The safety of our students is of the utmost importance to us. It is our chief concern. Unfortunately, there are no guaranties when it comes to safety – not at home, as 9/11 so tragically demonstrated, and not abroad. Nonetheless, risk can be limited. To that end, we strongly encourage our students to read thoroughly and to take seriously the risk and safety information provided below and to stay aware of current events in the countries in which they will be studying.
Four Principles of Personal Risk Preparedness While Studying Abroad
Students should be aware of local hotspots and events. Read local newspapers and magazines, also keep up with international newspapers (e.g. Herald Tribune, Newsweek, Economist, Financial Times, etc.) Learn from local residents which areas of town are safe or dangerous and when to avoid certain locations. For example, normally safe areas may become riskier late at night, during soccer games, or political rallies. Determine which means of transportation are safe and secure, and at what time of day. Which is safer late at night: public transportation (buses, subways, etc.) or taxis? This varies from country to country. When traveling from a familiar city to an unfamiliar area, ask for advice and research safe areas before departing. We would like to add, however, that participating in a demonstration is not a good way to raise awareness!
Uncertainty causes a great deal of anxiety. Students are asked to check in regularly with their family, by phone or e-mail. Cell phones are quite inexpensive in many countries; many plans do not charge to receive calls. Students should inquire with their program provider which cell phone plans are best. For many parents, simply knowing that they can reach their students at any time day or night, reduces anxiety considerably. The Study Abroad Office also asks that you check in with us regularly by e-mail or phone. Notify us if you have a concern about your safety, or just to say that things are fine. We appreciate hearing from students.
- Cultural Common Sense
Gaining cross-cultural understanding is one of the most important and profound learning experiences students have while abroad. Students can apply their newfound cross-cultural understanding to help preserve their safety. The first point is to recognize that cultures are different, even if they appear similar. While all cultures value safety and stability, the ways they achieve it may vary considerably. Students can enhance their experience and personal safety by learning the answers to the following Cultural Questions:
- What do people in this culture value most?
- How are reputations made or ruined?
- What behaviors, manners or clothing blend-in and which demand attention?
- How do people respond to uncertainty or difference? Are they open or do they feel threatened?
- What are the cultural norms for alcohol in the host country
- What reputation do American students have? Do my actions, behavior, and dress reinforce the negative or the positive?
- Personal Responsibility
Many people are concerned about study abroad students’ safety and security – including parents and friends, Study Abroad staff and the College, and people responsible for accommodation abroad. However, no one will be as involved or concerned as you, the student. Personal safety and security begin with the multitude of decisions each student makes on a daily basis; which includes the transportation methods you choose, whom you associate with, when and where you go out, etc. By being aware, employing cultural common sense and making responsible, intelligent choices, students can greatly narrow the risks to their own safety. By far, the greatest threat to student safety involves alcohol. That alcohol impairs one’s judgment is well known, but too often ignored. Although drinking across cultures is not necessarily as dangerous as drinking and driving, overindulgence, especially in an unfamiliar country, can result in equally negative consequences.
Additional Tips on Reducing Student Risk
- Stay informed, by local news and people.
- Have documents and cash available, including passport and air tickets.
- Don’t dress like an American, e.g. leave the baseball cap at home.
- Don’t discuss politics, and certainly don’t feel compelled to defend any U.S. policy in a bar.
- Avoid American hangouts.