Staying Safe Abroad
Students may be at greater risk abroad than on their home campuses, especially at the beginning of their stay before they have learned the social norms of the new environment, and also at the end of their stay, when they begin to feel comfortable and take more risks.
Drinking alcohol and being alone or with a new acquaintance put students at increased risk, especially for assault or sexual assault. Students should exhibit the same kind of caution they would when exploring an unfamiliar city in the states.
By adhering strictly to the following advice, students can minimize their exposure to unsafe situations:
1. You should have valid identification (e.g., an international student ID card, a photocopy of your passport, or a drivers’ license) with you at all times.
2. Do not carry anything of value in a backpack. Backpacks are a prime target. Zippers can be opened or material cut with a knife and wallets lifted without anyone seeing or realizing it. Backpacks are also easy to set down, making it easy for anyone to pick them up and walk away. Thieves have a great many tricks that require you to let go of your bag: a person may ask you for directions, obliging you to set down your bag to look at a map, and an accomplice picks up the bag and walks off with it; someone “accidentally” spills something on your coat and bag then courteously insists on helping to clean it off and takes off with the bag or an accomplice comes along and carries it off.
3. Instead of a backpack, buy a small flexible bag that you can hang around your neck and/or a money belt to hide inside clothing to store your passport and money. This is absolutely necessary when you change money at the bank or American Express. Thieves watch these places and trail their victims after seeing that they have received a lot of money. Should you carry a handbag, wear it across your body rather than under your arm, and with the clasp against your body. Do not carry money or valuable papers in your hip pocket.
4. If you must exchange money, do it at a time when you can go directly home afterwards instead of between classes, or before going out at night. In general, try never to have a large amount of cash on you.
5. Do not carry house keys and your address, or credit/debit cards and personal identification number (PIN), in the same place.
6. North Americans are notorious for talking to strangers and lending a helping hand. When a stranger requests the time, a light, or directions, either ignore the request or oblige from a safe distance, paying close attention to your belongings. Do not give anyone you do not know well your phone number.
7. Be wary of motorcycles. While walking along the street, carry your purse on the inside next to a building. Motorcyclists can grab your purse or cut it away in a matter of seconds.
8. Don’t wear ostentatious jewelry. It is best not even to take it abroad.
9. Before leaving the U.S., make photocopies of all your personal documents (passport, credit cards, etc.) and leave copies at home.
10. Try to avoid large crowds, and take care if you find yourself in an inexplicable crush of people (if, for instance, your end of the metro or bus suddenly seems to be the only section that’s really crowded). We strongly recommend that students stay clear of any political demonstrations.
11. Avoid metro or train stations late at night or any other time when they might be deserted.
12. Go places with friends rather than alone, and do not go to someone else’s home alone or invite anyone to yours. Cultural differences and language difficulties can lead to “misunderstandings.” Women, particularly, should avoid behavior that might be perceived as overly friendly and should discourage any such advances by others.
13. Traveling with host country friends, as opposed to American friends, will provide you with an extra degree of safety.
14. Keep emergency phone numbers with you or memorize them.
15. Students should avoid jogging alone, especially in areas or at times when there are few people around (very early in the morning, for instance).
16. Students should not have a false sense of confidence that can come from being an outsider in a stranger environment.
17. If you are robbed, report it immediately to the director or another staff member; you will be advised how to report it to the police. Report any stolen credit cards immediately. If you are registered with the consulate, they can help by issuing a new passport at once and in some cases can offer emergency funds and cancellation of credit cards.
18. If, during your stay abroad, there should occur some serious event involving casualties, whether or not it has put you personally at risk, that is likely to get international media exposure, we urge you to get in touch with your family to reassure them that you are okay. Remember that what may seem like a relatively minor local event to you could cause undue alarm back home.
19. Be alert to the people with whom you have contact. Be wary of people who might be overly friendly or overly interested in you. Be cautious when you meet new people and do not give out your address or phone number. Be careful sharing information about other students or group events. Be alert to anyone who might be following you or to any unusual activity around your place of residence or classroom. Report any unusual people or activities to on-site staff or authorities immediately.
20. Be careful observing traffic lights. Stay on the sidewalks away from the curb and walk facing oncoming traffic whenever possible. Drivers in large cities can be aggressive, and often erratic. Never assume a car will stop or steer out of your way.
21. It is especially important not to call attention to yourself by being part of groups of Americans speaking in English.
22. When traveling, avoid arriving in unfamiliar places at night and have a plan for where to go and how to get there.
23. Remember that the host country laws and regulations apply to you just as much as they do to the locals.
24. Be aware that cell phones are a particularly easy target for thieves, who are very good at picking them up off tables in public places, lifting them out of pockets or backpacks, or even right out of your hand as you use it on the street.
25. Be careful with whom you ride in a car. Some countries are less adamant about drinking and driving and therefore driving under the influence of alcohol is more common.