Health & Safety Tips
Ensuring that you have a healthy experience abroad depends both on advance preparation and using common sense once you've arrived at your destination. While safety cannot be guaranteed 100 percent, we do our absolute best to ensure our students are safe and in good hands.
Health & Medical
As part of your pre-departure research, consult the Centers for Disease Control for comments on health issues specific to your program location, including current information on disease outbreaks and immunization requirements.
You should also discuss studying abroad with your health care provider(s). They should be apprised of where you are going and for how long, and you can talk with them at the same time about any prescriptions you are currently taking. The TLU campus nurse can also give some general information.
Students participating in a study abroad program through TLU are automatically covered by the TLU's international travel insurance, administered by Educational & Institutional Insurance Administrators (EIIA). This insurance offers reimbursable coverage for major medical care, as well as coverage for medical evacuation, emergency family travel, repatriation, and security evacuation coverage. There is no additional charge for this insurance, and students are provided with details on coverage as part of the pre-departure orientation.
Some programs require students to purchase additional health insurance through them; others require or provide an International Student Identity Card (ISIC), which provides some health coverage. Regardless of program requirements, you should make sure you understand precisely what your policy covers (and, more importantly, what it doesn’t).
If you are interested in purchasing additional travel insurance, the U.S. State Department provides a list of names of travel insurance companies.
Get your biannual check-up and take care of any pains or problems. It is much better to have any dental procedures done prior to leaving with your primary dentist and with your current insurance.
Medications and Prescriptions
If you take prescription medications regularly, consult with your physician before you depart. You should, if practical, bring a supply to last throughout your time abroad -- and leave them in their original prescription containers. You should also bring a copy of your written prescription and possibly a letter from your physician describing the condition being treated and offering additional information on the medication and dosages. Ask that the letter use generic rather than brand names. Carry both the medication and any documentation, such as the written prescription and physician’s letter, with you in your carry-on luggage and be prepared to present them to customs officials if asked. Do not plan to have family or friends ship medicines or vitamins to you while you are abroad. At best, they may be held up in customs; but many countries have much more stringent drug laws, so shipping medications may lead to legal trouble.
The stresses that sometimes come with study abroad can exacerbate or lead to recurrence of anxiety, depression, and/or eating disorders. If you are currently on prescription medication for these or similar conditions, now is not the time to go off your medication. If you are diabetic or have another medical condition that requires the use of a syringe, look into bringing a supply of disposable syringes, which may not be available in your host country. Note: Some countries, however, restrict the importation of syringes -- as well as of certain medications and contraceptives. Before departure, research the policies of your host country as they pertain to any medications you take regularly.
If you are prescribed narcotic or other habit-forming medication, discuss this with the program provider prior to your departure. Plan to bring a physician’s letter with you, and register the prescription information with the local U.S. Embassy at your destination.
Use of non-prescription narcotic substances is strictly prohibited and can be cause for dismissal from your program. Moreover, you will be subject to local laws governing and penalties for the use, transportation, and/or possession of controlled substances. International drug penalties are generally more severe than those in the United States. In some countries, simple acquisition of prohibited drugs, including marijuana and other controlled substances, can result in heavy fines, deportation, and prison sentences ranging from months to years -- and in some countries, these acts are considered a capital offense. Don’t risk it.
Take an extra pair of eyeglasses and/or contact lenses if you wear them, and bring a copy of the prescription, as well. If you wear contacts, consider bringing extra contact lens solution. It’s better to be prepared then to not be able to see or have to pay a large amount to get new glasses/ contact lens.
Make a Plan
Speak with your family and your healthcare professionals about warning signs and steps to talk if you have been treated in the past for a condition that may recur. It is helpful to alert the program resident staff abroad of any possible instances that may occur regarding your health.
Speak with your family about what you should do in the event of the death of a grandparent, favorite aunt, etc. –especially if someone is ill at the time of your departure. It is best to make decisions about returning for a funeral or other arrangements ahead of time and not when you are many miles away and during an emotional time.
Keep In Mind
The most common crime abroad is theft. The most common causes of injury or death abroad are traffic accidents and incidents related to alcohol or drugs. The same is probably true for every campus in the United States, including TLU.
The dangers are the same, but realistically, students do need to learn how to prepare for and respond to safety issues in a new cultural context. For instance, the emergency number 911 does not work abroad. More information is given to students during the pre-departure orientation sessions. Programs and institutions abroad also address these issues in a more site-specific context in their own pre-departure materials and on-site orientations.
We strongly encourage our students to read thoroughly and to take seriously the risk and safety information provided below, and from their respective program providers, to stay aware of current events in the countries in which they will be studying.
Personal Risk Preparedness
Students should be aware of local hotspots and events. Read local newspapers and magazines, and keep up with international newspapers (for example: Herald Tribune, Newsweek, Economist, and Financial Times). Learn from the Program Resident Director and locals which areas of town are safe or dangerous and when to avoid certain locations. For example, normally safe areas may become more risky late at night, during soccer games, or political rallies. Determine which means of transportation are safe and secure, and at what time of day. Which is safer late at night: public transportation (buses, subways, etc.) or taxis? This varies from country to country. When traveling from a familiar city to an unfamiliar area, ask for advice and research safe areas before departing.
Students must also notify the Resident Program Staff of any travel plans, including dates and locations. It is also a good idea to notify family and the International Education Office as well. Students are asked to check in regularly with their loved ones, by phone, email, etc. Cell phones are quite inexpensive in many countries and many plans do not charge to receive calls. Students should inquire with their program provider which cell phone plans are best. For many parents, simply knowing that they can reach their student at anytime day or night, reduces lingering anxiety considerably. You are also free to contact us at the TLU International Education Office if you have a concern, or just to check in. We love hearing about how your program is going.
Cultural Common Sense
Gaining cross-cultural understanding is one of the most important and profound learning experiences students have while abroad. Students can apply their newfound cross-cultural understanding to help preserve their safety. The first point is to recognize that cultures are different, even if they appear similar. While all cultures value safety and stability, the ways they achieve it may vary considerably. Students can enhance their experience and personal safety by learning the answers to the following cultural questions:
- What do people in this culture value most?
- How are reputations made or ruined?
- What behaviors, manners, or clothing blend in and which distract or draw attention?
- How do people respond to uncertainty or difference? Are they open or do they feel threatened?
- What are the cultural norms for alcohol in the host country?
- What reputation do American students have? Do my actions, behavior, and dress reinforce the negative or the positive?
There are many individuals concerned about the safety and security of study abroad students, including parents and friends, TLU staff and faculty, the hosting institution, and people responsible for accommodation abroad. However, no one will be as involved or concerned as you the student and your parents/ guardians. Personal safety and security begins with the multitude of decisions each student makes on a daily basis. This includes the transportation methods you choose, who you associate with, when and where you go out, as well as other decisions. By being aware, employing cultural common sense and making responsible, intelligent choices, students can greatly narrow the safety risks that can possibly arise. By far, the greatest threat to student safety involves alcohol. While it is well known that alcohol impairs judgment, that fact is often ignored and taken for granted. Although drinking across cultures is not necessarily a negative thing, overindulgence, especially in an unfamiliar country, can result in negative consequences.
TLU policy and Title IX of the Education Amendments of 1972 prohibit discrimination on the basis of sex in employment and education programs and activities. Title IX protects all persons from sex discrimination, which includes sexual harassment and sexual violence. TLU will process all sex discrimination complaints it receives, including complaints of sexual harassment and sexual violence, regardless of where the conduct occurred, to determine whether the conduct occurred in the context of an employment or education program or activity or had continuing effects on campus. If alleged off-campus sexual harassment or sexual violence occurs in the context of an education program or activity or had continuing effects on campus, the complaint will be treated the same as a complaint involving on-campus conduct. This includes complaints of sexual assault or harassment by students, employees, and third parties.
Title IX Abroad
Rape and sexual assault can happen to women and men of all ages and backgrounds anywhere in the world. Sexual assault is defined as any unwanted sexual contact, including rape.
Victims do not cause sexual assault. It is wrong for anyone to have any sexual contact with you without your consent—regardless of how well someone knows you, how much you’ve had to drink, or whether some of the sexual activity was consensual.
Cultural and social attitudes toward rape and sexual assault victims may vary greatly in different countries. The support you receive from law officials and others, in addition to the resources available to you, will vary from country to country. In the United States, for example, if you tell a medical professional that you have been raped, he or she is legally required to report your name and situation to the police. However, you have the legal right to refuse speaking with the police. Laws in other countries may provide you with more or less decision making power. Therefore, it is important to consult with the program resident staff abroad.
If you have been sexually assaulted while abroad, get yourself to a safe place and consider talking to a friend and/or to the program resident staff abroad as soon as possible. If you find yourself in a situation where you cannot make it home for the night, be sure you are in a safe and secure environment. Call your program resident staff member abroad immediately. Consider getting medical attention.
TLU officials on campus, program resident staff abroad and host institution officials will be as helpful and responsive as possible with you if you choose to report rape or sexual assault, or attempted rape or sexual assault.
Be sure to know the emergency plan from your program resident staff abroad in case of a larger crisis—political, terrorist, natural disaster, etc. This will be covered in materials provided by the host program or university prior to departure as well as during orientation after arrival to your host country.
General important steps are:
- Get away safely from the crisis location
- Get to the designated safe program location if possible
- Follow instructions from the program resident staff
- Contact your family and the International Education director to confirm that you are safe
Additional Safety Tips
Use common sense and always be aware of your surroundings. This is the single most important advice to use.
- Stay informed by local news and people.
- Don't discuss politics and certainly don't feel compelled to defend any U.S. policy in a bar.
- Avoid American hangouts. Venture into the local scene.
- Don’t travel in large groups to avoid looking like a tourist, but travel with at least one other person (especially after dark).
- Model your behavior on those around you. If you are unsure of a behavior, by yourself or by someone else, ask a local if it is acceptable.
- Follow local security instructions. If police or other government officials have instructed certain behavior, follow the rules, politely and quietly.
- Be sensitive to cultural difference, but also do not engage in any activity that makes you uneasy for the sake of cultural sensitivity. Do not be afraid of saying “no” firmly; it is better to be rude than to put yourself in a compromising situation.
- Keep the program staff and at least one friend informed of your extracurricular travel plans and make sure that at least one person knows where you are at most times. Keep your cell phone charged, turned on, and with you at all times.
- Guard your passport carefully. Without it, you could be stuck in a country for several days longer than you planned. Embassies are closed for holidays celebrated in their country and in the United States. Keep a photocopy of your main passport page and store it apart from the passport itself. The copy will not take the place of the real thing, but it can serve in its place if you have to replace a lost one.
- Use caution in crowded areas, such as in metro stations or popular gathering spots. Crowded areas are prime feeding grounds for pickpockets. Be aware that thieves often work in pairs, with one attempting to divert your attention while the other steals something from you.
- Don’t travel with large sums of cash and leave expensive jewelry at home in the U.S.
- In case of emergencies (whether medical, personal, or other), contact your resident program staff; they will be able to respond the quickest.
- Avoid risky behavior (e.g., excessive alcohol consumption, walking alone at night, bringing home someone you have just met, illegal drug use). Stay away from political rallies or protests. Never purchase, transport, or use illegal drugs.
For more suggestions on how to protect your own health and safety, download and review the NAFSA Health and Safety Guidelines.