GO: Prepare Your Stay
1. Housing: Don’t assume the housing will have fire extinguishers, escapes or alarms – check it out, especially in youth hostels. (Many students died in a 2011 Paris fire, tragically – from jumping to escape.)
Protect your room keys or access codes. Break-ins occur more often on ground floors than rooms higher up. Don’t open the door for someone you don’t know. Home invasion criminals gain entry by pretending to be a distressed person.
“GapYear reports that 1000 fires abroad claim the lives of 50-100 victims who run into smoke. Two breaths is all it takes.”
2. Hotels: Kids can be housed 6-9 in a room (or more). Find out! Get the commitment in writing. Do you get to pick your roommate? Or, switch if it isn’t working out?
If you are caught in a situation where you do not have housing, or know where safe housing is, check out Safe Global Haven.
Too often, trips for youth and students are overpriced and underperformed. Know the rating of the place where you are going to stay before you go. Don’t stay in low grade housing or hotels. (Justin Johnston was shot and killed in a low grade Costa Rica hotel by a security guard in a low grade hotel who was an illegal alien with an illegal weapon.)
So many young kids and students are hurt falling from balconies – don’t lean on or over!
“Sometimes one pays most for the things one gets for nothing.” ~Albert Einstein
3. Stuff: Don’t leave your electronic equipment up for grabs. It’s like leaving a few hundred dollars on the table. A smartphone, camera, computer, iPad or Kindle is worth hundreds and easily stolen.
You may want to ‘cleanse’ your electronics of financial information, passwords and purchase histories while you are abroad. A safe storage area where you can lock things up is important.
Engrave your name and passport number, city and state on all valuables. Walking about wearing a camera makes you look like a tourist. Use a shoulder bag.
“See the world and keep your stuff.” ~Jeff Brandt
4. Nutrition, Health & Anxiety: Students who undergo high anxiety may lose excessive body weight rapidly. Rapid weight loss is very dangerous and can cause severe damage to multiple organs. Communicate and protect your health with proper nutrition and stress management.
Take dehydration seriously, vomiting for hours or severe diarrhea may rapidly progress to live-threatening severe illness. Get help.
Program homestays have withheld food from students abroad causing malnourishment and organ damage. Skype with your family so that they can see your healthy self.
“12.7% of students abroad diagnosed with anxiety disorder & 17 .5% with depression.” “Overstressed, Overwhelmed and Over There – Challenges of Mental Health Abroad” ~John Lucas, IES Abroad
5. Cash: Don’t take money out of cash machines in isolated places, especially at night. Corners create blind spots. Don’t use a corner ATM, or one that is obstructed by walls or plants. You can become a target for robbery. Stay in groups; carry the smallest amount of money possible or a debit card requiring a pin number that you can replenish online. Keep your credit cards and valuables in sight at all times – information can be easily pirated. Blend in, don’t be conspicuous. Don’t carry all your monetary assets in one place – like a wallet. Use a money belt or neck stash, or put stash funds in a shoe. Don’t wear expensive watches or jewelry to the ATM.
“96% of ATM crimes are committed when there is only one person at the ATM; 71% of crimes happen between midnight and 6 a.m.” ~ATM Crime & Prevention, Thomas Rzycki
6. Road Safety: Know the conditions of the roads where you travel. Tragically, loads of people and students have died in unsafe vehicles on unsafe roadways in India, Turkey, New Zealand and other locations. International Transport Forum provides an annual report on road fatalities in 33 countries.
Bus road trips are cheap entertainment. Find out how many hours ‘on the road’ your tour is setting you up for. You may find that for the money, a family vacation would offer more interactive touring and a better overall experience.
“ASIRT collects, analyzes and distributes comprehensive road safety information for travelers in the form of country-specific Road Travel Reports for more than 150 countries.”
7. Stranger Danger: No matter how nice someone you meet seems abroad, do not get in a car or stay with them. Students have been molested, robbed, raped and murdered trusting foreign criminals they recently met and often when they’ve known them awhile. Stay in groups and stick together. Don’t be persuaded. Use the buddy system from your group to stay safe. Two-thirds of all sexual assaults are made by a familiar person. The FBI alerts students to a scam of dropped money. If you bend down to return it they yell robbery. Having a buddy protects you.
“Americans with kidnap and ransom insurance are four times more likely to survive kidnapping than non-insured travelers.” Thomas Harvey, President & CEO Assurex International
8. Tattoo & Piercing: Body art may be cool but hepatitis, staph, HIV and other blood borne diseases are not. Some practices are better done by licensed professionals at home.
“When you tattoo someone everything becomes contaminated, the ink, the machine, the needle, the tube, the gloves, the person.” Licensed Tattoo Artist
9. Alcohol and Drugs: Drinking ages are often nonexistent or much lower in foreign countries. Alcohol is the primary contributor to date rape. Many students on abroad programs under the age of 18 are not allowed to drink. You must follow the rules of your program and parental direction. Many programs have a zero tolerance policy that will expel you if you experiment with alcohol or drugs. If you are of legal age, please drink responsibly. Keep an eye on your drinks so that no one can add substances. If you suspect tampering – get to a trusted medical facility to be tested.
“The Forum on Education Abroad reported that the top influencers in ‘incidents’ abroad are alcohol, poor judgment and failure to follow procedures.”
10. 3rd Party Investigation: If the unspeakable happens, be aware that the program may already be building a defense. Get police and medical reports or hire a third party investigator. Obtain legal counsel and take photos. Timely statements are critically important. The legal counsel or insurer of the program may prohibit them from providing the information you want and need.
Note: New York’s attorney general is investigating fifteen universities, including ivy leagues, for allegedly participating in illegal practices that resulted in the colleges receiving additional financial compensation from students participating in study abroad. (May 2011)
“These agencies investigate themselves…” US Senator Robert Casey (PA) to CNN
Some of the best programs own their actions by taking responsibility. They share their tragedy and casualty reports to educate and prevent. ClearCause is privileged to have a representative from the University of Minnesota’s study abroad program on its board of directors.
ClearCause was informed by a federal protection agency that the University of Minnesota has one of the best studies abroad safety practices in the nation. Bravo!!
Have a program you wish to recognize for ethics and safe practices when things go south, Write Us – Nominate Industry Role Models. ClearCause will have recognition for stellar performers in the near future.
“Challenges are what make life interesting; overcoming them is what makes life meaningful.” JJ Marine