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Safety

Be aware that having just arrived abroad, you can be a target of crime because you are:

  • unfamiliar with your surroundings
  • possibly not fluent in the language
  • clearly recognizable as a foreigner
  • naiver to the intentions of people around you
  • carrying all your valuables with you in your suitcase(s)
  • BE PROACTIVE AND VIGILANT!
  • Take the same common sense safety precautions abroad that you would at home
  • Be aware of your surroundings at all times
  • Be adventurous, but stick to calculated risks
  • Put your safety first and above cultural sensitivity
  • Don’t speak loudly and draw attention to yourself
  • Behave conservatively at first until you figure things out
  • Make sure you can hear what’s happening around you, especially if you are on the phone or wearing headphones
  • Trust your intuition when you feel you may be in danger; don’t be afraid to call attention to yourself or ask for assistance if you’re in trouble
  • Be aware: pepper spray is illegal in many European countries
  • Some countries impose strict rules about what may not be photographed, so be sure to check in advance

Even though you are not physically on campus, you are still expected to properly represent Virginia Tech abroad. You are considered a Hokie wherever you are, and will still be held accountable to the student code of conduct and need to face disciplinary action when in violation of these rules.

When you travel abroad, you are no longer under the legal jurisdiction of the United States and must abide by all the laws of the countries in which you travel

  • If violating the law, you will have to face legal proceedings in the local judicial system
  • If convicted of a crime, you will face punishment according to local practices

Most students do not break the law on purpose; instead, they end up doing something illegal without knowing it, so…

  • Become familiar with local laws ("I didn't know it was illegal" will not get you out of jail)
  • Investigate consequences / punishments
  • Laws may be more lenient, but the penalties can be more severe
  • Some laws may be applied more strictly to foreigners than to local citizens
  • Don’t assume that what is legal at home is legal in other countries
  • Police may have a right to do a search even without probable cause  
  • In many countries bail is not granted
  • The principle of “innocent until proven guilty” is not necessarily a tenet abroad

ALCOHOL is still reported to be the single greatest risk factor for students!

  • This includes serious injuries, sexual assault, date rape and drownings…
  • Most countries, with the exception of those with religious prohibitions, tolerate social drinking. You may have a legal drinking age abroad, but customs regarding alcohol use may be very different
  • Don’t drink on an empty stomach
  • Don’t accept drinks from strangers - they may be tampered with
  •  Don’t drink “alone”
  • Don’t leave drinks unattended
  • Pace yourself - Know how many drinks you should drink per hour
  • Keep track of how much you’ve had
  • Stay with friends whom you trust and who will watch out for you
  • Don’t drink more than you can handle

If you get caught using illegal DRUGS abroad, there is very little that anyone can do to help

  • U.S. students have been arrested abroad and treated in a very harsh manner for possession of an ounce of marijuana
  • Some countries have “guilty by association” laws, so do not even talk to persons selling drugs, because that is seen as an act of "intent to purchase" by some countries
  • Buying prescription medications in quantities larger than considered necessary for personal use, could lead to arrest on suspicion of drug trafficking 
  • Many airports issue "random" drug tests on flights coming from areas with less strict drug policies. If drugs are found in your system, regardless of where you partook, it is still considered criminal

Drug-related arrest abroad could mean:

  • Harsh interrogations
  • Lengthy or no trials
  • Weeks, months or life in prison
  • Deplorable prison conditions (mistreatment, solitary confinement, hard labor)
  • Prison may lack even minimal comforts (i.e. bed, toilet, washbasin)
  • Death penalty…

Over the past few years there has been growing anti-American sentiment in some countries. You can take the following safety precautions:

  • Stay informed about current political events
  • Avoid forming large groups of foreigners (although don’t forget safety in numbers)
  • Avoid places frequented by Americans (bars, U.S. fast food restaurants, branches of U.S. banks, American churches)
  • Avoid demonstrations! What appears to be a peaceful situation could suddenly become dangerous. It is often illegal to associate with demonstrations of any kind
  • Avoid retaliating against hostile or bigoted remarks about Americans
  • Do not agree to media interviews regarding political conflicts
  • Review the U.S. Department of State website frequently to get timely information about developments in your host country. The site provides Alerts and Travel Advisory Levels up to four standard levels for each country. Travel Advisories appear at the top of each country page, with a color corresponding to each level. 

The unspoken “rules” of social interaction are different, and the attitudes and behavior that characterize life in the United States are not necessarily appropriate in the host country. These unspoken "rules" concern matters such as family structure, faculty-student relationships, friendships, gender and personal relations. Socializing abroad can present some challenges because of cultural differences and misperceptions (even in places that on the surface seem to be relatively similar to the U.S). At a minimum, be aware that some culturally behaviors at home and seemingly safe, may not be in the host country, for example:

  • Smiling at strangers, and making eye contact when walking down the street, could be easily interpreted as something more than mere friendlines
  • American girls’ outgoing manner, may be perceived as "easy"
  • Enthusiasm, teasing and high spirits may be interpreted as undisciplined behavior
  • Asking personal questions, and calling people by their first names might be considered rude (especially in those societies that value hierarchy and to whom maintaining status distinctions are important)
  • Considerations
  • How are men / women expected to behave?
  • What are the cultural patterns of dating?
  • What are the local norms for friendship (between same or opposite sex)?
  • If you accept a drink, gift, or invite someone over, is intimate contact expected?
  • Is the legal and/or cultural definition of “consent” different?
  • Does “no” carry the same meaning?
  • Do women have equal rights?

Sexual and discriminatory harassment violate VT policy (Title IX) and are illegal in the US – but this may not be the case in your host country. The vast majority of offenders are not other college students, but citizens of the host country. Females may also be more likely to encounter harassment such as unwanted sexual gestures, physical contact, or statements that can be perceived as offensive (honked at, stared at, verbally and loudly approved of). On the other hand, foreign tones of voice, gestures and perception of personal space may cause you to feel threatened by people who mean them no harm. It may however become very annoying and potentially even angering or frightening. Ask locals for advice on how to avoid unwanted attention.

  • Dress to blend in with the local population.
  • Leave your baseball caps, athletic shoes, and USA t-shirts
  • Dress conservatively
  • Don’t wear expensive-(looking) jewelry
  • Do not flaunt wallets, purses, cell phones, or cameras
  • Think like a local, not an American
  • Which parts of town are considered risky?
  • What scams are in vogue?
  • Is it safe to do outdoor activities on the streets (jogging)?
  • Are there any issues around individuals traveling alone?
  • Know where you are going
  • Let others know where you are at all times
  • Travel with friends whenever possible (or at least make friends en route so as to give the impression that you aren’t traveling alone)
  • Do not discuss exact travel plans with strangers
  • Stick to well-traveled streets
  • Try to travel during daytime
  • walk in groups at night
  • Plan your trip so you don’t arrive at a strange place at night without a place to stay
  • Make reservations only through licensed travel agencies, and reputable hostels and hotels
  • Be aware of the direction of traffic
  • Do not hitchhike
  • Opt for the safest route (not the cheapest or the fastest)
  • Public transportation is the preferred way to go in many parts of the world, but safety varies
  • Only take buses from an established and recommended company
  • Know local traffic laws before you get behind the wheel
  • Keep doors locked and suitcases out of sight as thieves target rental cars
  • Keep your eyes and hands on your bags at all times
  • Always have a hand or foot in a loop or strap of your luggage when you set it down
  • Be aware of pick pocketing
  • Use a money belt that can be worn underneath your clothing
  • Try to avoid reaching into your money-belt in public places
  • Do not keep all of your money/credit cards in one place
  • On crowded public transportation, always carry your daypack in front of you
  • If you need to sleep while in transit, use your pack as pillow
  • Learn the money system as soon as possible so that you aren’t caught unaware (get a feel for how much certain benchmark amounts are worth like $1, $10, $50, $100) 
  • Do not agree to watch the belongings of a person whom you do not know
  • Respect your body and its limitations
  • Stay hydrated
  • Wash your hands often
  • Get enough sleep
  • Use insect repellent
  • Do not swim anywhere unless you are certain that the water is safe/sanitary

 

Resources

  • Eat healthy meals
  • Bring vitamins and other dietary supplements
  • Don’t overdo new food
  • Know yourself, your tolerance for new foods, spices and herbs
  • Diarrheal disease is the leading reason for visits to the medical office in many countries

 Risky

  • Uncooked vegetables such as salads and salsa
  • Food from street vendors
  • Raw or rare meat or fish
  • Raw or runny eggs
  • Fountain drinks
  • Tap or well water (even to brush your teeth)
  • Bush meat (monkeys, bats, or other wild game)
  • Ice or drinks made with tap or well water
  • Food served at room temperature (avoid buffets)

Safer

  • Fruit and vegetables washed in clean water or peeled
  • Pasteurized milk and dairy products
  • Food that is cooked and served hot
  • Hot coffee or tea
  • Water that has been disinfected (boiled, filtered)
  • Ice made with bottled or disinfected water
  • Canned foods

 

Resources

  • Remove any personal data from your electronic devices
  • Minimize personal information, particularly online through social media
  • Don’t use thumb drives from overseas and don’t plug them into any computer back home
  • Have no expectation of privacy in internet cafes, hotels, or public spaces
  • Carry laptop in a bag that does not shout “there’s a computer in here”
  • Ensure you update your computer’s security software (antivirus, firewall, etc.)
  • Always lock your screen when not using your device

 

Resources

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  • Notify family if incident in host country might cause them to worry. Even if a volcano erupts hundreds of miles away, they are likely to be worried. Always make the effort to let them know you are safe!
  • Also email VT Global Safety to confirm you're safe ("I'm safe" will suffice)
  • Let family know when problems you have told them about have been resolved (a minor difficulty may sound like a major crisis to someone at home)
  • It is advisable that you learn a few basic words, phrases, and questions that you are able to pronounce fluently in your host country’s language (Learn the word for ‘help’)

 

Resources

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  • Resist the temptation to touch animals
  • Any animal bite must be evaluated for possible rabies exposure
  • Take care of insect-bites immediately! They can cause malaria, Lyme disease, etc.

 

Resources

  • Many drownings abroad are due to the fact that foreign swimmers are unaware of tides and undertows
  • Swimming alone, or under the influence of alcohol or drugs increases your risk of drowning
  • Most dangerous waters: Mexico, South Africa, Australia
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