Dept of State Resources
Health and Safety Abroad
Learning to observe and interpret what is going on around you is a desirable skill that may enable you to effectively minimize risks, make better-informed decisions, and mitigate the consequences of undesirable events. Like most skills, it takes some time to develop. The following section will help guide your behavior while you are learning and help facilitate the process.
Be Aware of Your Surroundings
- Pay attention to what people around you are saying.
- Find out which areas of the city are less safe than others.
- Know which hours of night are considered more dangerous.
- Stay and walk only in well-lit areas.
- Avoid being alone in unfamiliar neighborhoods.
- Know where to get help (police station, fire station, phones, stores, etc.).
- Do not touch suspicious items like letters or packages mailed to you from someone you don’t know.
- Know what is "normal" and "not normal" to see on a daily basis in the areas you frequent.
- Do not respond to explosions or gunfire by going to a window; seek cover away from windows and exterior walls.
Personal Safety for Female Travelers
Female students may or may not have thought about what it might mean to live as a woman in the country in which you will be studying abroad, but we encourage you to do so. While it is impossible to generalize about the experience of women traveling in all places in the world, you may experience some gender-specific challenges when you live or travel abroad. This is not to say that it is more dangerous to be a woman elsewhere in the world. However, language and cultural differences might mean what you consider appropriate behavior for a woman in the U.S. will be interpreted much differently by the men - and women - of your host country. This is further compounded by the fact that the people in some other countries may have distorted or stereotyped notions about American women, based on images acquired through American films and advertising. The very characteristics of American women such as independence and strength may be conceived differently in other countries.
A smile, eye contact, certain clothing, or the way you carry yourself can connote different things in different cultures. Please be aware that over consuming alcohol can especially put women in unsafe circumstances. Women who are publicly drunk may be looked at differently abroad than in the U.S. While we will supply you with what information we can, you are your own best resource. Read travel guides or articles and talk to women who have been to your host country. The more familiar you are with the customs and traditions of your host country, the more understanding you will have for why they exist and the safer you will feel while abroad.
Also, remember that “no” may not always be interpreted as “no” in other countries.
In some countries, wearing the wrong clothes can get you arrested or lead to a dangerous situation for both men and women. What you think is casual may actually be considered provocative or unacceptable in other cultures. Know before you go, and pack accordingly. On arrival, note what locals are wearing and try to follow their lead. Women especially should stay away from anything too revealing or tight and avoid wearing excessive makeup. Any fashion statement you DO make should show consideration for the country you are visiting.
Jewelery and Other Valuables
Whenever you travel, be careful with your valuables. Leave your good jewelry at home, and keep money in a safe place such as a money belt or hidden pouch under your clothes. Keep a low profile with regard to your camera and electronic equipment, and keep your bags with you at all times.
Keeping in Control
In addition to the circumstances involved with being new in a foreign country, which are often beyond one’s immediate control, there are many situations that you can control. Some controllable factors that place you at greatest risk include:
- Being out after midnight;
- Being alone at night in an isolated area;
- Being in a known high-crime area;
- Sleeping in an unlocked place;
- Being out after a local curfew;
- Being under the influence of alcohol or drugs.
Increased Risk Upon Arrival
Travelers, especially those having just arrived abroad, are often targets of crime and at higher risk of harm, because they:
- Are naive to the intentions of people around them;
- Are carrying all their valuables with them when they first step off the plane, train, or boat.
Inform yourself about your new environment, making use of as many different sources as possible - the Internet, the library, television and radio news programs, and the newspaper. A stronger grasp of the local language will help you, but even a few essential phrases can be immensely beneficial. Make it a point to try to understand what locals are communicating to you, how they feel about you and about U.S. citizens in general, how you are fitting with their values, and how well you understand them.
Effects of U.S. Foreign Policy
The foreign policy of the U.S. can be offensive to citizens of foreign countries. In some cases, Americans living or traveling abroad can be targets of the frustrations of these individuals. Consider the nature of the political climate and relations between the U.S. and the countries you plan to visit. Avoid political rallies, which can increase tensions and emotions or breed angry mobs for which a U.S. citizen may serve as a scapegoat.
Non-verbal communication (such as body language and hand gestures) which is considered harmless in the U.S. may be offensive to people in other countries. The list of gestures considered rude in other countries can grow beyond the obvious.
Precautions when Accepting Food and Drink
Be cautious about accepting drinks, alcoholic or non-alcoholic, from a stranger. Likewise, be sensible when a stranger offers you food. Do not leave drinks unattended and return to them in restaurants or bars.
Keep yourself free from sexually-transmitted diseases by using protection (like condoms or abstinence). Inform yourself about the types of diseases prevalent in the area in which you are traveling. Unprotected sex puts one at risk for acquiring a sexually-transmitted disease, including HIV. Traveling abroad can be romantic - beautiful scenery, a new culture, none of the constraints of home. Do not, however, let the romance overwhelm your common sense. If you do decide to have sex, you should make sure that it is protected sex.
Every region has its own unique health challenges. We strongly recommended that you consult with a travel clinic or physician who can look at your travel itinerary and your personal health profile and work with you to devise a health strategy for your travel, including all appropriate vaccinations, medications, and treatment options.
To locate a travel clinic, as well as information on destinations, outbreaks, diseases, vaccinations, insect protection, safe food and water, and medical emergency preparation: The Center for Disease Control: http://www.cdc.gov/travel/.
Disease maps; health risks and precautions; travel by air; environmental health risks; accidents, injuries and violence; infectious diseases; vaccine-preventable diseases; malaria; blood transfusions, etc.: http://www.who.int/en/.
If you take them regularly, you should bring enough prescription and/or essential over-the-counter medication to last for the duration of your program. It is important to bring sufficient supplies since medications that you purchase overseas are not regulated in the same manner, e. g. by the U.S. Food and Drug Administration. In addition, your overseas destination may not be able to dispense or sell the medications or other items that you require. You must also keep your medications in their original labeled containers during your travels; this will help with Customs and other border crossings. Before you depart, it is also essential that you know if the medicines, syringes, health aids that you plan to bring with you are legal in your destination country; what is legal in the U.S. can be considered illegal elsewhere.
Check with the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention for any recommended or required vaccinations you may need during your Study Abroad experience. Health risks may be very different depending on what country(ies) you plan on traveling to.
Special Medical Conditions/Needs
If you have any allergies or special conditions that might lead to sudden illness (such as asthma, diabetes, bee sting, penicillin allergies, etc.) you must inform the CIE of possible reactions. You should also consider discussing these with roommates or other friends you have made at your host university so that other people will know how to react in case you suddenly need assistance or medication. If you have any critical medications, you must carry them with you at all times and should report these medications to the CIE. The CIE also recommends that students consider wearing a medical alert bracelet describing any special medical conditions.
If you have asthma, even if you have not had any problems for years, you should bring an inhaler and all the necessary medications because it is possible for asthma to act up in the different environments where your Study Abroad programs is held.
If you have a disability, it is important that you contact the CIE to discuss your situation in confidence and provide appropriate documentation so that the feasibility of accommodation abroad can be evaluated as soon as possible. In advance of that discussion, you will want to register and meet with the Office of Student Disability Services in Copernicus Hall, Room 241.
To avoid illness, travelers should be advised to select food with care. All raw food is subject to contamination. Particularly in areas where hygiene and sanitation are less prevalent, the traveler should avoid salads, uncooked vegetables, and unpasteurized milk and milk products such as cheese, and to eat only food that has been cooked and is still hot or fruit that has been peeled by the traveler personally.
Undercooked and raw meat, fish, and shellfish can carry various intestinal pathogens. Cooked food that has been allowed to stand for several hours at ambient temperature can provide a fertile medium for bacterial growth and should be thoroughly reheated before serving. Consumption of food and beverages obtained from street food vendors has been associated with an increased risk of illness.