Your personal safety while you are away from home is very important to the Office of Education Abroad and to your family and friends. While no off-campus program can offer an absolute guarantee that students will be safe from injury or crime, there are many steps you can take to reduce your risks. It is our experience that most of the issues that arise from traveling in today's climate of uncertainty can be addressed by heightened awareness and common sense.
We include here some tips for reducing risk abroad about studying, living, and traveling abroad. We encourage you to review this information and to follow precautions set out by your program staff or faculty director.
Based on anecdotal information, most of the incidents resulting in injury or death of students while participating in study abroad involve:
- Travel or traffic accidents
- Use and abuse of drugs or alcohol
- Sexual harassment and assault
- Crime or petty theft
- Mental health issues/stress
- Diseases and illnesses that exist in the host country
Resources and information about avoiding many of these issues can be found below. It is important to remain aware of your surroundings at all times. Consider what the "locals" do in particular situations and learn from their knowledge. When in doubt, do not put yourself in a questionable situation. Use the same safety precautions abroad as you would if traveling in any unknown city in the U.S. Travel with at least one other member of the group or person you know. Do not walk around the streets alone after dark especially in questionable neighborhoods. Check out countries, cities, and areas to which you plan to travel independently. If you plan to be gone for an overnight or longer during a program break, you must leave with your program director an itinerary and instructions on how to contact you in an emergency.
- Being unfamiliar with the surroundings
- Lack of fluency in the local language
- Clearly recognizable as a foreigner
- Have not yet learned the social norms or unwritten rules of conduct
- Eagerness to get to know new people and the local culture
- Naive to the intentions of people around them
- Carrying all their valuables with them when they first step off the plane, train, or boat
REMAIN IN CONTROL: In addition to the circumstances involved with being new in a foreign country, which are often beyond one's immediate control, there are many situations that you can control. Some controllable factors that place students at greatest risk include:
- Being out after midnight
- Being alone at night in an isolated area
- Being in a known high crime areas
- Sleeping in an unlocked place
- Being out after a local curfew
- Being under the influence of alcohol or drugs.
PREVENT PICK POCKETING: Stay alert when you have been bumped, had your foot stepped on, and have been pushed around in a crowd; these are perfect times for pickpockets to do their work. Remember that pickpockets do not necessarily have to be adults, in many instances they may be children.
Backpacks are another easy target for pick-pocketers. Remember to turn your pack around when traveling in crowded areas. As always, passports and other essential items should be kept in a pouch close to the body.
NON-VERBAL COMMUNICATION: Non-verbal communication (like body language and hand gestures) which are considered harmless in the U.S., may be offensive to people in other countries. The list of gestures considered rude in other countries can grow beyond the obvious. Find out what is appropriate in your destination.
SEXUAL CRIMES: No one wants to think about sexual crime. And while it can make you feel angry, sad or frightened, you cannot ignore the subject. One cannot assume with certainty that sexual assault, rape or harassment will not take place, even on a study abroad experience. Follow the rest of the risk avoiding tips in this section to help you keep up your awareness.
Don't let your guard down because a date happens to be a host family, classmate, or even a new "friend." Especially in a different cultural setting, the offender may misread or imagine that a desired "silent message" or attitude is being communicated by the victim.
If you have been violated, do not keep it to yourself. Get to a safe place and then talk to a trusted person (Your program director, host family, etc.)
CSB/SJU can provide limited counseling services to students who have been assaulted or accused of sexual misconduct. Every attempt will be made to provide counseling services in the country the student is studying in.
To obtain a copy of the entire Joint Sexual Assault and Human Rights Policies and Procedures, please visit the Human Right's website or contact the Office of Student Human Rights and Diversity at 320-363-5455.
SEXUALLY TRANSMITTED DISEASES: Keep yourself free from sexually transmitted diseases by using protection (like condoms or abstinence). Also, remember that saying NO may not always be interpreted as NO in other countries or cultural contexts. Inform yourself about the types of diseases prevalent in the area in which you are traveling.
JEWELRY AND OTHER VALUABLES: Be cautious with how you display valuables (does it look like you're flaunting wealth?). Leave your good jewelry at home, and keep money in a safe place like a money belt or hidden pouch under your clothes. As a rule of thumb, never bring anything with you that if it were to be lost of stolen, it would ruin your time abroad.
- Pay attention to what people around you are saying
- Find out which areas of the city are less safe than others
- Know which hours of night are considered more dangerous
- Stay and walk only in well lit areas
- Avoid being alone in unfamiliar neighborhoods
- Know where to get help (police station, fire station, phones, stores, etc.)
- Do not touch suspicious items like letters or packages from someone you don't know
- Know what is "normal" and "not normal" to see on a daily basis in the areas you frequent
- Do not respond to explosions or gunfire by going to a window; seek cover away from windows and exterior walls
KNOW THE EFFECTS OF U.S. FOREIGN POLICY: The foreign policy of the U.S. does not always sit well with citizens of foreign countries. In some cases, Americans living abroad can be targets of the frustrations of these individuals. Consider the nature of the political climate and relations between the U.S. and the countries you plan to visit.
POLITICAL RALLIES & CONVERSATIONS: Avoid political rallies, which can increase tensions and emotions. Try not to engage in conversations about contentious political issues with host nationals and avoid retaliating against hostile remarks about Americans. Whatever your view of American politics, it is best to "test the waters" of your new environment before publicly proclaiming your beliefs.
- Inform your host family or roommates about where you are going and when you expect to be back. Leave a contact number if at all possible.
- Communicate with your family back home when you are leaving town. Where are you going? For how long? And when can they expect to hear from you again?