Safety and preparedness for students in study abroad programs, whether foreign students studying in U.S. programs, or U.S. students studying in foreign programs, is a topic that should be carefully considered by students, parents, and university administrators.
Generally speaking, most university campus environments are quite safe. Campus safety, security, and student health are priorities for most schools, and many even have their own security staff or campus police.
That said, part of the allure of studying abroad (and of college life) is adventure, discovering different cultures, and having new experiences outside of one’s home country. The desire to explore is certainly understandable! But students should be as savvy as possible when venturing beyond the relative safety of campus.
To make the most of your experience abroad, be prepared and fully informed about the campus, surrounding neighborhoods, city, and country in which you are residing. If you plan to travel across borders during your program, which many students consider an essential part of the learning experience, there are important precautions to take.
Know Emergency Numbers and Resources
Start by knowing where help resources are located on your campus, and have contact information handy. Check the address and numbers of the university clinic, nearby hospitals, campus security, and city police.
In the U.S., if an emergency situation occurs, such as an accident or theft, or if you feel you are in danger, dial 911 for medical or police support. If you’re not in the U.S., learn the emergency numbers in your host country. Sites such as Chartsbin and 911 dispatch are helpful resources.
Research Your Destination
Know what to expect. Most students will experience friendly, accommodating, and helpful citizens in their host countries. But there are exceptions, and you should know where and when they may exist, how to avoid them, and how to react appropriately when you cannot.
Use Good Judgment
It’s always good to know your city and your surroundings. The most effective safety precaution is exercising common sense, just as you would in your home country, and keeping a high level of security awareness — stay alert, use good judgment.
If you’re out late at night, it’s always a good idea to travel with a group. If you are unsure about something in an unfamiliar area, ask a few people, and proceed when you’ve received the same information from several independent sources.
Don’t carry large sums of cash, credit cards, ATM cards, cameras, or wear expensive jewelry. If possible, avoid carrying your passport. Carry a photocopy if needed — but be sure the original is left in a locked, highly secure location; there is big trade in stolen passports.
When in a foreign country, never ask someone other than close friends to meet you in your room; instead, agree to meet in the lobby. Avoid giving the appearance of being lost or unfamiliar with your surroundings by walking confidently and dressing casually.
Acting respectful in public will also help to keep you safe. Avoid speaking boisterously, becoming inebriated, or voicing negative opinions about the destination or the country’s religious beliefs.
Report Safety Issues
No school or university is immune to safety issues. Many students visiting from other countries are reluctant to engage the authorities when they are the victim of an offense, especially if it is culturally sensitive. It is, however, important that students report incidents to the appropriate authorities and seek relief. Start with the university and the study abroad coordinator from your home country. If the local police are deemed reliable, then report the offense to them.
Tools to Help You Stay Safe
Following these simple steps will help you have a safer, smarter experience wherever you are studying or traveling. It’s all about being prepared, knowing when to ask for help, and making sure you have the right tools.
One technology that helps is GeoSure, a mobile application for students to access valuable, personalized information on the security profile of cities and countries around the world. Through a unique combination of predictive analytics and crowdsourcing, users can report experiences and view reports of others, right down to the street level, anywhere in the world.
The app allows users to empower themselves by sharing information about the community they live in. You can download it for free from the Apple App Store, share your experiences (both positive and negative) with the “+” button.