Montana State University considers the health and safety of students while studying abroad one of its top priorities. While no organization or institution can guarantee the safety of participants, the risks can be significantly reduced if program staff, students, parents, and advisors at the host and home institutions all work together. Most professionals in the study abroad field tend to believe that study in a foreign country is no more dangerous than study in the United States, however, safety remains a prime concern for all involved. For more specific health and safety information relating to your program, contact Anna Greenberg, email@example.com.
You are highly encouraged to consult the U.S. State Department and the Centers for Disease Control for further information, travel precautions, and immunization recommendations for the country where you will be participating in your education abroad opportunity.
All Students studying abroad Spring or Fall 2013 must attend one of the travel health and safety classes listed below:
Thursday February 28 - 5:15
Tuesday March 5 - noon
Friday March 22 - noon
Monday March 25 - 5:15
Thursday April 18 - noon
Monday April 22 - 5:15
Thursday April 25 - 5:15
All classes are held at MSU Student Health Services in the Swingle Building (East of the SUB).
Below are additional helpful links:
- Traveling Safely
- Legal Matters
- U.S. Customs
- Health and Safety Guidelines
- Additional Resources
"Better safe than sorry," goes the old saying. No matter how safe your campus and community appear to be, you should acquaint yourself with your environment by reading the traveler's advisories and other safety information posted at the State Department web site (http://www.travel.state.gov) and the information your host institution should provide you when you arrive on-site. Be sure to check out the “Safety and Study Abroad” video from the Office of International Programs. This video was produced in order to provide students with information regarding safety while abroad. Also, take the time to research the common laws of your host country if at all possible. Begin by orienting yourself like this once you arrive at your host institution:
- Familiarize yourself with your neighborhood and campus by walking around in the daylight.
- Ask fellow students and staff members about areas you should avoid at night.
- Never walk alone at night.
- Note the address and the telephone number of the nearest embassy or consulate.
- Locate the police station the serves your neighborhood.
- Locate the nearest fire alarm box and learn how to report a fire.
- Identify the hospital emergency room nearest to your home and know what to do in case of an accident.
- Keep "emergency" numbers near your phone at home. Check to see if your host country has a similar "911" system.
- Visit the International Student Office for more information.
In short, be cautious but not fearful. You must learn to walk the fine line between safety and paranoia! Exercise the same precautions that you would in any U.S. city; in unfamiliar surroundings you may not know the real concerns. Never carry large amounts of cash! Use money belts or a concealed purse for your passport, visa, money, credit cards and other documents. Don't leave your luggage alone, even outside the stall in a restroom. One returning MSU architecture student learned that lesson the hard way when his passport was stolen out of his backpack in a public restroom in Amsterdam. And he was only three feet away in a restroom stall! You will look like a tourist (at least for awhile); people may "target" you for cons, so be aware. And, despite the popular mythology surrounding it, hitchhiking is not recommended!
Over the past several years, some serious security issues have arisen for study abroad participants, especially since the crisis of September 11th. It is important for you to be familiar with the security precautions that would be used in case of any international or local "situations." The following ideas are for emergency and non-emergency situations, and are based on common sense.
Keep in contact with home
Your parents and friends will have concerns while you are away. Please keep in contact with them on a regular basis and let them know how you are. If you tell someone that you will call at a certain time, make every attempt to make that call, otherwise people may worry needlessly. If you plan to travel during holidays, leave your itinerary with your friends, roommate or your host family.
Stay well informed about local and regional conditions. Read newspapers with good international coverage and analysis of local problems and issues. Many of the major U.S. papers with good international coverage are available online if you have computer access. This is another good way to stay informed. Check out:
Don't allow yourself to be vulnerable
Do not frequent places that may make you vulnerable by association. Some restaurants or clubs have reputations for being American "hangouts"; avoid them if at all possible. Avoid political groups, demonstrations, etc.
It would be wise to register with the nearest U.S. Consulate office. This will make them aware of your presence in the vicinity, and they can also advise you with local information updates.
Keep a low profile
Walk away from trouble and take a passive approach to any volatile situation.
Be aware of your surroundings, including unknown individuals "hanging out" in your building or any strange activity nearby. Be suspicious of unexpected packages or letters with no return address and/or excessive postage, especially letters that appear to contain more than paper. Be careful of who has access to your room or apartment. Visitors should be screened; delivery persons should be asked for identification, and should not be left unsupervised.
Take the same precautions you would at home. Do not give out your name or address to unknown people. Know where the nearest police station and hospital are and keep emergency numbers handy. Never go into unsafe or unknown areas alone or after dark.
You will probably be doing a lot more traveling than you would normally do at home. This means, by definition, more public transportation such as trains, busses, metros, taxis and planes. Most provide convenient and inexpensive transportation for you as a student. However, there are a number of safety issues you should keep in mind, especially in urban settings.
- Do not display money, jewelry, or other valuable items.
- Choose a car or compartment in a train or metro in which others are riding.
- Note the location of emergency equipment.
- Do not fall asleep on short rides.
- Mind the gap--In other words, do not stand on the edge of train or metro platforms.
- Keep your wallet in your side pocket, keep your purse closed and close to your body.
- Never leave luggage, bags or backpacks unattended.
- If someone is bothering you, inform the driver or train operator.
- Avoid unwanted attention and confrontations.
- Beware of pickpockets and purse-snatchers.
A number of common legal matters exist in your host country of which you should be aware. Some are more serious than others so, please, read each carefully so that you are aware of the liability involved. Montana State University cannot assume any responsibility for your actions abroad.
Some countries require students to "register" with the local police department. The International Office at the host institution will advise you if this is necessary.
A word of caution about traveling in automobiles
Most counties have much higher rates of serious accidents than the US does. You should be very selective in deciding with whom you plan on driving with. Many counties have poor road conditions, unsafe automobiles and many of the drivers have not received formal driving training and /or a driver’s license. Statistically speaking, the most dangerous endeavor during your time abroad is riding in an automobile. Also as you know, many countries drive on left side of the road, which can lead to confusion resulting in disaster.
International Driving Permit
If you intend to drive while studying abroad, you should apply for an international drivers license through the American Automobile Association (AAA). Some host countries require one, while others will accept your state license. AAA should be able to tell you whether or not one is required.
Working abroad and work permits
Since you are participating in an academic program, you should take full advantage of that opportunity to study and travel. Therefore it is recommended that you don't work. Most host countries will not allow you to work legally and work permits are almost impossible to obtain. However, if you would like to stay and work during the summer, investigate the work abroad programs offered by the Council on International Educational Exchange. They can arrange your paperwork for a fee so you can work legally.
NEVER, NEVER, NEVER travel with marijuana or any other contraband drugs. Montana State University can assume NO responsibility for you if you are apprehended for drug use. Therefore, it is the policy of Montana State University and the Office of International Programs that the use of marijuana and other contraband drugs cannot be tolerated.
Whether it is by you alone, or when you are participating in an organized program event, the use of even a small amount of an illegal drug can jeopardize your welfare and the future of the program. Even in place, and you know there are many of them, where the use of drugs by local citizens is either ignored or treated very lightly, when American students are apprehended indulging in or in possession of contraband, they can be dealt with in a very harsh manner. You can easily ruin months of your life by an apparently innocent diversion.
If approached by someone selling drugs, walk away. Do not even talk to that person, because a conversation with a suspected narcotics pusher is seen as an act of "intent to purchase" in some countries.
Laws concerning drugs are much more stringent and the penalties more severe than in the United States. Remember that being a citizen of the United States does not matter. You are subject to the laws of your host country if you are arrested. The embassy can only help notify family and arrange for legal representation.
Some Facts About Americans Arrested Abroad
Excerpts from Gist, The Drug Problem: Americans Arrested Abroad
Legal rights abroad
- Once travelers leave U.S. jurisdiction, they are not covered by U.S. laws and have no U.S. constitutional rights.
- Few foreign countries provide trial by jury
- In some countries, pretrial detention may involve months of confinement in primitive prison conditions, and trials frequently involve lengthy delays or postponements and are conducted in the language of the foreign country.
Drug arrests abroad
- Sentences for possession or trafficking of drugs can range from 2 to 25 years or more and possibly heavy fines.
- In some countries-like Egypt, Turkey, Malaysia and Thailand --conviction may lead to life imprisonment or even the death penalty.
- Several countries have stiffened their penalties for drug violations and imposed stricter enforcement of existing drug laws. Proposed laws in Mexico will increase the maximum sentence for drug trafficking from 15-20 years. There are also stiff penalties for possessing illegal drugs while in the Dominican Republic; legislation imposes 5-20 years imprisonment on anyone caught bringing narcotics in or out of the country.
It is important to know the laws surrounding alcohol use in your host country. Many nations have very strict drinking and driving laws with harsh penalties. Use your judgment and maintain an attitude of moderation concerning alcohol.
For the most updated information, visit the US Customs website www.customs.gov. They have an online brochure titled, “Know Before You Go!” Upon returning home you will have to go through U.S. Customs. Returning residents and citizens are allowed up to $400 worth of foreign purchases. Duty ranging from 5% to 50% or more will be charged on anything over the $400 duty free allowance. Certain items will not be charged duty depending upon the country of purchase and type of item. You will not have to pay duty on gifts costing less than $25 (mailed from Europe) as long as you do not send more than one to any one person on one day. Make sure to keep all receipts for purchases you mail home or bring with you, as you will need them when you go through customs upon your return. If you are taking a foreign made item with you, such as a camera or watch, U.S. Customs officials suggest you register it at the airport before you leave the country. Failure to do so may result in having to pay duty on it upon your return. In some countries, especially those belonging to the EC, you may get the taxes back on certain purchases. Under no circumstances will you be allowed to bring back fruits and vegetables of any type.
What U.S. Consular offices abroad can do
- Ensure insofar as possible that the detainee's rights under local laws are fully observed and that humane treatment is accorded under internationally accepted standards.
- Visit the U.S. citizen as soon as possible after the foreign government has notified the U.S. embassy or consulate of the arrest (if notification is made).
- Provide the detainee with a list of local attorneys from which to select defense counsel.
- Contact family and friends for financial or medical aid or food, if requested to do so by the detainee.
What U.S. Consular offices abroad CANNOT do:
- Demand a U.S. citizen's release.
- Represent the detainee at trial, give legal counsel, or pay legal fees or other related expenses with U.S. government funds.
- Intervene in a foreign country's court system or judicial process to obtain special treatment.
Montana State generally:
a. Cannot guarantee or assure the safety of participants or eliminate all risks from the study abroad environments.
b. Cannot monitor or control all of the daily personal decisions, choices, and activities of individual participants.
c. Cannot prevent participants from engaging in illegal, dangerous or unwise activities.
d. Cannot assure that U.S. standards of due process apply in overseas legal proceedings or provide or pay for legal representation for participants.
e. Cannot assume responsibility for the actions of persons not employed by the university for events that are not part of the program, or for situations that may arise due to participant’s negligence.
f. Cannot assure that home-country cultural values and norms will apply in the host country.
Responsibilities of Participants
In Study Abroad, as in other settings, participants can have a major impact on their own health and safety abroad through the decisions they make before and during the program and by their day-to-day choices and behaviors.
1. Read and carefully consider all materials issued by the sponsor that relate to safety, health, legal, environmental, political, cultural, and religious conditions in host countries. 2. Consider their health and other personal circumstances when applying for or accepting a place in a program.
3. Make available to the sponsor accurate and complete physical and mental health information and any other personal data that is necessary in planning for a safe and healthy study abroad experience.
4. Assume responsibility for all the elements necessary for their personal preparation for the program and participate fully in orientations. .
5. Obtain and maintain appropriate insurance coverage and abide by any conditions imposed by the carriers.
6. Inform parents / guardians / families, and any others who may need to know, about their participation in the study abroad program, provide them with emergency contact information, and keep them informed on an ongoing basis.
7. Understand and comply with the terms of participation, codes of conduct, and emergency procedures of the program, and obey host-country laws.
8. Be aware of local conditions and customs that may present health or safety risks when making daily choices and decisions. Promptly express any health or safety concerns to the program staff or other appropriate individuals.
9. Behave in a manner that is respectful of the rights and well-being of others, and encourage others to behave in a similar manner.
10. Accept responsibility for their own decisions and actions.
11. Become familiar with the procedures for obtaining emergency health and law enforcement services in the host country.12. Follow the program policies for keeping program staff informed of their whereabouts and well being.
Student Study Abroad Safety Handbook - The Center for Global Education