Although CIS represents universities in countries that are considered safe as defined by the U.S. Department of State, problems ranging from minor verbal harassment to theft and robbery to serious physical and sexual assault are a danger in these countries just as they are in North America. Some of these incidents are not avoidable, but many are. Below you will find useful information about behaviors that can put you at risk and strategies that can help you reduce the likelihood of these incidents happening to you.
Situations which place students at greatest risk are:
- 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 intoxicated
Strategies Used by U.S. Students to Reduce Risk
You have most likely been using a variety of strategies to avoid harm while living in the United States and these will be useful overseas as well. These are:
- Listening for what is being said around you
- Keeping watch for suspicious people and vehicles
- Knowing what hours of the night are more dangerous than others
- Staying in and walking only in those areas that are well lit
- Avoiding being alone in unfamiliar neighborhoods
- Knowing where to get help (stores, phones, fire station, etc.)
- Note: It is important to discuss the extent to which these strategies are or are not applicable during your time abroad.
Factors Placing Students at Risk Abroad
Your circumstance as foreigners places you at some increased risk because you:
- Are new to this country
- May not speak the local language well
- Are traveling to new places and making new friends
- Will generally be traveling by public transportation
- Are curious about your new home and the new culture you are living in
- May stand out in a crowd
- Have not yet learned the best way to say no in this culture
- May not yet pick up the "clues" in this culture that you are in danger
- Have not yet established personal daily routines in your new home
Strategies for Reducing Risk
Safety is ultimately the responsibility of each individual student and each person should actively develop his or her own personal safety strategies. Administrators can assist you in developing personal awareness and personal safety strategies. Some suggestions include:
- Establishing relationships with hosts, neighbors, and local authorities
- Improving structural security of residence (shuttered/barred window, door locks, sealed walls/ceilings, etc.)
- Ensuring access to emergency medical care
- Developing emergency support/communications network
- Screening night visitors
- Notifying the international student office of travel plans
- Wearing prudent attire
- Restricting night travel
- Projecting certainty of route and destination
Avoiding "high risk" regions
- Traveling with a friend/ trusted other
- Inspecting vehicle for safety (tires, overloading, brakes, etc.)
Establishing rapport with regular drivers
- Determining risk levels of varying means of transport (bus, train, taxi, hitch hiking, etc.)
- (Women) sitting with other women or middle aged couples
- Demonstrating vigilance/confidence/"street smarts"
- Being aware of surroundings
- Avoiding "high risk" areas
- Identifying "safe zones"
- Using "buddy system"
- Carrying whistle or other personal safety device
- Locating safe hotels/guest houses
- Moderating alcohol consumption
- Carrying only sufficient cash in safe place (pouch, money belt)
If you are a victim of an assault, reporting this incident to the host university emergency contact is important because:
(The above guidelines were adapted from SAFETI's adaptation of Peace Corps resources. To find out more about SAFETI's pre-departure Health and Training Handbook, click here.)
- You may need medical attention
- You may need to or choose to talk with someone about what has happened
- You may want or need assistance in working with the local authorities
- You should be aware of whether the discussion is confidential.
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In addition to the guidelines above, below are the "Top Ten Travel Tips for Students" as found in the brochure "State department travel tips for students", provided by the U.S. State Department.
1. Make sure you have a signed, valid passport and visas, if required. Also, before you go, fill in the emergency information page of your passport!
2. Read the Consular Information Sheets (and Public Announcements or Travel Warnings, if applicable) for the countries you plan to visit.
3. Make copies of your itinerary, passport data page and visas. Take one set with you and leave a second set with family or friends at home, so that you can be contacted in case of an emergency. Keep your host program informed of your whereabouts.
4. Make sure you have insurance that will cover your emergency medical needs (including medical evacuation) while you are overseas.
5. Familiarize yourself with local laws and customs of the countries to which you are traveling. Remember, while in a foreign country, you are subject to its laws!
6. Do not leave your luggage unattended in public areas and never accept packages from strangers.
7. While abroad, avoid using illicit drugs or drinking excessive amounts of alcoholic beverages, and associating with people who do.
8. Do not become a target for thieves by wearing conspicuous clothing and expensive jewelry and do not carry excessive amounts of cash or unnecessary credit cards.
9. Deal only with authorized agents when you exchange money to avoid violating local laws.
10. When overseas, avoid demonstrations and other situations that may become unruly or where anti-American sentiments may be expressed.
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In addition to strategies for personal safety, there are also steps you can take to stay healthy during your time abroad. Please read through the following information on personal health.
On the Flight Over
Avoid caffeine and alcohol during the flight to your host country. Airplane cabin air is notoriously dry and you can become easily dehydrated. Caffeine and alcohol are dehydrating substances and can only exacerbate this problem. Also, when you arrive in country, you will be adjusting to a new sleeping pattern and caffeine can make that a more challenging adjustment than it already is.
You will receive country-specific health and safety information during your on-site orientation. It is therefore imperative that you participate in this. Below are some general guidelines for staying healthy in your host country:
- Eat a well-balanced diet.
- Watch what you eat. Traveling will bring your body in contact with different bacteria, which are not necessarily harmful in themselves, but the change can unsettle your stomach or cause other health problems. Water (including ice cubes), milk, fresh fruit and unwashed, raw vegetables could upset your system until your body adjusts to its new surroundings.
- If you have any dietary restrictions for medical reasons (i.e. food allergy or diabetes), you may want to familiarize yourself with ingredients commonly used in food preparation.
- If you are a vegetarian or a vegan you will find most of the CIS sites to be accommodating. During orientation, check with the international student coordinator regarding resources or suggestions to help you maintain your diet. If you have serious concerns about maintaining your diet while abroad, we will put you in touch with the host university international student coordinator before you arrive in country.
- If you must carry food with you, are there restrictions bringing it into or out of the country?
- Take measures to reduce the risk of exposure to STDs (sexually transmitted diseases). Intimate contact could expose you to different bacteria or viruses that could lead to infection or contraction of STDs, including AIDS
- Know where to get treatment. (Note: This will be explained to you during the on-site orientation.)
During the first few days in your host country, you may wonder why you are waking up at 4:00 am bright and early, and feeling so out of sorts in the middle of the day. These are symptoms of a condition commonly known as jet lag. Jet lag refers to the disruption of sleep patterns and other circadian rhythms (the body's internal clock) caused by crossing multiple time zones in a short period of time, e.g. when flying east-west or west-east. The adverse effects of jet lag may lead to indigestion, general malaise, insomnia, and reduced physical and mental performance.
There are useful strategies for reducing the effects of jet lag (see below). Travelers who take medication according to a strict timetable (e.g. insulin, oral contraceptives) should seek medical advice.
- General measures to reduce the effects of jet lag
- Be well rested before departure and have as much rest as possible during the flight, including short naps. Ensure the same total amount of sleep in every 24 hours when traveling as when staying at home.
- Drink plenty of water and/or juices before and throughout the flight.
- Eat light meals and limit consumption of alcohol before and during the flight.
- Short-acting sleeping pills may be helpful in assisting the adjustment of sleeping should be used only in accordance with medical advice.*
- It is not always appropriate to adjust to local time for short trips. If in doubt, seek specialist advice.
* Melatonin, at present available in very few countries (sold, but not approved by the Food and Drug Administration, in the USA ) is used by some travelers to resynchronize the body's internal clock although its benefit is unproven and side-effects unknown.
(This information on Jet Lag was found at the World Health Organization's Web page for International Travel.)
AIDS - Acquired Immune Deficiency Syndrome
- What is it?
Acquired Immune Deficiency Syndrome (AIDS) is a life-threatening illness caused by the human immuno-deficiency virus (HIV). The virus causes the breakdown of the body's natural immune system, making the patient susceptible to opportunistic infections and diseases, such as cancer.
- Where does it occur?
HIV infection and AIDS have been reported world-wide. Because HIV infection and AIDS are globally distributed, the risk to international travelers is determined less by their geographic location than by their individual behavior.
- How is it transmitted?
Travelers are at risk if they.
a) have unprotected sexual intercourse (vaginal, anal or oral-genital) with an infected person, either heterosexual or homosexual;
b) use or allow the use of contaminated syringes or needles for any injections or other skin-piercing procedures including acupuncture, ear piercing, tattooing, use of illicit drugs, steroid injections, or medical or dental procedures;
c) Receive infected blood, blood components or clotting factor concentrates.
d) AIDS has not been shown to be spread by casual contact, such as living in the same house or sharing eating utensils. You cannot get AIDS by shaking hands, kissing, hugging, coughing, sneezing, swimming in pools or from pets, toilets or telephones. Biting insects do not transmit AIDS. (From the Peace Corps Information Notice and the Surgeon General's Report on Acquired Immune Deficiency Syndrome.)
- How can it be prevented?
a) Abstinence is the safest protection against sexual transmission. Travelers should avoid sexual inter-course with a person whose HIV infection status is unknown.
b) Condoms decrease, but do not entirely eliminate, the risk of transmitting HIV. Use of spermicides with condoms may provide additional protection and is recommended.
c) If there is any chance of sexual activity while traveling, bring a supply of condoms and spermicides, since these items may be unavailable or of inferior quality in some countries.
d) Use condoms made of latex rubber, and never use petroleum-based lubricants, such as Vaseline, with them.
e) Remember, the HIV virus is transmitted through contact between bodily fluids including semen, female genital secretions and blood. Avoid sexual activity that may injure body tissues.
a) Avoid illegal drug use. Aside from increasing the risk of exposure to HIV, in many countries drug use is subject to particularly stringent laws, including the death penalty.
b) Another important precaution is to reduce your risk of any serious injury that could require a blood transfusion or invasive medical procedures. When riding in or driving a car, wear your seatbelt. Take time to learn the rules of the road before driving in an unfamiliar country.
c) Should you require a blood transfusion, injection or other invasive medical procedure, try to ensure that the blood and instruments used are safe. Blood should be tested for HIV antibodies. Ideally, needles and syringes should be of the single-use, disposable type, pre-packaged in a sealed container.
d) Inquire at the local Red Cross or at the U.S. Embassy about blood screening practices in the country and about sources of safe blood.
You may want to consider forming a "traveling blood bank," in which a group of people know each other's blood type and agree to be possible donors for each other. (This assumes, of course, that all the group members are HIV-negative.)
- HIV Antibody Testing: Requirements and Procedures
If you should decide to be tested, keep in mind the following guidelines:
a) The testing process takes at least two weeks.
b) Pre- and post-test counseling is recommended and available at most clinics that do HIV-antibody testing
c) Testing anonymously first safeguards your privacy.
d) Should you need a doctor's certificate, you can always have the test done again.
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In the case of Australia , students are required to carry their national insurance, Overseas Student Health Cover (OSHC), and the cost will be charged to you directly by the Australian universities. In New Zealand , recently all universities have required foreign students to purchase an in-country health insurance plan. Regardless of the country's requirements, however, CIS recommends that students carry a medical insurance plan that is appropriate for international travel. If students are covered under an existing policy, it is their responsibility to ensure that it will cover them while they are abroad (many do not). If they are unsure about the type of policy required, CIS can recommend a policy that provides extensive international medical coverage for approximately $50 per month.
Our affiliate universities have medical and mental health services available to students on campus as well as contacts with local physicians, hospitals and other emergency services. Students are made aware of these services during on-site orientations. In emergency situations, each university has an emergency contact person available 24 hours a day.
For further details, visit the CIS overseas insurance page.
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1. Assess the risk to safety of being in the Host Country.
2. Read and carefully consider all materials issued by the Host Institution relating to safety, health, legal, environmental, political, and cultural conditions in host countries.
3. Consider their health and other personal circumstances when applying for or accepting the university's offer of acceptance.
4. Make available to the host university accurate and complete physical and mental health information and any other personal data necessary in planning for a safe and healthy study abroad experience.
5. Assume responsibility for their personal preparation for the degree abroad by thoroughly reading all communications provided by the university.
6. Fully participate in the on-site orientation provided by the host institution.
7. Follow all procedures for obtaining host country health insurance and consider purchasing supplemental health care.
8. Abide by any conditions imposed by the airline carriers.
9. Inform parents / guardians / families, and any others who may need to know, about your being overseas.
10. Inform parents / guardians / families of host-country activities and travel plans.
11. Understand and comply with the terms of participation, codes of conduct, and emergency procedures of the host institution, and obey host-country laws.
12. Be aware of local conditions and customs that may present health or safety risks when making daily choices and decisions. Promptly express any health or safety concerns to the host institution international student coordinator or other appropriate individuals.
13. Behave in a manner that is respectful of the rights and well-being of others, and encourage others to behave in a similar manner.
14. Accept responsibility for their decisions and actions.
15. Become familiar with procedures for obtaining emergency health and law enforcement services in the host country.
16. Seek assistance from the international student coordinator at the host university if problems occur that seriously affect their well-being.
17. Inform host institution of travel plans during sojourn abroad.
18. Obey host-country laws.
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One of the best ways to help ensure personal safety overseas is to know what is going on in your host country both locally and nationally. You can do this by periodically reading the local and national news. Below are links to online periodicals with news and information for the countries in which students using CIS's services study.
United Kingdom (England, Scotland, Wales, Northern Ireland)
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The following are links concerning study abroad students health and safety:
U.S. Department of State Travel Warnings
This site is maintained by the U.S. government and provides the most up-to-date travel advisories , for U.S. citizens, for nearly every country in the world.
U.S. Embassies Abroad
Addresses and contact information for U.S. Embassies abroad .
Tips for Studying Abroad Again, maintained by the U.S. Department of State, this site offers useful advice to U.S. students abroad. (link will open in a new browser window)
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