Every year, thousands of college students choose to spend their semesters and breaks studying and traveling abroad in places all around the world. These locations include everywhere from bustling cities to the isolated countryside. These trips are exciting, fun, and educational, but because you’re living in a completely new environment, there are several tips to keep in mind to stay safe.
Stay Up-to-Date on Current Political Events
With terrorist attacks seemingly happening more and more frequently, many are starting to wonder if it’s still safe to study abroad. While the U.S. government will issue a formal warning if it’s not safe to travel to a certain country, it’s always a good idea to be aware of what’s happening – politically and otherwise – in a new country. Not knowing about these events may place you in harm’s way, and a little reading and research can go a long way to make sure you remain safe. Look around the U.S. State Department website to stay aware of any security concerns, local laws and regulations, and contact information for the U.S. Embassies around you.
Also download a local news app on your phone to get real-time notifications, and always look out for any protests, riots, or other severe political actions that may involve the city you are traveling to.
Register with STEP
STEP is the Smart Travel Enrollment Program created by the U.S. Department of State that allows travelers from the U.S. to register their trip with local Embassies and Consulates abroad. It’s free, and, if there’s an emergency while you’re abroad, a nearby embassy will get in touch with you to keep you safe and informed.
Share Your Travel Plans
Whether it’s your flight back home or a spontaneous weekend trip to a neighboring country or city, always send a copy of your travel itinerary to a friend or family member. It’s better to be safe than sorry – in case there’s an emergency, make sure at least one other person always knows where you are.
One of the most obvious but helpful ideas, the buddy system, is very important when studying abroad. The buddy system, for those unaware, is basically the name for an idea involving traveling always and everywhere with a friend or “buddy”. Now, if you are studying abroad with people you are unfamiliar with, this may be a tricky plan of action to accomplish. However, if you are having trouble finding a companion, then others participating in your trip or program are also experiencing the same problem. Don’t be afraid to ask a classmate if you feel uncomfortable traveling somewhere alone, especially for the first few days in your new area while you are still getting acclimated.
Be Aware of Cultural Differences
Some of the destinations schools will offer study abroad trips to have vibrant cultures that differ greatly from what you’re exposed to in the States. When you are traveling abroad anywhere, it is always a good idea to experience everything with an open mind and the upmost respect. The last thing you want to do is accidently offend a foreign culture. Make sure you brush up on a country’s common gestures, phrases, and customs before you arrive.
Food and Drink Safety
While you’re studying abroad, always keep an eye on where your food and water comes from, and who gives it to you. Some foreign countries have water and food sources that vary heavily from our own. Drinking and eating from these sources could, at the least, give you a nasty stomach ache, and at the most extreme could prove to be life-threatening. Most study abroad programs understand this, and provide food and drinks that are safe to consume themselves. However, in between meals or if you’re traveling somewhere else on the weekends, it may be necessary for you to purchase your own food or drink. At these times, it will prove vital to be skeptical and cautious. A great rule to follow is if you are at all unsure where it came from, don’t consume it.
Studying abroad should be a very exciting experience, and one any college student should remember for years to come. However, it is important to keep your safety in mind, and using these few tips, you can do just that!