Using common sense and following basic rules about safety can greatly enhance the experience and help avoid potential problems. While we do everything we can to provide health and safety information, ultimately it is the student’s responsibility to follow our suggestions and guidelines. Below is a list of safety and health tips that we recommend students should follow.
Be informed & alert
It is always smart – no matter where you are (at home or abroad) – to take note of what is going on around you, including out-of-the-ordinary people and events. Be sensible. Make changes to your daily routines to avoid potentially dangerous situations. Be especially alert at night; stay on well-lit streets, avoid subways, buses, and train stations, do not walk in empty parks or areas, and travel with a friend or in a group!!
Whenever possible, travel with a friend(s). There is safety in numbers. Make sure to tell someone where you are going, preferably the KEI Onsite Director. Review maps to determine the route you will take before you go out. Looking lost or confused, or fumbling with a map or guidebook can make you vulnerable. Plan where you are going before you leave.
Keep a low profile
- Learn the customs of the host country, especially norms that dictate fashion, acceptable clothing, and proper behavior (which may be gender specific). Some questions to ask yourself:
- Do people in this culture dress formally or informally?
- What is considered appropriate clothing for this culture for a person of my gender and my age?
- What are the general colors/style of clothing that are appropriate/typical?
- On what occasions do people in this culture dress differently?
Be aware of differences in manners and actions that would make you stand out unnecessarily as a foreigner. Endeavor to learn some words in the native language as much as possible; most everyone appreciates it when foreigners do so. If you feel anti-American sentiment, avoid wearing clothing that identifies you as an American. This includes t-shirts with U.S. flags, college sweatshirts, baseball caps, etc. Try to stay away from U.S. establishments, including companies and food franchises. In general, keep a low profile.
Be aware of pickpockets & scam artists
Pickpockets tend to work in crowded places as a group. While one person distracts you, the other goes after your valuables. Be alert in public places, tourist locations and public transportation – a favorite with many pickpockets. Beware of strangers who approach you, are overly friendly, very loud, offer bargains, or offer to be your guide. If in a confined area, be assertive and elbow your way out. Protect your valuables by using a money belt and wearing your backpack in front of you rather than on your back.
Use a money belt
We cannot stress this enough. Wallets and purses are easy to steal for professional pickpockets. You will not even know it is gone until you need it. But a money belt worn around the waist underneath your clothes is virtually impossible to pickpocket without alerting you to the action. Most money belts have a pocket for your passport, documents and money. Use a money belt, and avoid unnecessary worries!
Keep important information with you
You should have the following information on your person at all times, preferably kept in your money belt.
- Onsite Director contact information, including mobile telephone.
- Address and direction card for the host university and your residence.
- Address and contact information for the nearest embassy or consulate.
- Personal identification, preferably not your passport (unless required by the laws of the host country). A student identification card usually works well.
- KEI Emergency Contact information.
- Health insurance card and information.
Say NO to drugs
In most countries, possession or transportation of drugs is a very serious offense (just as it is in the U.S.), often resulting in jail (and even execution). Do not, under any circumstances, use illegal drugs! You should also take care that you don’t leave your baggage unattended under any circumstances, lest someone put something in it; don’t allow others to use you as a scapegoat.
Make copies of important documents
Scan and save a copy of your passport, airplane tickets, health insurance card, student ID and other important documents. Make sure to keep the copies in a safe place, preferably not with the original documents. Do not keep them with you. Email a copy to the KEI New York office before your departure and a copy to yourself. If your wallet or backpack is lost or stolen, you will need this information, and you can simply print out a new copy. Remember, having copies of important documents will make their replacement much, much easier.
Keep Up with current events
Be aware of current events in your host and home countries. Political and international events may influence how people view and act towards you. Avoid public demonstrations and other civil disturbances.
Stay in contact
Make sure to check in regularly with your Onsite Director and your family and friends at home. Establish a way to contact your parents in case of an emergency.
Tips for female students
Many countries have very traditional customs and norms that govern how men and women interact. One common assumption is that American women are “easy.” Men in these countries will treat American women in ways that they would not dream of treating “their own” women. While you may not agree with local customs, you should learn to respect and follow the laws and social norms of the host country. In addition, you should…
- Research the norms governing social behavior in the host country before the program.
- Ask local women what the line between harassment and regular “machismo” action is, and how they usually handle catcalls or touching.
- Unless you are particularly looking for an encounter, do not look males directly in the eye in certain countries.
- Dress in clothes that blend in with the locals.
- Don’t ask strangers for help. If you need help, ask an authority figure, a woman or a couple.
- Look confident.
- Avoid unsafe neighborhoods and places. Trust your gut about what is safe and unsafe.
- Leave immediately if you find yourself in a dangerous situation.
- Do not carry mace with you unless you are absolutely certain that it is necessary, and that carrying it is not in violation of the laws of the country in which you are traveling.
Practice safe sex
Although sex is not necessarily planned, safe sex should be. You should always be prepared for any eventuality. Therefore, even if you are not expecting to experience intimacy with anyone while overseas, bring a supply of condoms with you anyway. Keep in mind that American-made condoms are in general safer and more reliable than many of the ones you may purchase abroad. Do not be afraid of being perceived as promiscuous if you carry condoms, and do not expect male partners to always have their own. Most importantly, understand that this is not a joking matter: even one apparently insignificant episode could ruin and shorten the rest of your life – and often someone else’s.
All this said – be aware that in some countries, especially outside of Europe, males and females may be virgins until they get married. Likewise, sex may not be talked about publicly.