How your college student can study abroad safely
With a new academic year now underway, hundreds of thousands of college students have left or are planning to leave home for semesters abroad.
Studying abroad is often a life-changing experience — an opportunity to create lasting relationships and gain an appreciation for new cultures. Yet, it is not without its risks. Taking some time to assess various problematic scenarios and how to handle them can place your student in a much better, and much safer, position while they are traveling.
Have a frank discussion with your child about their overall health. If they suffer from any chronic conditions, have a plan for treatment while they are away. Find out where they can receive quality specialist care and how to get immediate help in a medical emergency.
On that note, it would also be wise to investigate your insurance programs and get a clear picture of what is and is not covered. Then, have a look at where your student is going to see if the local hospitals and clinics will accept your insurance or if you will need to up their credit card limit to cover any medical expenses out-of-pocket.
Be aware that public health management can vary from country to country. Some less developed nations struggle with illnesses that Americans typically don’t even have to consider. COVID-19 still presents a significant health threat in many parts of the world, and the World Health Organization recently declared the spread of the Monkeypox virus to be a global health emergency. The Center for Disease Control’s travel database can help keep you and your student up to date on the level of health risk involved in traveling throughout the world.
Finally, reinforce the importance of good hygiene and basic cleanliness to reduce the risks of infectious diseases, particularly if transmission rates are notably high in the area where your student is traveling. Regular hand washing, not sharing towels or bedsheets, and disinfecting shared surfaces like desks or gym equipment are all sensible practices to help reduce the spread of illness.
While we live in a world of bountiful possibility and excitement for young people looking to travel and learn, it’s also unfortunately one with areas of increasing unrest and political instability. Violent clashes between governments and military forces threaten the safety of anyone that gets near them, regardless of the reason. The ongoing conflict between Russia and Ukraine is a prime example – students should avoid all regions within 50 miles of the Ukrainian border and should not travel to Belarus or Transnistria, as doing so now risks arbitrary detainment.
The economic ramifications of this conflict are reverberating throughout Europe. Inflation, recession and energy shortage concerns are exactly the types of conditions that destabilize societies, mobilize citizens and trigger mass unrest. Anyone traveling to Europe should be aware of the economic and political landscape and avoid getting caught up in potentially volatile events like public protests.
When looking to study abroad, it is important that both you and your student have a clear understanding not just of a country’s culture and customs, but their socio-political climate, as well.
Communicate to your child the importance of knowing their surroundings. Situational awareness is paramount to mitigating risk — and avoiding a potentially dangerous predicament. As a rule, it is always best to blend in when possible. Sticking out — by being loud or wearing very different or expensive-looking clothing — can make someone into a target for theft or worse.
Tell your student to be mindful of where they go and who they go with. They can visit the Department of State Travel Advisory site for the countries they plan on traveling to and get information on any cities or neighborhoods with particularly high crime rates or other threats. Also, encourage them to talk to locals to find out what areas to avoid.
It’s easy to forget that what is legal and illegal in America may be different elsewhere in the world, so have your student get familiar with the laws of the country they will be visiting. Some countries, for example, forbid photographing critical infrastructure and police, military and government buildings. The last thing anyone wants is to experience legal troubles abroad — as evidenced by Brittney Griner’s recent drug conviction while visiting Russia — so it is critical to identify these novel laws ahead of time.
Timing can also be crucial in having a safe experience abroad. For example, students may want to avoid visiting some countries, particularly those with a history of political violence, during an election season. Seasonal weather should also be taken into account. Some countries experience extreme weather patterns, with extensive periods of massive rain or snowfall that could make air or land travel dangerous, particularly in less developed areas.
With some diligent research ahead of time, and by having a conversation with your student about situational awareness, you will be setting them up for a safe and fulfilling semester abroad.
About Zev Faintuch
Zev Faintuch is an Intelligence Analyst at international security firm Global Guardian. For more information, visit www.globalguardian.com.