Studying Abroad: Risks to Consider and How to Remain Safe

The chance to study abroad can be one of the most fulfilling opportunities awarded to you while attending college.  Living and learning within the context of another culture can be a great experience: an opportunity to meet new people, to discover new customs, and to learn about yourself.  This being said, living abroad does not come risk-free.  With the recent tragedy involving Boston University students studying abroad in New Zealand, as well as the heavily publicized Italian trial of American student Amanda Knox a few years ago, the dangers of studying and living abroad are very real and present.  While not reason enough to forgo studying abroad, these examples do fuel the necessity for thinking through the challenges you may face and outlining courses of action so that you can confront any problems smoothly and efficiently should they arise.

Challenge 1: Living with a Host Family

Living with a host family can be a wonderful part of your study abroad experience.  By living with a host family, you are able to gain a better understanding of local cultures and customs, and if you are studying abroad in a nation in which the official language is not your first language, living with a host family can be an integral part of strengthening your language skills.  Keeping this in mind, living with a host family can also serve as one of the most challenging aspects of living and studying abroad.  Firstly, remember that respect is the most important key to making your living experience a positive one.  Always keep in mind that the family’s house is their home, not a hotel or a dorm.  Keeping this in mind can ease a lot of tensions.  Additionally, don’t be afraid to speak up!  Host families volunteer to house students because they wish to do so; taking an interest in your host family members and interacting with them can only make for a positive experience.  Adding to this, don’t be afraid to speak up to your host family if something is not going well for you or if you are having an issue.  In most cases, the host family will be more than happy to try to guide you to the proper resources to address your needs.

Challenge 2: Lack of Familiarity with Differing Laws

Every country has different laws and customs in place, and this is one area where it is very risky to make assumptions.  Prior to departure, be sure to familiarize yourself with the major laws and customs of the place in which you are studying.  If you are studying abroad with your college, many schools have pre-departure meetings and written guides which explore local laws and customs.  Be sure to read and listen carefully to any explanation of these.  If you are going abroad alone or your school does not provide these materials, it is in your best interest to invest some time on the internet and to do some research.  Additionally, be sure to know where the nearest embassy of your nationality is (a list of United States embassies can be found here.)  This can prove imperative if you encounter a major issue, or if you are coming across problems with documentation.

Challenge 3: Security and Documentation

Planning ahead is a major way to avoid challenges when studying and living abroad.  Make sure to apply for the documentation and visas required of you well in advance; also make sure you understand the rules and conditions for whatever status you are granted before entering the country.  From a financial standpoint, try to check into potential fees your credit card company or bank may charge from making overseas withdrawals and charges and explore your options before departure.  Also remember that many renters insurance plans travel with you when abroad, which can provide a safety net against a variety of problems that could occur. Lastly, always use common sense. Knowing yourself and being aware of your surroundings can be the most powerful tool in keeping you safe while abroad.

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