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Office of International Education and Development
 

   
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Phone  850.599.3295
Fax  850.561.2520

Office of International Education and Development
305 North Perry-Paige
Tallahassee, Florida 32307
 
 

Safety Guidelines

 
Health and Safety are understandably always of great concern when going to study abroad. U.S. media coverage runs the sensationalist gamut from violence and terrorism to deadly diseases and natural disasters. Thus, "the perception that life at home is still safer than life "over there" still prevails."
 
A comparative perspective
 
Conversely, "the United States is known around the world as a relatively dangerous country, and our street crime statistics back this up. No country has as many guns in the hands of private gun-owners, nor as many gun-related injuries and deaths. U.S. rates of drug and alcohol abuse are among the highest in the world. Although tourists and other international visitors (including 450,000 degree-seeking students) come in great numbers to visit the United States, many arrive concerned about what they think they will find."
 
A well measured approach
 
 "A sober and realistic assessment by students and parents of safety risks associated with any region, and the study abroad programs that take place there, is strongly advised.

Few countries have as much street crime and the potential for stranger-upon-stranger violence as the United States, so in this sense, U.S. students may be statistically "safer" in foreign cities and towns than they are at home. Many U.S. students report when they return from a period abroad that they had never felt safer in their lives. This does not mean that there is no crime elsewhere, or that student's safety is ever completely assured. Minor street crime (especially pick pocketing) is a fact of life in many countries, especially in crowded cities that receive regular influxes of foreign visitors.

Further, students living or traveling in counties that are internally unstable or at odds with their neighbors can certainly be put in harm's way. Carrying a passport is no guarantee of safety or absolute security. In certain places and at certain times, it is very possible to get caught in the midst of forms of political strife that may not be directed at foreigners generally or Americans in particular, but nevertheless can be very dangerous. Usually risks are knowable well in advance, so precautions can be taken. On the other hand, there are no documented instances in the history of study abroad when it has been apparent that American students have been the specific targets of political violence. In those few locations where even remote danger might occasionally exist, program directors work with local police, consular personnel, and local university officials in setting up whatever practical security measures are deemed prudent. In such places, students will be briefed during orientation programs and reminded at times of heightened political tension about being security conscious in their daily activities. Terrorism is a twentieth-century reality and is not likely to diminish (or increase) significantly. To succumb to the threat by reacting in fear may well be the objective that terrorists seek to achieve."

In summary, a study abroad program completely free of risk, does not exist. But the risks in study abroad can be managed and considerably minimized, if certain guidelines are followed.
 
Preparation
 
Information is the key to minimize risk. Read up on the region(s) that you plan to visit. Familiarize yourself with the relevant safety and health issues and the social, cultural and political situation of the host country.

One essential source of information are the U.S. State Department's Consular Information Sheets. "Consular Information Sheets are available for every country of the world and include information such as locations of the area U.S. embassy or consulate, health conditions, minor political disturbances, unusual currency and entry regulations, crime and security information, and drug penalties. These documents, and other helpful travel information can be found on the U.S. State Department's website, http://travel.state.gov. Additionally, keep informed about of the current health situation by checking with the health resources" on the U.S. State Department's Health and Safety Abroad page.
 
 Traveling Safely
 
Itinerary: Provide your parents and the Office of International Education and Development (OIED) with the details of your flight arrangments. Know what your options are to get to your final destination (bus, train, taxi, subway etc.). This information is especially important, if you arrive at night.

Documents: Make copies of the following documents: passport, traveler's checks, ID's, credit cards, medicalprescriptions, airline tickets, health insurance document(s). Leave one copy with parent, spouse, or other close relative. Take one copy with you in a separate location from the originals.

Packing: "Pack light! Loading yourself down with luggage when you travel makes you a target for crime. Leave valuables at home. Regulations on the amount of baggage you can take, both carry ons and checked pieces, varies among airlines. If you have multiple flights on your itinerary, be sure to check on baggage limits with each airline, as regulations on domestic and international flights do vary. Don't carry everything in one place! Never pack essential documents, medicine - anything one could not do without - in checked luggage, instead, put them in your carry-on bag. Mark all luggage inside and out with your name and address. Put a copy of your itinerary inside each bag. Keep a list of what is in each bag and keep the list with your other documents. Count pieces of baggage before and after each stage of the journey. Secure your bags by using luggage locks where travel regulations allow. Keep your luggage in your possession at all times until it is checked or stored in a secure place. Never agree to carry someone else's luggage or even small packages. Check in and go through security points as soon as possible. If you have to wait, it is safer to do so at the gate, not in the public areas around airports and train stations."

Insurance: "In the unfortunate case of injury or illness, it may be necessary to use your health insurance while abroad. Bring a copy of your insurance card and keep it in a safe place."

Medicines / Prescriptions
: "Take everything needed for the trip, along with copies of all prescriptions and the generic names of drugs. Keep medicines in their original drugstore containers. Take extra eyeglasses and the lens prescription."
 
Arriving Safely
 
The Office of International Education and Development does NOT recommend "arriving any earlier than the official program start date. Program directors and offices will be ready to receive you on the official beginning date, but not before. Unless you are already experienced with traveling abroad, we recommend traveling after your program and during the breaks rather than going ahead of time. If you do decide to go early, please understand that you must make your own accommodation arrangements."

Things to do upon arrival:

"1. Upon arrival, register with the nearest U.S. Embassy or Consulate. In some programs this may be arranged for you, or information provided as to where to do this. If not, ASK.
2. An on-site orientation or meeting with the local office will have been planned with the purpose of helping you to get settled and to know what details have to be taken care of initially. DO NOT SKIP THIS IMPORTANT MEETING!
3. In case of a security or safety emergency, you should be informed about emergency procedures in place at your program site.
4. Be sure you know how to use the local transportation systems, and ask whether they are safe to use at night. Identify areas of the city which are not considered safe, especially after dark. Go in groups everywhere, especially at first.
5. Find out how to access the police or emergency medical services as well as routine or minor medical assistance. If you become sick and cannot attend class, or require medical attention for whatever reason, INFORM THE PROGRAM DIRECTOR! The people in charge of your program are there to help you. Don't feel that you are burdening them with your troubles.
6. Know and adhere to local laws! "Ignorance of the law is no excuse." Read and believe the handout from the US State Department entitled Travel Warning on Drugs Abroad. These are facts!
7. Keep the phone numbers and addresses of your local program director or office, roommates, and the OIED with you at all times. Find out how to use the local phone system right away. You may have to purchase a phone card to make local calls.
8. Use banks or ATM machines to exchange money. Do not exchange it on the black market, that is, on the street. Do not carry on yourself, more money than you would need for the day. Keep credit cards and cash in a safe place."
 
Reducing Risk While Abroad
 
 1. "Keep a low profile and try not to identify yourself by dress, speech, or behaviour as a targetable individual. Do not draw attention to yourself through expensive dress, personal accessories (cameras, radios, sunglasses, etc.) or careless behavior."
2. "Use the same common sense that you would here at home when meeting new people. It is often difficult to judge the "character" of a person from another culture. Get to know people well before trusting them, and go in groups as much as possible. Avoid walking alone late at night or in questionable neighborhoods and do not meet a person whom you do not know in a secluded place. Instead, meet new friends in public places, not in your room or apartment. And anywhere you are, if you ever feel that you are in a potentially dangerous situation, GET OUT! Don't be afraid of hurting someone's feelings - you can always explain later, or say you felt ill."
3. Avoid crowds, protest groups, political demonstrations, or other potentially volatile situations. Do NOT get involved with internal politics! Avoid American Restaurants and gathering places.
4. "Keep aware of your personal safety at all times by keeping informed! If you do not speak or read the local language, find out where to access English news media. Take a few minutes to check email and online newsites for important political developments and news about your home country as well as your host country."
5. "Do NOT impair your judgement through the excessive use of alchohol or the influence of drugs."
6. "Female travelers are sometimes more likely to encounter harassment, but uncomfortable situations can often be avoided. Dress conservatively. Although short skirts and tank tops may be comfortable, they may also encourage unwanted attention. Be aware that some men from other countries tend to mistake the friendliness of American women for romantic interest."
7. "Whenever you leave the program site for whatever length of time, practice the same safety measures as outlined above. Inform yourself about the new cities or countries you will be visiting. Leave your travel itinery with the program director AND a friend or roommate. This should include information on where you are going, how you are going to get there, where you will be staying if overnight (addresses and phone numbers if possible) and when you expect to be back. If you prolong your stay, please INFORM THE PROGRAM DIRECTOR ON SITE."
8. "Planned excursions which are part of your program should also be subject to safety checks. If you don't feel that the hotel or transportation arrangements that have been made are safe, inform the group leader immediately and express your concerns. He or she may be able to allay your fears. In most cases your accommodations will NOT be in four-star hotels, but should be in safe areas. If you have free time, be sure you know how and when to re-join the group. Don't go off alone unless you tell the person in charge!"
 
compiled from
Hoffa, William (1998). Study Abroad. A Parent's Guide. Washington: NAFSA
and from
Lisa Parker (2009). Safety Guidelines. Retrieved July 13, 2009, from University of North Carolina Study Abroad Office website: http://studyabroad.unc.edu/safety_guidelines.cfm