Studying abroad is an exciting opportunity, and often a rewarding experience, but there are some legitimate study abroad safety concerns that you should take into consideration before you commit to a study abroad program.
First of all, you should look at the facts to help in your decision-making process rather than solely relying on fear or other emotions. Are there safety risks involved in study abroad? Of course, but there are also safety risks involved in staying home. You can protect yourself, in part, by educating and preparing yourself about the risks and how to take steps to avoid finding yourself in a dangerous situation.
Second, know that students traveling abroad are rarely the victims of violent crime. When crime is committed against foreign students, it’s more likely to be of a petty, nonviolent nature, such as pickpocketing, theft, or fraud. Of course, you can and should take steps to prevent yourself from being the victim of any sort of crime, no matter how petty. To that end, here are some study abroad safety tips that you should know before you go.
1. Educate Yourself Before You Leave
Pay particular attention to any government warnings or travel advisories that have been issued by the both your country and the country you wish to travel to. That doesn’t only mean to heed the warnings on crime or terrorism; also pay attention to any health advisories that may be issued.
2. Take Advantage of Technology
There are several travel apps available that you can download to your smartphone to help keep safe. Some of them provide frequently updated announcements and advisories for the country you’re visiting, while others will send information on your location to authorities in case of an emergency.
3. Enroll in the STEP Program
The Department of State’s Smart Traveler Enrollment Program (STEP) is a service that allows United States citizens to enroll a trip to a foreign country with the nearest US Consulate or Embassy. Once you are enrolled, the US Embassy in the country you are traveling to will be able to contact you in the event of a natural disaster or other emergency, as well as help you to make informed travel decisions by providing information about safety conditions. International Business Seminars automatically enrolls all its applicable students into the STEP program for each of its short-term study abroad seminars.
4. If You Have an Itinerary, Stick to It
If you’re studying abroad for an entire semester, you probably won’t have a pre-planned itinerary for every single day. However, if you’re on a shorter study abroad program, such as over the summer or during winter break, your activities are likely to be more strictly scheduled. It’s important that you stick to the itinerary so that you are where you are supposed to be if there is an emergency or someone needs to get in touch with you.
5. Maintain a Low Profile
You don’t need to keep the fact that you’re a foreign visitor a secret, but you shouldn’t broadcast it to the world either (i.e. like wearing an American flag sweatshirt), as it could make you a prime target for scam artists and pickpockets. Research before you go about the local customs and expectations, particularly as it relates to dress and deportment.
Whenever possible, speak to the locals in their own language; this will not only help you keep a low profile but also help you to learn the language more quickly. Pickpockets and other petty thieves frequently target areas that are popular with tourists, so be cautious when visiting these areas or avoid them altogether.
6. Keep in Touch With Loved Ones
You don’t have to call home every day, but decide on a regular schedule by which you will contact family members or friends and stick to it. Be sure that your loved ones back home, as well as your traveling companions, know where you’re going and what your short-term plans are, so that in the unlikely event that something untoward should happen, the authorities will have the information they need to find you.
7. Leave Valuables at Home
In order to protect yourself and your possessions, don’t travel wearing expensive clothes or fancy jewelry. Not only could these accouterments attract a lot of unwanted attention from thieves, but you also run the risk of losing your valuables as you travel from place to place. If it is not a necessity for you on your trip, it is best and safest to leave it behind.
8. Talk to the Locals
The people who live in the area where you’ll be traveling know the area best. As you make friends among the locals or get checked into your accommodations, ask them questions about the area. They’ll be able to tell you which places are safe and which to avoid, as well as being able to give you information about specific hazards you may encounter during your stay in the area.
9. Use the Buddy System
In most cases, you will be making friends with other students that are studying abroad just like you. Whether you are on a short-term study abroad seminar or a semester (or more) exchange program, it is safest to travel in groups with others when you are visiting unfamiliar countries, cities or even neighborhoods.
Not only can you expand your collective knowledge and have fun while doing so, this will also help to decrease your perceived vulnerability and further deter others from marking you as a target. Using the buddy system means that there will always be someone that knows where you are and has your back, watching out for your best interests as you watch out for theirs. It also increases the likelihood that you will hear about an emergency and will be able to get in contact with your group if needed.
There’s a risk involved in studying abroad, but you can minimize it by educating yourself ahead of time, staying mindful of the dangers, avoiding potential hazards to the extent possible, and listening to your intuition.