Congratulations on your rapidly approaching overseas study! We hope that the experience is both academically and personally rewarding and that you return to Chicago with a larger sense of the world and of yourself as a citizen of the world. Along with these best wishes we offer a few words of advice about making your experience safe and relatively trouble-free. Clearly your living and studying in Chicago has made you streetwise in a way that will serve you well abroad. A large part of staying out of harm's way abroad consists merely of retaining this sensibility. Beyond this, here are a few specific points and observations. Read them, think about them, and discuss them with friends. Feel free to bring your questions to the faculty director of your program or to your program coordinator in the office of Study Abroad.
Be alert. People-watching is part of the pleasure of foreign travel. It's also part of keeping safe.
Trust your instincts. This connects with our first point. If you become aware of suspicious behavior, if you're getting bad vibes from someone on the street, put some distance between yourself and the situation.
Be inconspicuous. One travels to see, not to be seen. Clothing or behavior that broadcasts "tourist" or "young American abroad" could bring trouble in your direction.
Don't sight see in large, English-speaking groups (though don’t be shy about asking for help in English if you need to do so). It can be fun to wander about with a friend or two, but large groups of young American's (inevitably a bit boisterous) can attract unwanted attention and hostility. Of course one must violate this rule in program-sponsored outings, but the volume is within your personal control.
Avoid "American" haunts. Why hang around fast-food joints and tourist traps when quieter, more "authentic" areas beckon?
Be discreet with your cash. Don't flash large sums for all to see, and be especially alert around ATMs.
Probably, like most of our traveling students, you will be studying at an urban institution. You should then carry over to your new surroundings the precautionary measures you have adopted in Chicago. Learn which areas are relatively "safe"--safety is always relative--and which are less so. For night trips choose your itinerary carefully. Stay away from suspicious types.
Political demonstrations are always interesting. We suggest that you observe them from a distance. If the demonstration has an anti-American theme or tone, don't let your wounded pride lead you to shed your anonymity; seeming to participate in a demonstration as a foreigner is illegal in some countries and ill-advised in all of them.
Naturally you will want to make new friends abroad, and we do not want to discourage you from this. But don't let this quite appropriate goal lead you into an unwelcome intimacy. Allow yourself to be just a bit cautious with strangers. Friendships worth having are often slow to develop, especially in non-American settings. Don't rush it!
Once you have arrived at your temporary home-away-from-home, be sure you are linked with the local staff. This is not especially burdensome knowledge, and it might turn out to be useful.
Use public transportation wisely. By all means you will want to avail yourself of the subway, streetcars, and buses of your host city. But it’s important that you know how the system works and where it’s taking you. More about this under transportation safety below.
Stay sober. Although you will likely find the drinking laws in your host country to be less restrictive than those back home, you are urged to be moderate in your consumption of alcohol. To incapacitate yourself with strong drink (or drugs) is to make yourself vulnerable to misfortune in an unfamiliar setting. Inebriation weakens your judgment, your self-protective inhibitions, and your observational abilities. Why go abroad and perceive less?
Perhaps you have read about the confidence games known as "pigeon drops" in Chicago. If a stranger suggests a scheme by which a small investment on your part will lead to a handsome reward, be very suspicious.
If you are fearful or confused about anything, share your concerns with the director of your program, the office of Study Abroad in Chicago or the overseas study office of your host.
Don't carry more cash with you than you can stand to lose.
The usual warnings about ATM use--keep the ATM card safe and inaccessible, keep your personal identification number in your head rather than on paper, avoid making withdrawals from isolated or unprotected locations--apply to instant cash abroad with equal force.
Money belts and travel pouches are useful devices for frustrating pickpockets. Guys, if you use a billfold don't put it in the hip pocket of your jeans or the inside breast pocket of your jacket. It's much harder for a thief to extract a purse from a front trousers pocket or a pocket inside buttoned-up clothing.
Your passport can be as enticing as your money. You should stow it, like your wallet, in a relatively inaccessible pouch or pocket. Or you may wish to leave it at home (that is, your residence abroad) and carry a photocopy. But do have passport identification on you at all times.
Make photocopies of your passport and other important papers. Really. Make a list of your travelers' check and credit card numbers. Keep the copies in a separate place from the originals.
If you carry a bag, keep it close and keep it closed. In crowded or threatening situations hug it to your body. Use only a bag that closes with a snap, tie, or buckle. Never leave your bag unattended. If you place it beside you on a bench be aware of your surroundings.
Pickpockets and purse-snatchers often work in pairs. Be aware that an importuning stranger may be a decoy engaged in distracting you from the malicious work of his or her associate. Sad to say, a child may be a partner in this sort of crime.
Avoid crowds as much as possible. Public conveyances, because they tend to compress strangers into dense masses, are especially attractive to pickpockets. We would not ask you to avoid such conveyances, but do keep your antennae up.
Whether you live in an apartment, a residence hall, a pension, or a family, you need to take steps to keep your temporary home "off-limits" to strangers.
Whether you are setting out or returning, you should get in the habit of locking your front door as soon as you close it behind you. If you have engaged in the dubious practice of leaving your Chicago dormitory room unlocked, you need to put that sort of naive behavior behind you.
Don't admit strangers to your home. Repairmen should be asked for identification.
As soon as you arrive in your new abode you should make an inventory of doors and windows and mentally map out a set of escape routes in case of fire.
The telephone can be the means of invasive attentions and the harbinger of unsolicited contact. The only proper response to a prank caller is an immediate dial tone. If you experience a pattern of harassing calls, report them to the authorities just as you would on campus.
The admonition to "travel light" is not simply a matter of convenience. When you encumber yourself with excess baggage you make yourself less independent, slower, more vulnerable. The more bags you have, the more likely you are to "lose" one, and a snatched bag is difficult to recover when you're weighed down with others.
Both in traveling to your host country and in returning to the States, be sure to arrive at the airport well ahead of your departure time and check your luggage early on. Try to avoid flight plans with very short layovers. Even if you make it from one plane to the next, your checked luggage may not.
Never leave bags unattended. If you see an unattended bag in an air or rail terminal, report it to the authorities immediately.
On trains you should either take your bags with you to the dining or lounge cars or leave a friend to look after them. A stranger you have just met is not, for these purposes, a friend.
Don't agree to act as a courier for someone else unless you know the other person well and know the contents of the bag or package entrusted to you.
In general everything that we have said about avoiding crowds, being wary of strangers, and staying alert should be applied doubly to airline and transportation terminals.
Public transportation systems in most foreign cities are usually more convenient and user-friendly than ours (also less expensive), and you will certainly want to avail yourself of the buses, trolleys, and subways in your host city. But you need to know the system and where it's taking you. Subways especially, because their underground routes keep you from seeing the passing cityscape, can convey you into areas you would not normally enter on foot. Pause to study your route.
Here are some tips about taxis. While they reduce to near-zero the risk of being pickpocketed, taxis can pose other dangers (you are, after all, entering an automobile controlled by a complete stranger). Make sure that your taxi is a properly licensed conveyance and that your driver’s identification is in view (the degree to which this is possible will vary from country to country). Most guidebooks will contain some information about the taxi system and give you the means for making the important distinction between legitimate and illegitimate cabs. (On this topic and on others, it’s important to read the pertinent sections before you arrive in your host country.) Before taking a taxi from an airport, take a second to size up how the cab dispatching system, if there is one, works. Look for an official cab line, perhaps with a dispatcher. Again, guidebooks are usually helpful in this regard. Be wary of drivers who are too aggressive in soliciting business. To avoid being driven in circles as a means of jacking up the fare, you may wish to reach a preliminary understanding with the driver about what constitutes a reasonable fare to your destination. This applies especially to meterless cabs. (Remember that, in some cities, nighttime rates are higher.) Obviously you want to avoid a dispute with your driver, and above all, you do not want a dispute to become violent. Look to police to mediate such altercations.
Don't plan to operate a motorized vehicle abroad. Almost all of the overseas venues to which Chicago sends its students have two things in common: 1) public transportation is excellent and 2) strolling is pleasant and edifying. To saddle yourself with a rented motor scooter or vespa or automobile is to complicate your life unnecessarily. You add a distraction from the central mission of your program, and you put yourself in the way of a host of legal/medical problems. Walkers take in their surroundings and learn; drivers watch the road. Our national obsession with the automobile (and motorcycle) is grotesque and a source of wonder to America-watchers abroad. We urge you to think of your time abroad as an emancipation from the internal combustion engine. Walk, enjoy the air, take in the sights, connect with your host culture. Sneer at cars.
Obviously the normal admonitions about eating right, about getting exercise, about getting sufficient rest, about maintaining good personal hygiene and so forth continue to be at least as valid abroad. Because taking yourself abroad means taking yourself away from routine, it may be difficult at first to maintain the good health habits that you have formed at home. Do make an effort to retain these habits (or to gain them). Not to do so is to make yourself vulnerable to illness.
In connection with the preceding comments we want to urge you to pay sufficient attention to stress as an element that can undermine good health and weaken the immune system. For the seasoned traveler and the novice adventurer alike, the business of getting to and operating within a foreign country, of being a stranger in a strange land, can be stressful. And stress can be a highly corrosive, if subtle, health problem. Here the admonition to “know thyself” has real force. If you recognize in yourself a special vulnerability to stress—we all share this vulnerability to some degree—learn stress-reduction techniques. Perhaps the simplest stress-reduction measure is simply to share your concerns and anxieties with others—with friends or program officials.
Although the state of one’s general health is essentially a personal matter and a personal responsibility, we urge you to be open with study abroad personnel about your pertinent health history and areas of potential vulnerability. As part of your preparations for a Chicago program abroad, you are asked to submit a health questionnaire outlining chronic health problems, medications taken regularly or sporadically, allergies, and dietary restrictions. We expect you to take this questionnaire seriously and complete it fully. Your answers will be held in confidence, shared with study abroad personnel only on a need-to-know basis. Apart from the questionnaire you should feel free to discuss any health problem, current or potential, with the relevant program coordinator in Chicago or the on-site director of your program. An open and full disclosure in this regard is the best way to keep a health problem from sabotaging your experience overseas.
In connection with the study abroad health questionnaire and with the general proposition that the better your health the more you're going to be able to profit from your studies, use your planned adventure abroad as an occasion for a general physical check-up (including a good look at your teeth). A periodic physical examination is, for all of us, a prudent measure. For a student planning travel, even to a site not normally considered to present special health risks, it is especially recommended. You can arrange for such an examination at the Student Care Center (see below).
If you require a special medication, either in regular doses or as a special remedy for medical flare-ups, you should of course make sure that you have a quantity sufficient for the duration of your program overseas. Going beyond this obvious observation, we recommend that you take with you an extra supply of the medication (say, half again the minimum amount needed). Why? Because life is unpredictable, spills happen, bags wander, flights are delayed… for days.
If you take a prescription medication be sure to have a copy of the prescription on your person when you make your way abroad. You might also wish to have a letter from your doctor concerning the medication and your legitimate need for it. Such a letter could be a potentially useful show-and-tell document for customs officials or to replace lost medicines.
Anyone who needs glasses needs two pairs of glasses. If you use prescription glasses you should carry abroad with you an extra pair as well as your optometrist’s prescription (this of course applies equally to contact lenses).
Most of the countries to which Chicago sends its students require no special health precautions. Some do. Where special precautions—especially prophylactic measures against endemic disease—are required, Chicago requires program participants to schedule a pre-departure appointment with the Student Care Center (see below) or a family physician. You may also wish to consult the web site of the federal government’s Center for Disease Control.
In many developing countries and in certain areas of the developed world, travelers need to be wary of the local water supply. If you are in such a region be sure to use bottled water (for tooth brushing as well as drinking) and refrain from eating uncooked food or food purchased from a street vendor (unless you wash it thoroughly with bottled water).
In connection with the previous point, traveler’s diarrhea is the most common complaint of those visiting a developing country. Normally this is a temporary condition whose chief danger—dehydration—is preventable by drinking plenty of fluids. However, if you develop blood in your stool or an inability to take in fluids, you must seek local medical attention immediately.
A good general resource for students about to embark upon international travel is the Student Care Center, which is located in Suite R-100 (first floor, R corridor) in the University Medical Center. You can make an appointment by calling 773-702-4156. The SCC personnel are experienced in giving solid information and advice for international travelers and are happy to answer your general as well as site-specific health-related questions. You can also look to the SCC for a variety of laboratory tests, inoculations, and prescriptions.
Good health includes good mental health. To repeat what we said earlier, a full (confidential) disclosure of continuing or potential problems is vitally important and indeed expected. If you are or have been prey to emotional problems, we urge you also to take the prudent step of consulting with a therapist at theStudent Counseling and Resource Service about your travel plans and about how to insure a trouble-free experience abroad. In regard to our earlier comments about stress, the professionals at the SCRS can be helpful in teaching stress-reduction techniques. The SCRS is located at 5737 S. University Ave. To make an appointment call 773-702-9800.
Though we are sometimes miracle workers, we are not doctors. To get sound advice before departure consult the Student Care Center or your own physician. To secure such advice as well as treatment while you are abroad, let yourself be counseled by on-site personnel.
The likelihood of a person overseas falling victim to political terrorism is exceedingly small. On the other hand, because the use of violence to make a political statement knows no boundaries, it pays to keep your eyes open. If you notice anything suspicious, report it to the authorities. If you see a potentially dangerous situation developing, keep your distance. If you are interested in politics, stay away from extremists and zealots. By and large the virtues of wariness and alertness advocated by this document especially apply here.
Don’t. Though we all have the best intentions toward you, there is very little that the University or the State Department can do for you if you land in jail in a foreign country. Generally speaking, it is not difficult to stay out of jail. You simply have to refrain from mischief, avoid political demonstrations (as an active participant), and obey the laws of the land. We want especially to warn you about drugs and to urge you to have nothing to do with them. While some countries are very lenient about drug possession and commerce, others are very much the opposite. And since drug laws even in the lenient countries are complicated, we suggest that you conduct yourself at all times and in all places with great circumspection. We cannot state this too strongly. Using, possessing, selling (or even being present while others use, possess or sell) drugs in a foreign country is a highly dangerous game to play. If you are in the habit of using controlled substances, we suggest that you renounce this habit while you are abroad (and perhaps forevermore).
Obviously everything we have said thus far applies to all students regardless of sex, and we urge women to heed the admonitions already given about public transportation, night travel, making friends, keeping one's home secure, and so forth. At the same time there are situations in which women, more than men, need to be especially on their guard, and it would be a mistake to ignore or deny this sad fact out of a feeling of support for sexual equality and female empowerment. The problem of unwanted attention from a stranger can be especially vexing. Do not feel--we are speaking mainly to women now--that you must remain courteous and pleasant in the face of pests. It may be necessary to be firm, even rude in turning away an unwelcome advance. Learn the local vernacular: you may indeed have to "make a scene" to get your point across. If necessary, seek the help of the police. Sexual aggressiveness can take crude forms. If you are confronted by an exhibitionist, the best response is to ignore the offender and leave the scene. Again, summon a police officer if you feel threatened. The best way to avoid trouble in the first place is to walk in pairs and walk purposefully. Although this can be difficult for someone from a country where a ready smile has almost the status of Mom's apple pie, you will likely find it necessary, for your own protection and independence of movement, to cultivate a defensive surliness as you walk the streets of your host city. Perhaps we are making our point by overstating the situation, but this advice is based upon talks with many women travelers through the years.
We hope that you take our suggestions seriously and that you stay out of the way of street creeps, con artists, petty thieves, and potential terrorists. At the same time it is essential for you to realize that the most dangerous creature, at home and abroad, is a microbe. The sexually transmitted HIV virus is the harbinger of AIDS, and despite medical breakthroughs, AIDS remains a life-changing and potentially lethal illness. Because you are at a point in your life when sex is likely to loom large, you need especially to take this threat into account and conduct yourself in a way that protects you from AIDS and other sexually transmitted diseases (STDs). One absolutely certain way of avoiding trouble of this sort is, of course, to abstain from sexual activity, a strategy that some will find reasonable and others intolerable. Those in the latter category will need then to take the proper precautions, which means the use of a latex condom, preferably one treated with the spermicide nonoxynol-9. "Use a rubber" is advice traditionally given to young men (assuming you can overcome the fact that this phrase means “use an eraser” in Britain). For women, who are several times more likely than men to contract the HIV virus in heterosexual contact, this advice carries perhaps even more weight. Since one cannot always predict when an interesting romantic situation will arise, it makes sense to carry protection.
Steps taken to protect oneself from the HIV virus also offer protection from other STDs the gallery of which is rather horrifyingly large and varied. (They will also be effective against an unwanted pregnancy.) Again, the surest strategy for staying out of harm's way is to remain celibate. At the other extreme, a pattern of unprotected intercourse with a large number of partners, especially partners whose sexual history is not known--and how really can one ever be sure about another person's sexual history?--is most likely to lead to catastrophic trouble.
Space limitations prevent us from even approaching a proper treatment of this topic. For more complete advice about the physiology and sociology of sex in our post-Aquarius age, we suggest that you speak with a physician at the University Health Service or at least take a glance at pamphlets on display there. The booklet A Woman's Guide to the University of Chicago is full of helpful information really for both sexes.
Travel Warnings (current worldwide travel warnings)
Consular Information Sheets (country-by-country safety profiles)
"Tips for Traveling Abroad"(advice for the traveling American)
Students Abroad (student-oriented travel advice from the US State Department)
Studying abroad is an adventure, and to make a success of it one must have an adventurous spirit. We do not want, with these comments, to subvert your sense of adventure or to make you fearful. Clearly an exaggerated fearfulness has no place in ventures where the challenge is to understand and, in time, feel comfortable in an overseas culture. While we ask you to be cautious, to have a care, to trust your instincts, we also want you to be open to new experiences and to learn. Be open, but be cautious. Learn, but stay safe. With this apparently mixed message we wish you good journey and safe return. Bon voyage! Gute Reise! Buen viaje!