Safety First for Students Studying Abroad

By Renee Klahr on August 1, 2012

When students pack their bags to study a semester abroad, often the last thing on their minds involves the issue of safety. Thoughts of unforeseeable dangers linger far away in the subconscious, as most students come home unharmed, leading to an overwhelming sense of invincibility that permeates as Americans travel over seas.

However, a reminder that something can go awry has once again been thrust into the limelight following the tragic Bulgaria suicide bombing, where a bus of Israeli tourists were killed in a horrific terror attack. In its wake, the U.S. Department of State has re-issued several warnings about the hazards, both obvious and obscure, that can come with foreign travel.

“First and foremost you must realize that some of your rights stop at the border with you,” Noel Clay, a spokesperson for the U.S. Department of State, said. “A lot of students think that the laws apply to them indefinitely, but they don’t necessarily carry with you while you travel. Some of the things you do have consequences within the law.”

Clay recommends that students who are planning to spend any time abroad review the local laws and customs of that particular country, which can be found on the official government website,, to avoid any altercations.

Additionally, open communication with each country’s U.S. Embassy, Clay said, is the best way for students to remain connected and alerted to issues that may be happening in the area.

“Every country has a U.S. Embassy that students should not only become familiar with but fully utilize,” Clay said.

“They also offer the free Smart Traveler Enrollment Program (STEP) that U.S. citizens can enroll in, which provides up to date information about important safety and security announcements. It will also help your friends, family and local Embassy get in touch with you in case of an emergency.”

The website also supplies travel warnings about countries, which are issued when, “long-term, protracted conditions…lead the State Department to recommend that Americans avoid or consider the risk of travel to that country.” Countries featured on this list include Israel and Africa.

However, those with plans to visit other blacklisted countries such as Korea or Mexico should not feel the need to cancel their trip just yet.

“Our objective is not to explicitly discourage traveling to any of these places,” Clay said. “We just want to provide everyone with the proper tools to make those decisions for themselves. Should they decide to travel, we then want to continue to ensure that they remain as safe as possible and proceed with caution.”

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