twenty-one days apart. The most common side effects are pain, swelling, and redness where the shot was administered, as well as headaches, tiredness and chills throughout the body (which was more common after the second shot). The CDC recommends that if you have had a severe or immediate allergic reaction (anaphylaxis) or if you are allergic to PEG or polysorbate, you should not get this vaccine.

Moderna’s COVID-19 vaccine

Type of vaccine: mRNA

Approved ages: 18 years of age and older

Number of shots: 2 shots, 28 days apart

This vaccine was approved shortly after the Pfizer vaccine, and has had major distribution throughout the US. Based on clinical trials, this vaccine has shown to be 94.1% effective after two doses. Like the Pfizer vaccine, there are also two shots given but 28 days apart, and the shot is administered in the upper arm muscle. The most common side effects are pain, swelling, and redness where the shot was administered, and headaches, tiredness and chills throughout the body (which was more common on the second shot). The CDC recommends that if you have had a severe or immediate allergic reaction (anaphylaxis) or if you are allergic to PEG or polysorbate, you should not get this vaccine.

​​​​Johnson & Johnson’s Janssen COVID-19 vaccine

Type of vaccine: Viral vector

Approved ages: 18 years of age and older

Number of shots: 1 shot

This is the most recent vaccine on the market, and showed to be 63% effective in clinical trials. While the efficacy is lower than the other two vaccines, experts say that it is hard to compare side-by-side since the J&J vaccines was conducted during higher rates of COVID-19 vaccines and tested in populations with the variants such as the UK and South African strains. Also, unlike the other two vaccines, this one is what they call “one and done” meaning that there is only one shot administered in the upper arm muscle. Studies have also shows that the side effects are reduced with this vaccine, however the most common side effects are pain, swelling, and redness where the shot was administered, as well as headaches, tiredness and chills throughout the body. The CDC recommends that if you have had a severe or immediate allergic reaction (anaphylaxis) or if you are allergic to polysorbate, you should not get this vaccine.

What to Expect After the Vaccine

Most side effects occur 7 days after the shot, and if you are having discomfort, the CDC recommends talking to your doctor about over-the-counter medication such as ibuprofen or acetaminophen. Additionally, they recommend drinking plenty of liquids and to wear light clothes if you experience fever-like symptoms and to apply a cold wet rag to the area where the shot was administered to reduce discomfort. Exercising the arm which received the shot can also help with pain.

Who is Eligible for the Vaccine?

As many people around the world are anxiously awaiting to get the vaccine, and while demand continues to outpace supply, governments around the world are having to make tough decisions about who will get the vaccine and when. The good news is that production continues to ramp up, and more vaccines are on the way.

In the United States, the decision on who will get the vaccine and when has been largely left to each state. Because of the decentralized nature of the roll out, you may need to contact your local Department of Health to get more specifics for your area. 

The CDC recommendation on the roll out of the vaccine is divided into phases which include:

  • Phase 1a: Healthcare personnel and residents of long-term care facilities
  • Phase 1b: Frontline essential workers (which may include fire fighters, police officers, corrections officers, food and agricultural workers, United States Postal Service workers, manufacturing workers, grocery store workers, public transit workers, and those who work in the educational sector) and those ages 75 years and older (although people who are at long-term care facilities in this age group can be included in Phase 1a.)
  • Phase 1c: People aged 65-74 years (although people who are at long-term care facilities in this age group can be included in Phase 1a.), people who are under 64 with underlying medical conditions, and other essential workers (transportation and logistics, food service, housing construction and finance, information technology, communications, energy, law, media, public safety, and public health).

For most international students, the vaccine is available in many states already. The current administration predicts that every adult in the United States over 18 years old will be eligible for the vaccine by April 19th, 2021. The best way to check if you’re eligible for the COVID-19 vaccination is to contact the department of health in your city or county to confirm your eligibility and find free vaccination sites.

Is The Vaccine Covered on my Insurance Plan?

The Covid vaccine is not currently available for purchase at local pharmacies, clinics or hospitals. At this time, the only way to get the vaccine in the United States is to be a designated group as determined by the state you are residing in. Any vaccines that were purchased with U.S. taxpayer dollars – so any vaccines you get through your Department of Health – will be given at no cost. 

Since the Covid-19 vaccine is currently only being paid for by governments at this time, there should be no current need to file a claim. However, when the vaccine is later offered to the general public and no longer exclusively funded by governments, we may start to see clinics, pharmacies, and other health care facilities start charging fees for the vaccine. If this is the case, then it’s important to review your insurance plan benefits and exclusions to confirm whether the vaccine is covered. Timing on the roll out of this is still unknown and insurance companies around the world are continuing to monitor this.

It is also important to note that it is unlikely that an international student would be eligible for the vaccine at this time as many states are working on vaccinating those who fall into Phase 1a, 1b, and 1c. When this does open up to more individuals, however, we will have more clarity and information on the vaccination process. International students who plan on studying abroad, however, may want to check the availability in their home country before traveling since their home country’s policy may be different. 

As time goes on, supply will be expanded, more people will be eligible for the vaccine, and more information about the process will be clarified. The good news is that 2021 should look different than 2020.

Celebrating the Holidays as an International Student during COVID-19

December 15th, 2020 by Natalie Holland

The holiday season is fast approaching and as an international student, this time of year can be difficult. This time last year you probably were worrying about making it home for the holidays after a long finals season, or maybe thinking about what to get your roommate as a gift! This year, however, as the pandemic continues to affect our lives, the holiday season might look a little different. No matter how you are spending the season, here are a few tips for how to stay healthy and happy over the holiday break.

Treat Yourself

Having to stay abroad during the holidays, without your family to spend time with, can be disheartening. However, not being able to fly home saves you a lot of money! This year why not get yourself something you have always wanted? After the year you’ve had you deserve some self love. Finish up your finals and treat yourself to a reward.

Plan a Virtual Holiday Party

While you might be physically by yourself this year, in the age of technology we are never truly alone. Being able to talk to your family and friends face to face and make it feel like you are right there with them. Plan a time to have a virtual holiday party with your loved ones by accessing a free Zoom or Google Meet online room. You can cook, dance, and celebrate together without worrying about COVID-19.

Keep Traditions Alive

Everybody’s favorite part of the holiday season is the traditions they uphold year after year with their friends and family. Maybe in your house you always cook a big meal, sing special songs together, or play a fun game! No matter what you celebrate, it is important to keep your traditions going this year. You can even use this time to make some new traditions to pass on in years to come.

Focus on Your Mental Health

Make sure that you are taking care of yourself and your needs during this time. It is always a good idea to check in with yourself and see how you are feeling. For a lot of students, this might be the first time you spend the holidays by yourself and that can take a major toll on your emotional wellness. While it is okay to feel upset about your situation, you don’t want your mental health to suffer. Try learning some breathing techniques to keep yourself balanced or follow an online meditation video to put things into perspective. If necessary, you can always sign up for virtual therapy or counseling. Sometimes, your school might even offer it for free! If not, be sure to check with your insurance provider to see if this is something you will need to pay out of pocket.

For more information on emotional wellness during the COVID-19 pandemic, click the link below.


Let us know how you are spending this holiday season and check out our social media channels for more! 

TVC: Life After Lockdown Winners Announced

November 24th, 2020 by Bryanna Davis

For the 15th year InternationalStudent.com has hosted their annual Travel Video Contest. This year, in light of Covid-19 the theme was altered, and students shared a glimpse of their international education pursuits during the pandemic. InternationalStudent.com was pleased to announce the TVC: Life After Lockdown winners on November 20th – the last day of International Education Week. If you missed the announcement of who walked away with a prize, you can get caught up here!

Viewers’ Choice Winner ($1,000):

Story of My Life” by Larissa Silveira

The Viewers’ Choice Winner is determined by votes from visitors on InternationalStudent.com. This year visitors were able to choose their favorite video from the nearly 120 submitted entries around the world and chose “Story of My Life”. Larissa not only received $1,000 for being a fan favorite, but she also received an automatic entry into the final round of the contest.

The contest winners were determined from the list of 10 finalists by the InternationalStudent.com judges panel. Congratulations to each of the winners!

Third Place Winner ($250):

Dear 2021” by Julia De Camargo Correa

Julia shared her message to 2021, hoping that it brings with it the study abroad dream she has been preparing for in the Netherlands.

Second Place Winner ($500):

The Home of an International Student” by Aashna Singh

Having to trade her studies in New York for isolation in North Carolina due to the pandemic, Aashna takes us on her journey of social distancing and online classes.

First Place Winner ($4,000):

In the Light of Covid-19” by Fiqah Rahman

A passionate storyteller from Brunei and current student at NYU, Fiqah highlights the light she found during the pandemic- and how it has helped carry her through. Although her international journey hasn’t been what she expected, she was able to find the positive in what has been a rocky road for many during the year.

If you would like to see what other international students and exchange participants have been up to and experiencing during the pandemic, check out some of the other 2020 TVC: Life After Lockdown entries!

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