The recent, alarming acid attack on two British women teaching as volunteers in Zanzibar draws attention to safety concerns for world travelers everywhere. Both women were told to dress respectfully, and did so, according to the New York Times. Yet, they were attacked anyway.
For students planning to study abroad this summer, stories like this are worrisome. Minimizing risk on your trip takes proactive preparation. In the end, it is all about staying aware, practicing safe habits and knowing where to turn for help.
1. Research the Country
The U.S. government does an excellent job of providing up-to-date reports on countries around the globe. You can find specific information about each country at travel.state.gov. Reports on risks to travelers as well as any restrictions you may encounter are available. It is unlikely your school will have you study anywhere that’s significantly dangerous, but learning about your destination country and acquiring knowledge can protect you when you may least expect it.
2. Learn Safety Resources
As a student, you will have access to the university’s study abroad program for all your safety information. They can help you learn about the embassy in your area and provide you with emergency contact information. For example, Michigan State University requires all study abroad students to go through a safety orientation and learn evacuation and emergency response plans for all study abroad areas. Be proactive — pay attention to all safety information and guidance available by your school, and ask as many questions as you need to fully grasp what you could encounter.
3. Protect Your Identity
Your body is not the only entity at risk in a strange new country. Identity thieves can spot a vulnerable tourist when they see one. Thieves don’t hesitate to take advantage of an easy target. The Better Business Bureau recommends only accessing your bank account and other sensitive information on secure networks – this means no coffee shops or other public places. Your university system is probably the safest bet for accessing sensitive data. Purchasing an identity theft protection package prior to your trip enhances your protection. LifeLock service for ID theft, for example, will notify you whenever any suspicious activity occurs.
4. Enroll with the U.S. Embassy
A study abroad program usually reserves time for vacation and site seeing; exploration increases students’ chances of encountering dangers and emergencies. The U.S. Department of State recommends enrolling all trips with the embassy so they can locate you and better assist you during an emergency. Learn more about the Smart Traveler Enrollment Program (STEP) and enroll at https://step.state.gov/step/.
5. Trust Your Instincts
In an uncomfortable situation, it is ok to say no. Most travelers are so concerned with respecting the culture they are in and not making waves that they ignore their better judgment. If the person you are interacting with is making you uncomfortable, find help from someone you trust. You do not have to be rude, but you are the final word on your safety.