At home, you probably have a natural understanding of how to keep yourself safe. Abroad, you’ll be in an unfamiliar environment, far away from people you usually rely on for guidance and support when things go wrong. That throws the idea of “safety” into a whole new light. The good news is that there is no evidence that a study abroad experience poses any greater risk to you than a semester on a U.S. college campus.
Helping you stay safe in both day-to-day and emergency situations is something all study abroad providers work hard at. No provider can guarantee your safety, though; ultimately, that’s your responsibility. The single most important factor that affects your personal risk may be your own behavior—the one thing completely in your control. Read on to learn what programs do—and especially what you can do—to keep yourself safer.
Playing your part
As you seek, find, explore, and discover your new home, be aware that people will see you as a representative of the U.S. You’ll probably stand out as an American (especially at first) because of the culture you bring with you in your mannerisms, dress, and speech. And people may associate you with—or want to discuss with you—American things from foreign policy to pop culture. You may be a little concerned about anti-American sentiment when traveling to certain places, but don’t worry too much. Most students report that they encountered much less unfriendliness than they expected.
The most important thing to keep in mind is that values that are generally accepted in the U.S. (such as political correctness) may not be similar in your host country. Behavior that is considered racist or sexist in the U.S.—like catcalls, suggestive remarks, or touching—are a fact of life in many other countries. And local residents tend to push limits more aggressively with Americans than with fellow citizens. Expect to encounter smoking and pollution that is excessive by U.S. standards and difficult to avoid (don’t count on non-smoking areas, even in public buildings). Cultivate a degree of tolerance, but be prepared to speak out forcefully when something seems very wrong or dangerous. The best way to understand local attitudes better (including issues of gender and sexual orientation) is to have a frank discussion with your on-site program staff.
Look at it as an opportunity to learn about the culture in your host country and to teach others about yours. Show that you’re interested in learning about new ideas and other ways of life. And be aware of the way you present yourself. When discussing anything, political or personal, be respectful of others’ opinions, even if you disagree. Be yourself, be friendly, be polite—and see the culture of your host country for yourself.
Prevent what you can
It’s a fact of human nature: most of us tend to overestimate the danger of rare events over which we have little or no control (such as terrorist attacks) and underestimate the danger of common events over which we have at least some control (like traffic accidents). So please be concerned with preventing the things you can: theft, pedestrian safety, driving difficulties, and getting lost. With a bit of care—and maybe a map—you can prevent plenty and make your trip smoother. Here are a few preventative measures:
Ask the right questions
Make sure you know what to expect by asking about things like:
Be in touch, Be in touch, Be in touch!!
In the case of any emergency the first person you contact should be your on-site director. Then, contact your parents (who we recommend that you make your emergency contacts unless there’s a specific reason to choose someone else). Other pointers:
Be aware that your program may be authorized to communicate information concerning your health, safety, academic progress, and behavior to your emergency contacts (if it’s part of the terms of participation) and appropriate officers at your sending school (it’s “internal communication” under the Family Rights and Privacy Act).
What your program can and should do
Staying safe is your responsibility, but expect some help from your program provider. When you choose a program, evaluate its ability to create a safe environment for you abroad. Expect your provider to:
Be aware, though, that no matter how safety-conscious your program provider is, none can guarantee your security. That’s because no one can eliminate all risks from the overseas environment (some things are just beyond a provider’s control) or prevent you from engaging in illegal, dangerous, or plain unwise activities. That part is up to you.
Know Your Responsibilities
Knowledge is a series of informational brochures for students, parents, and advisors brought to you by CIEE. As the leading U.S. non-governmental international education organization, CIEE develops and provides programs that allow students and educators to study and teach abroad. We believe that there is no better way to increase international understanding and establish trust between nations. Whether you choose one of our 80 programs or another provider’s, we’re thrilled that you’re embarking on this transforming, enduring experience.
Additional copies and displays are available upon request at email@example.com.
“Safety.” study abroad with CIEE | CIEE – Council on International Educational Exchange. CIEE, 2009. Web.