Study Abroad

Staying Healthy and Safe While Abroad

Staying Healthy Abroad

Food and Water Safety
Enjoying local delicacies is part of the adventure, but eating certain things could make you very sick. Many countries don’t have the same food handling and preparation standards found in the United States. Here are some suggestions:

• Always use bottled water (even to brush your teeth) unless you are assured the tap water is safe.  Also, if tap water is not safe, neither is ice, and you should be wary of salads.
• Stay away from raw foods, dirty restaurants and “street” food.
• Avoid Western food establishments as the locals may not know how to cook or prepare Western foods the way you are used to
• Wash your hands regularly or use hand sanitizer.
• Don’t drink anything you did not open yourself or that you didn’t see being opened.
• Always watch your drink at partiers and bars and get a news one if you leave it unattended for awhile. 
(adapted from Eat, Drink and be Wary)

Illness While Abroad
Should you become ill while abroad, log on to the international health insurance website and utilize their tools to find a doctor or pharmacy near you.  If this is a non- life threatening medical condition that requires visiting a doctors, call the doctor's office first to state your issue, ask if they are accepting patients, ask if they accept the international health insurance and what their billing or payment options are.  Schedule an appointment once all of your questions have been answered.  If you have to pay for the visit out of pocket, be sure to log on to your insurance account and fill out a claim form to request reimbursement for services. 

Let the program administrator in your host country, your Isabella Cannon Global Education Center (GEC) program manager and your parents know if you are ill or require assistance. 

Staying Safe Abroad

Safety Issues
At all times be aware, be careful, and use common sense.  No matter how safe you feel and how trusting you are, you must always stay mentally alert so that you make wise decisions.  Don’t go out alone. The most important safety tip is to always go out with at least one other person, and more is better.  Be especially cautious at night.  Realize that you are easily identified as an American in large groups and might be targeted for that reason.  You can minimize risks and avoid  obvious dangers by keeping a low profile, and not identifying yourself as American by dress, speech, or  behavior (Adapted from NAFSA Document Library - Sample Study Abroad Handbook).

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Keep Up with the News
Stay informed of any political unrest that may take place in your city or country.  Avoid participating in demonstrations and other political activities. There may be an increased risk of anti-American activity during periods of political conflict. Even demonstrations that  are intended to be peaceful can sometimes turn violent, and you don’t want to be arrested for involvement even if you just happen to be there.   

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Stay Alert
Be aware of your surroundings, including unknown individuals hanging around your residence.  Be suspicious of unexpected packages, letters with no return addresses and/or letters that appear to contain more than just paper. Visitors should be screened and delivery persons should be asked for identification.  Make sure to always lock your doors. Take the same precautions as you would in any large city. Do not give out your name or address and do not share program information with strangers. Know where the nearest police stations and hospitals are, and keep emergency numbers handy. Do not go into unsafe or unknown areas.

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How to Handle Money Safely

  •  Withdraw cash from ATMs and change your traveler’s check only as you need money.
  •  Do not carry much cash, and try to keep smaller bills available.
  •  Countersign traveler’s checks only in front of the person who will cash them.
  •  Do not flash large amounts of money when paying a bill.
  •  Make sure your credit card is returned to you after each transaction.
  •  Deal only with authorized agents when you exchange money or buy tickets.
  •  If your possessions are lost or stolen, report the loss immediately to the local police.  Keep a copy of the police report for insurance claims and as an explanation of your plight.  Immediately inform police if any of the following are stolen:
    • Travelers’ checks to the nearest agent of the issuing company;
    • Credit cards to the issuing company;
    • Airline tickets to the airline or travel agent;
    • Passport to the nearest US Embassy or Consulate.
      (adapted from travel.state.gov

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Sexual Harassment
Sexual harassment occurs abroad, just as it does in the US. Even if you have never experienced sexual harassment before, know that in some countries street harassment such as shouting obscenities, comments on your appearance or dress or other verbal or nonverbal sexual harassment may be a cultural norm. Sexual harassment laws also differ from country to country. The country in which you study may not consider unwanted sexual attention harassment even if it would clearly be harassment in the US, or if other people (including local people) might consider it a problem. Therefore, the safest way to manage unwanted sexual  attention is to immediately distance yourself from the individual or situation,  speak up in a clear and firm manner when possible, and, most importantly, report the incident  immediately to your program administrator or housing coordinator.  Please remember that reporting the incident helps keep you and others safe.

There are other tips to help you remain safe while studying abroad.  Always walk with someone, even a short distance, and especially at night. Be aware that some men from other countries may mistake friendliness for  romantic interest. If you feel that someone is misunderstanding you distance yourself from him immediately and connect with someone from your group. Dress in ways that are culturally appropriate for the country in which you are studying.   Never  accept drinks from strangers.  If you put your drink down and leave it – even for a minute – throw it away. Never invite people you do not know to your apartment. Even if you know someone use caution when hosting anyone not in your program in your apartment. Again, making sure that you are never alone with someone helps keep you safer.

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Sexual Violence and Relationship Violence 
Having a full and engaged experience while studying abroad is important and can be threatened by negative experiences.  Sexual violence and relationship violence are traumatic events that can destroy your term abroad.  Many of us don’t think about potential dangers and the contexts that aggravate certain crimes in other countries.  Sexual and relationships violence are never your fault. To reduce the possibility of sexual or relationship violence, there are some important points to remember. Tthe perception that American women and men are very sexually active, heavy partiers (i.e. liberally consume alcohol and other drugs), and want to have romantic or sexual relationships with people from other countries are common in other parts of the world. While these stereotypes most likely comes from the prevalence of glamorized TV and movies, and may surprise you, they need to be taken seriously in order to reduce the potential for harm.  Thus it is even more important for students studying abroad to be educated and aware about the issue and context of sexual and relationship violence.

Things to think about while studying abroad:

  • Talking about sex or sexual encounters may be interpreted as a “come on”. 
  • Dancing in clubs may also be interpreted as a “come on”. 
  • Though hitchhiking may be more common in other cultures, it carries the same dangers that it would in the United States, including sexual harassment, sexual assault or other mental or physical harm. 
  • Kissing a friend “goodbye” or “hello” has different meanings in different cultures.  Before performing these behaviors be sure that you are communicating appropriately in the cultural environment where you are studying. 
  • Be firm and assertive when you say NO. Be clear and direct to be certain that your intention and the words are understood. 
  • If someone is making you uncomfortable then leave the situation. Ideally, find someone in your group and stick with that person. If necessary go to your program administrator or apartment manager. You do not have to stay in an uncomfortable situation.
  • Be aware that things which may appear as normal to you, such as getting drunk or asking someone to walk you home, may be misinterpreted based on other cultural norms.  Know that your actions are going to be interpreted in ways you may not intend.
  • Know that even when you say NO, certain people will not respect your words.  Sexual violence is not your fault in any context.  Sometimes people are too afraid to say NO.
  • Recognize that, unfortunately, sometimes sexual or relationship violence can even happen among students from the US studying abroad. Take precautions when considering a romantic or sexual relationship with a fellow US student as well.
  • If something happens to you, it is NOT your fault.  Know that there are people and resources at Elon here to help you. Seek support and information as soon as possible.

Violence against women is a growing concern all over the world. Sexual violence is prevalent in all cultures.  Sometimes when students are out of familiar environment, they are even more vulnerable to these crimes.  Please remember that if someone commits one of these crimes against you, you are not responsible.

In an emergency, tell your advisor/on site staff and ask them to call or email Jessica Clark (Coordinator for Violence Response) at 336.278.5009 or jclark33@elon.edu.  In the case of an emergency or after hours call the Safe Line at 336.278.3333.  Speaking with Ms. Clark is COMPLETELY confidential.  She will not encourage you to come home if that is not what you feel is best.  She will not call your parents unless you want help speaking with them about the incident.  She will not share information with any other University administration unless you give permission first. Jessica is available to support you in the way you feel best during your abroad experience, if you decide to return home and when you return to the Elon campus.

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Avoid Illegal Drugs
Regardless of the laws of your host country, use of any drug, by an Elon student may result in termination from the program at the student’s own expense.  Elon University can assume no responsibility for you if you are arrested for drug use. Something that might be considered a misdemeanor in the US could be seen as a felony in another country.  Do not put yourself or others at risk. Laws concerning drugs may be much more stringent, and penalties, more severe, in countries other than in the United States.  Being a citizen of the United States does not matter. You are subject to the laws of the country you are in. The US Consulate cannot get you released if you are arrested. They can only help notify family and arrange a lawyer.  If you have a drug problem, or suspect that you might, you should not study abroad. All Elon students are held to the academic and social policies of the Elon University Honor Code and Student handbook

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Alcohol
Drinking ages vary from country to country, but excessive drinking is inappropriate in all countries.  Excessive drinking can lead to serious consequences, including dismissal from the program.  Moreover, all cultures consider drunkenness as socially unacceptable.  If you do drink, do so in moderation.

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Local Laws
You MUST obey the local laws of the host country in which you’re studying. An arrest or accident during a term abroad can result in a difficult  and expensive legal situation.  It  makes no difference if you did not know the law.  Your US citizenship does not protect you  from full prosecution.  Many countries impose harsh penalties for violations that would be  considered minor in the US, and you may be considered guilty until proven innocent (Adapted from studentsabroad.state.gov).

Feel free to take pictures, but only if you know it’s okay.  In many countries, you can be detained for photographing security-related institutions, such as police and military installations,  government buildings, airports, border areas and transportation facilities.  If you are in doubt, ask  permission before taking photographs.  You should also ask permission before taking photographs of local people.  This shows respect and is polite. 

Don’t accept packages from anyone, regardless of what may be offered or what story you are told.  You could miss your flight, your exams, or several years of your life behind bars.

If you find yourself in a legal jam, contact the closest US Embassy or Consulate for assistance.  US Consular employees cannot arrange for local officials to release detained  American citizens.  Don’t get yourself in trouble and stay away from others engaged in questionable behavior.

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Safety on the Street
Be especially cautious in or avoid areas where you may be more easily victimized.  These include crowded subways, train stations, elevators, tourist sites, market places, festivals and crime-ridden neighborhoods.   

  • Don’t use short cuts, narrow alleys or poorly lit streets.
  • Keep a low profile and avoid loud conversations or arguments.
  • Do not discuss travel plans or other personal matters with strangers.
  • Avoid scam artists by being wary of strangers who approach you and offer to be your guide or sell something at bargain prices.
  • Beware of pickpockets.  They often have an accomplice who will: jostle you, distract you, or create a disturbance.  Beware of groups of children who create a distraction while picking your pocket.
  • Wear the shoulder strap of your bag across your chest and walk with the bag away from the curb to avoid drive-by purse-snatchers.
  • Try to seem purposeful when you move about.  Even if you are lost, act as if you know where you are going.  Try to ask for directions only from individuals in authority or store employees.
  • Know how to use a pay telephone and have the proper change or token on hand.
  • Learn a few phrases in the local language or have them handy in written form so that you can signal your need for police or medical help. 
  • Make a note of emergency telephone numbers you may need: police, fire, your hotel, and the nearest US Embassy or Consulate.
  • If you are confronted, don’t fight back – give up your valuables.
  • Avoid participating in demonstrations and other political activities. Demonstrations that  are intended to be peaceful can turn violent, and you could be arrested for involvement even if you just happen to be there
    (Adapted from travel.state.gov).
  • For information on driving safety, safe practices for car rentals, and other information regarding driving abroad, please read the State Department's webpage on road safety overseas.  You may also wish to consult this helpful road safety guide.

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Safety in Your Hotel and/or Housing

  • Keep your door locked at all times.  Meet visitors in the lobby.
  • Do not leave money and other valuables exposed in your room while you are out.  Use a safe if one is available.
  • If you are out late at night, let someone know when you expect to return.
  • Do not get on an elevator if there is a suspicious-looking person inside.
  • Read the fire safety instructions in your room.  Know how to report a fire, and be sure you know where the nearest fire exits and alternate exits are located (Adapted from travel.state.gov).

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Safety on Public Transportation  
If a country has a pattern of tourists being targeted by criminals on public transport, that information is mentioned in the Country Specific Information published by the US Department of State in the section about crime.  Please visit travel.state.gov for more information. 

  • Only take taxis clearly identified with official markings.  Beware of unmarked cabs.  If they have a meter, make sure they turn it on.  If they do not have a meter, ask in advance how much the journey will cost.
  • Well-organized, systematic robbery of passengers on trains along popular tourist routes is a problem.  It is more common at night and especially overnight.
  • If you see your way being blocked by a stranger and another person is very close to you from behind, move away.  If necessary, be loud
  • Do not accept food or drink from strangers.  Where possible, lock your compartment.  If it cannot be locked securely, take turns sleeping in shifts with your traveling companions.  If that is not possible, stay awake.  If you must sleep unprotected, tie down your luggage and secure your valuables.   
  • Do not be afraid to alert authorities if you feel threatened in any way. 
  • Be aware that the same type of criminal activity found on a train can be found on a public bus on a popular tourist route. 

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Emergencies
If you experience an emergency, the best resource and the first person you should contact is your in country program manager.  Communicate your location, situation and condition to your in country program manager immediately.  Allow them to assess the situation and follow their instructions. Both the in country program manager and students involved should inform the GEC of the situation as soon as possible.  The GEC will contact parents of all the students involved in the incident. 

The GEC requests that students participating in any Elon study abroad program follow the emergency procedures described above.  In order for the GEC to provide assistance swiftly and effectively, students in emergency situations should contact the in country program manager, followed by the GEC and wait until both the GEC and in country program manager have assessed the situation before contacting their parents. 

Additional Health and Safety Resources are available.

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