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Know Before You Go

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How can you help students look after themselves while abroad? How can you be more prepared for possible emergencies?

Most study abroad programs go smoothly, and we hope that yours will too. To help ensure that, here's a list of suggested pre-program precautions that you can take to remind students about the importance of personal safety, and to prepare yourself for an emergency-just in case.

 

 

 

Promoting students' personal safety

Before they leave for their programs, participants receive both print and electronic information about health and safety-but it's important that you reinforce it with site-specific precautions, and outline the information in a way that students will take seriously. As on our campus, you're dealing with a population that's often dismissive of personal security; don't scare them, but remind them that they'll be in a place or culture not their own and that alone should make them mindful of how they prepare and conduct themselves.

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Contact information

  • Give students the phone number and address of the nearest U.S. embassy/consulate, along with a map showing the route to it from program housing.
  • Make sure that students know how to reach you 24 hours a day in case of emergency.
  • Make sure that all students have each other's full contact information.
  • Establish and test an emergency response phone chain:

    Divide the group into fives, and assign each student a number, from one to five. The director calls student number one in each group; student number one contacts student number two, and so on. Student five then contacts the director, completing the chain.

    Example:

    Divide group by fives. You contact student #1 in each group (or two students).

    Group A.
    Student #1 contacts student #2.
    Student #2 contacts student #3.
    Student #3 contacts student #4.
    Student #4 contacts student #5.
    Student #5 contacts you.

    Group B.
    Student #1 contacts student #2.
    Student #2 contacts student #3.
    Student #3 contacts student #4.
    Student #4 contacts student #5.
    Student #5 contacts you.

    Groups can be organized geographically so that contact can be made in person (if contact isn't possible by telephone). Stress that contact should be made immediately unless it's not advisable for safety reasons.
     
  • If a student is going to be away overnight, ask him/her to provide you with contact information-even something as vague as "Going to Rome."
  • In non-English-speaking countries, make sure that students have a pocket language book that contains the basic phrases they might need to ask for help (police, hospital, doctor).
  • Make sure students know where they can go for help locally-names of, maps to, phone numbers of, and addresses of the local hospital/clinic, police station, sexual assault hotline and/or other appropriate local agencies.

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Street safety

Caution students:

  • Don't congregate in groups of Americans or spend time in restaurants and bars that are known to be frequented primarily by Americans (this has a negative effect on integration with people from the host country in any case).
  • Drug and alcohol use are discouraged, and are risks from a safety perspective
  • Don't wear clothing that announces, "I am an American!" This might include baseball caps, clothing with designer or athletic logos or American flags. Make students aware of local norms of dress.
  • Be careful about sharing program-related information with strangers (destinations and dates of excursions; names, addresses and phone numbers of host families).
  • Carry your records apart from your money.

Safety gear that they might consider buying includes:

  • A money belt/pouch that allows enough room for all of your necessaries and can be worn close to the body and under clothing.
  • Purses with thick straps
  • A "dummy" wallet or coin purse
  • At least six passport-sized photos of yourself, especially if you'll be buying transportation passes, student identification, etc., or if you need to replace your passport
  • A calling card
  • A padlock and bicycle cable may be a little extra insurance to make sure that luggage doesn't "walk away"; small padlocks are great for baggage zippers

Remind them to read the Savvy Student's Guide to Health and Safety, which they receive before departure, and which contains additional advice on street safety.

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Sexual assault prevention

Rape is a risk everywhere, in some places more than others. Find out how much of a problem sexual assault is in the areas to which you will travel, and try to give students a realistic appreciation of the known degree of risk. You can talk to people who have lived in the destination country/region/city (ask your coordinator to help put you in touch with someone, if you don't already know someone there).

All students and faculty (especially women) should be aware of what they can do to reduce their own risk, have a realistic appreciation of the occurrence of sexual assault in the destination country and know what the University's policies are on aiding students who have been sexually assaulted.

In addition to going over the safety materials outlined in their emails and in the health and safety book, tell students to be at least as aware of the risks as they are in the U.S. and remind them:

  • To travel with other people and to watch out for one another
  • To carry a whistle of some sort
  • That pepper sprays may be unavailable or illegal in some destinations
  • To observe local norms of dress (covering the legs or head, for example) and behavior
  • To be aware that not everyone's intentions are pure-no matter how much fun it may be to flirt with someone from another country
  • To familiarize themselves with phrases or gestures that may be interpreted as signaling sexual availability (give them country-specific examples)
  • NOT TO BE ALONE WITH STRANGERS
  • Not to accept drinks from a stranger
  • That alcohol will impair their judgment and may make them easy targets
  • In some places what Americans would consider sexually harassing behavior is considered normal, or even complimentary; if you know a woman who has traveled or lived in the destination country, ask her about male-female relations
  • And - if they are assaulted - to get to a safe place and contact you (or local authorities, or the Institute for Global Studies/Public Safety/Office of Women's Affairs) as soon as possible.

It's important to tell students that even when abroad, they're covered by the University of Delaware's policies on sexual assault--and that they know what the University considers to be sexual assault and harassment (from UD's student handbook):

  • "XVIII. Sexual Assault
    Sexual assault is any unwanted non-consensual physical contact of a sexual nature, whether by an acquaintance or a stranger. Sexual assault can occur under physical force and/or coercion or when a person is physically or mentally unable to give consent. Sexual assault includes but is not limited to rape, forcible sodomy, forcible oral copulation, sexual assault with an object, sexual battery, and forcible fondling (i.e., unwanted touching or kissing of a sexual nature). The University of Delaware will not tolerate sexual assault and will adjudicate such acts of violence through the campus judicial system as well as encourage the accuser to pursue criminal and/or civil remedies."

  • "Sexual harassment is defined as unwelcome sexual advances, requests for sexual favors, and other verbal or physical conduct of a sexual nature when 1) submission to such conduct is made either explicitly or implicitly a term or condition of an individual's employment or academic advancement, 2) submission to or rejection of such conduct by an individual is used as the basis for employment decisions or academic decisions affecting such individual, or 3) such conduct has the purpose or effect of unreasonably interfering with an individual's work or academic performance or creating an intimidating, hostile, or offensive working or academic environment. Student violations of the Sexual Harassment policy may include but are not limited to:
      • demand for sexual favors accompanied by threats or promises
      • persistent, unwelcome flirtation, requests for dates, advances or propositions of a sexual nature
      • unwanted touching such as patting, pinching, hugging or repeated brushing against an individual's body
      • repeated degrading or insulting comments that demean an individual's sexuality or sex
      • unwarranted displays of sexually suggestive objects or pictures sexual assault"

If inappropriate advances are being made by others on the program, both students and faculty are still covered by the school's code of sexual harassment, and the victim should report it to the faculty/resident director, or to:

Institute for Global Studies:
    From the U.S., toll-free: 1-888-831-4685
    From abroad: Access code for the U.S. (this will vary depending on your site) 888-831-4685

Public Safety:
    From the U.S.: 1 (302) 831-2222
    From abroad: Access code for the U.S. (this will vary depending on your site) 302-831-2222

Office of Women's Affairs:
    From the U.S.: (302) 831-8063
    From abroad: Access code for the U.S. (this will vary depending on your site) 302-831-8063
 

University services are still available to them in the case of sexual harassment or sexual assault. They should talk to you, or call the numbers above.

Let students know that the University takes sexual assault and harassment seriously. Says the student handbook: "The University of Delaware will not tolerate sexual assault and will adjudicate such acts of violence through the campus judicial system as well as encourage the accuser to pursue criminal and/or civil remedies".

Make sure students know that you will do everything you reasonably can, with respect to a housing or academic setting, to remove a harassment victim from the vicinity of the harasser.

Give out the names, phone numbers and addresses of local authorities they can contact in case of assault: police; counseling/mental health agencies or hotlines; rape crisis centers or other appropriate on-site services.

A more difficult case of harassment is when the harasser is from the host culture, but isn't part of the program, and considers his behavior normal for his own culture. In many cultures, harassment (pinching women's bottoms, for example) *is* an everyday occurrence, and something that local women are accustomed to. However, students on the program may consider this harassment and, by their culture's, and University's, definition, it is. Neither you nor the student can change cultural norms, but you can listen to the student's concern and--while not dismissing the validity of the student's response--you can advise her on preventative measures she can take and culturally-appropriate ways of responding.

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Drug and alcohol use

Most U.S. colleges have drug and alcohol use/abuse issues on campus-and, by extension, directors should be prepared for these issues abroad. Talking with students about these issues ahead of time may prevent some problems while abroad.

Before they leave, students are required to complete an online orientation in which they agree to certain standards of conduct. A printable copy is available in our database (log in and follow the link to "student orientation"). Please review the agreement so you are aware of what students agree to. Specific expectations about drugs and alcohol include:

  • Not using, possessing or trafficking in illegal drugs
  • Abiding by the host country's laws governing the use of alcohol, and agreeing not to abuse alcohol
  • Abiding by all local and national laws in the host country/countries

In filling out the code of conduct agreement, students agree that if they're caught at any involvement with illegal drugs, and/or illegal alcohol use and abuse, they can be dismissed from the program-and sent home. It's wise to remind students of this.

It's important to provide relevant, current and specific information (both legal and locally normative) about drug and alcohol use in your destination country. If you don't know the information, find out. Tell students that:

  • If consumed at all, alcohol should always be consumed in moderation and in compliance with local and national laws.
  • Local laws about alcohol may differ from home. The host country may have a lower legal drinking age than the U.S., or no minimum age at all. Let students know what the situation is in the destination country.
  • Cultural attitudes surrounding alcohol use may differ from those at home. In other countries drunkenness, especially in public, may be considered disgraceful and can be cause for exclusion from clubs and sporting events (or even for arrest). Let students know what the local norms are.
  • They MUST avoid any possible involvement with drugs. Easy availability of drugs does not make their possession or use legal-and violating drug laws abroad can have potentially serious consequences. Laws in foreign countries are frequently and typically much stricter than in the U.S. for offenses involving illegal drugs and drug paraphernalia. The host country's law may presume an accused person guilty until proven innocent, rather than vice versa, as under U.S. law. In addition to the fact that University policy prohibits possession of illegal drugs and paraphernalia, students caught with these items can face deportation or imprisonment.

    Drug laws of course vary from country to country, but in many cases they are extremely severe, regardless of whether the drug in one's possession is for personal use or for sale to others. Bail is not granted for drug-trafficking cases in most countries. Pre-trial detention, often in solitary confinement, can last for months. Many countries do not provide a jury trial, and in many cases you need not even be present at your trial.

    If students are arrested for breaking the law in a foreign country, neither the University of Delaware, the faculty director, nor the U.S. Department of State can help. The laws of the host country prevail, without exception, in all situations.

Additional resources include:

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Paperwork precautions

Remind students to:

  • Assemble a records file; they should bring one copy of the file with them, and leave the other at home. This file will come in handy if anything gets stolen and needs to be replaced. Someone at home should know where the file is.

    The records file should include:
    • The names, numbers and expiration dates of all debit and credit cards, licenses, checks and/or travelers cheques students plan to bring
    • A photocopy of their passport that shows name, passport number and photo
    • Health insurance policy's carrier and international number, and any other relevant health insurance information
    • A photocopy of the airline ticket (showing departure and arrival dates, airline and flight numbers).
    • A copy of the program's itinerary.
    • Instructions on how to replace lost items

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Airport/airplane safety

In light of recent events, you should let students know that flying isn't like it used to be-and that they should be prepared to go through newly-established security protocols.

On Tuesday, October 9, 2001, the Federal Aviation Administration issued new guidelines to help air travelers meet and assist the heightened security measures implemented since the Sept. 11, 2001, attacks. Check the FAA website for current details.

Additionally, remind students to observe common sense while in the airport.

  • Theft is frequent at airports. Keep an eye on your luggage, and don't leave anything important sticking out of a pocket. Lock luggage when you can.
  • NO MATTER WHAT, do not agree to watch a stranger's luggage, even for a minute, don't agree to carry packages for anyone, and make sure that no one but you puts anything in your luggage. (This goes double for domestic and foreign train stations, too!)
  • If you spot a suspicious-looking package or piece of luggage, get away from it and report it to airport authorities immediately.
  • Pay attention to the safety lecture on the plane, and count the number of seat rows between you and the emergency exit (if the plane fills up with smoke, you can feel your way toward the emergency exit).

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Personal health

  • Tell students about site-specific health concerns and about precautions that they can take.
  • The Centers for Disease Control's website (www.cdc.gov) provides medical reports on countries around the world; you and your students should familiarize yourselves with health information about your destination site.
  • Tell students to carry proof of insurance (and a claim form, if possible) with them. This can be helpful in case of illness.
  • From the Dept. of State: "Before going abroad, learn what medical services your health insurance will cover overseas. If your health insurance policy provides coverage outside the United States, REMEMBER to carry both your insurance policy identity card as proof of such insurance and a claim form. Although many health insurance companies will pay "customary and reasonable" hospital costs abroad, very few will pay for your medical evacuation back to the United States. Medical evacuation can easily cost $10,000 and up, depending on your location and medical condition." Several private companies sell evacuation insurance; the Dept. of State maintains a list on its website.
  • Tell students that they should know what their insurance policies cover-and how much, and how the insurance company processes overseas claims.
  • Remind them that the International Student Identity Card, among other things, provides limited insurance for hospital costs, medical expenses and medical evacuation. More info is available on the "Once Accepted" pages of the Center's site.
  • Tell students about site-specific health/safety precautions that they can take. For example, in countries where people drive on the other side of the road, newcomers are often involved in pedestrian accidents-struck by a vehicle because they looked the wrong way when crossing a road. If this is a known problem, tell the students. The same goes for local water, parts of town with dubious reputations or any other potential difficulties. True, thoughtful cautionary stories can help.
  • Given the grave physical consequences of contracting [serious] diseases, students must be alerted to the transmission routes and appropriate preventive measures and, if necessary, treatments. At the same time, students should understand that their risks are not dramatically greater abroad, even in developing countries, than they are in the United States. Also, they should not be encouraged to regard foreign health care as inferior to that available at home because the opposite is often the case. As with other advice you give, a balanced approach is the best." From NAFSA's Guide to Education Abroad for Advisers and Administrators, Chapter 13.
  • Discourage students from engaging in high-risk behavior during their free time (bungee jumping, driving a vehicle, hitchhiking, etc.). You can't prevent students from engaging in legal activities on their own time-but if there is an accident, YOU will have to deal with the aftermath.
  • Before departure, review the medical reports in database (under Reports/ demographics) and talk to students who have disclosed a medical condition on their application. If their condition manifests while abroad, what does the student want done (is there a special treatment)? Who should be notified? Who (if anyone) should be told in advance? Remember that this information is confidential and may not be shared with others, including host families, without the student's permission.
  • Encourage students with serious, disclosed medical conditions (ex.: diabetes) to allow you to share this information with others or to do so themselves.
  • Remind students that the quality of medications and contraceptives may differ from the U.S.' standards. If students know that they will need either, encourage them to make their purchases in the U.S. The chemical composition of medications may be different. Also, medications are often sold under different brand names overseas.

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ADMINISTRATIVE PRECAUTIONS

 

General measures

Resident directors:

  • Establish contact with the U.S. embassy (http://usembassy.state.gov); make sure that U.S. embassy officials know how to reach you day and night.

Faculty directors/resident directors:

  • Register your own and your students' passports and dates of stay with the in-country American embassy or consulate (http://usembassy.state.gov).
  • Know how to contact airlines and the agent through whom your tickets were arranged.
  • As a security precaution, don't post your itinerary on a website that's publicly accessible (protect this information with a password that you give to students, or create a site that's unlinked, and for which only your students have the URL.

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Increasing site safety

Resident directors:

  • Establish and maintain contact with the local police. If appropriate, invite them to make a presentation on security during orientation.
  • Walk around the physical premises. Note where the lights are (or aren't), whether doors lock securely and where the nearest callbox is.
  • If you have concerns about the physical safety, work to resolve the problem.

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Paperwork essentials

Keep these documents handy:

  • Safety materials and University of Delaware emergency contact numbers close at hand.
  • Photocopies of every student's passport. If a student loses a passport, it's likely that you will be the one to help them get a new one.
  • Up-to-date contact information (addresses and telephone numbers) for each student, as well as your phone chain list.
  • Name and phone number of a travel agency that you would trust in case the students would need to be evacuated.
  • Lists of all students and their addresses
  • Photocopies of each student's passport
  • List of contacts where each student is housed and for each excursion
  • Emergency telephone numbers for local police, fire, hospital, Embassy, etc., as well as for co-directors/on-site director
  • Locators for all staff (addresses, telephone numbers)
  • Students' emergency contact info-name and number of the person they want you to call in case of an emergency
  • Names of students' insurance companies and policy numbers (listed on students' health reports)
  • Student health reports

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Precautions - sexual assault

  • Contact the Office for Women's Affairs (www.udel.edu/OWA), and ask them to provide you with any printed materials they may have about assault prevention and responding appropriately to the victim of a sexual assault.
  • If your site has a sexual assault hotline, know the number and keep it handy.
  • Talk with the local police about how sexual assaults are investigated; take numbers and get names of contacts.
  • Know who to contact in case of emergency, and what procedures are likely to be followed.
  • Contact the Office of Women's Affairs for advice about assault prevention; phone: (302) 831-8063; fax: (302) 831-2063; email: OWA@udel.edu

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Precautions - student health

  • You might want to talk with the Student Health Service (without mentioning names) to familiarize yourself with appropriate responses to particular medical conditions (like epileptic seizures, for example).
  • Know local healthcare providers' policies on providing care (how do they handle payment? what services are available? how do they deal with insurance companies?).

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Emergency preparedness

    • Read the crisis response protocols document before you leave, and take a copy with you.
  • Keep campus contact numbers handy:

    University of Delaware emergency contact numbers
    Dial the access code for the U.S. (this will vary depending on your site), then:

    Lisa Chieffo (302) 831-2852 (home 368-4113)
    Matthew Robinson (302) 831-6680
    Diane Henker (302) 831-4082
    Marie Gleason (302) 831-6112
    Public Safety (302) 831-2222

    Once you arrive, write down local emergency telephone numbers/directions:

      • Police:
      • Fire:
      • Hospital:
      • Sexual assault hotline/clinic:
      • Embassy:
      • Co-directors/on-site director:
      • Other site staff:

    Home travel agency
      • Name:
      • Phone:

    Local travel agency
      • Name:
      • Phone:

 

  • Institute for Global Studies  •   Elliott Hall, 26 East Main Street  •   Newark, DE 19716  •   USA
    Phone: (302) 831-2852  •   Fax: (302) 831-6042  •   © 2013