Smart tips for staying safe while studying abroad

For students who want to go beyond the usual college experience, study abroad is an appealing option. A semester or year spent studying overseas can be both personally enriching and attractive to future employers seeking workers who are well-versed in the global economy.

As much as study abroad is a fun experience, it’s also one that requires planning – both on the part of students and parents. For those who plan on taking the plunge, there are a number of considerations to make, from which programs to choose, to how credits will transfer, to how to transition to everyday life in another country. And certainly, when heading into unfamiliar territory, safety is a top-of-mind concern.

Taking precautions before leaving for a study abroad term, and knowing how to stay safe once on the ground, will benefit students and give parents peace of mind. Keep these tips in mind for smart, safe and enjoyable study abroad experiences.

* Arrange back-up support. While the chances of it happening are slim, if something does go wrong during a study abroad trip and a student needs medical care beyond the basics – or beyond the capabilities of local medical facilities – it’s best to have a plan in place. Emergency medical and travel assistance memberships provided by companies like On Call International give students access to emergency medical transportation and worldwide medical, dental and pharmacy referrals as well as medical and travel assistance hotlines. A deluxe travel assistance membership also offers coverage in case students need to be evacuated during a political upheaval or natural disaster.

* Be informed. Every country has a complex history that evolves on a regular basis. Awareness of the political situation in the chosen country of study is essential, sometimes for classes, but also for day-to-day safety. Staying up-to-date throughout the term is important, in case political or popular unrest should develop. Reading up on a country’s history should be part of your pre-departure checklist, but it’s also a good idea to keep up with current events by reading a news outlet based in the destination. On Call International also offers its members pre-trip destination information to help them prepare for travel.

* Don’t underestimate decorum. As important as it is to know the history of a study abroad destination, it’s just as crucial to get up-to-speed on cultural matters and etiquette. What passes as a hand signal for “OK” here in the United States is a grave insult in Brazil, and publicly holding hands is a custom that makes some cultures uncomfortable. Make the effort to study the nuances so that social interactions in the host country go smoothly and safely – and learn to say “please,” “thank you,” and “I’m sorry” in the local language for extra politeness points.

* Watch what you eat. Many travelers will experience a bit of intestinal upset during their lifetime, but a lack of caution about eating in some parts of the world can be downright dangerous to your health. If local water supplies are not safe to drink, don’t take chances. Use bottled, boiled or sterilized water for drinking and brushing your teeth. Fruits and vegetables washed in local water can also be unsafe to eat – if you can’t peel it or it hasn’t been thoroughly cooked, do your best to politely decline. Street food can be perfectly safe, but watch to see that it’s being cooked well and choose vendors who regularly attract a large crowd.

Studying abroad is an exciting way to learn more about the world and all it has to offer. Take the proper health and safety precautions, and the trip is even more likely to be remembered as the experience of a lifetime. For more information about safety while abroad, visit