Fear Not: The Danger

Watched the news recently? Cracked open a newspaper to scope out the world around you?

It’s a scary place, apparently. Drugs and war and violence and elephants — all very serious business, of course (maybe not the last bit), and all worth reporting, but all completely irrelevant for a budding study abroad-er. That’s a bold claim, sure, but not an unwarranted one. Don’t ask me for the psychological name of it, but there’s a theory that says exactly why: in a world of prime-time television and news reports showing us the absolute worst in society, we kinda sorta tend to think real life is the exact same way.

It’s not. Promise.

Take, for example, the top ten safety tips offered by the Center for Global Education’s Safety Abroad Handbook (also, I have no idea why the formatting on this is screwy, so consider this a formal apology for the following):

  1. Choose a quality program provider
  2. Have adequate insurance and 24 hour emergency assistance
  3. Take care of your physical, dental and mental health
  4. Be able to communicate at all times
  5. The effects of alcohol and drugs can hurt you
  6. Make sure your mode of transportation is safe
  7. Avoid crime and violence, including sexual harassment and assault
  8. Be prepared to respond to emergencies
  9. Avoid high-risk activitiies
  10. Be informed about the safety issues in the country and city

Pretty reasonable, right? Solid advice for any student stepping abroad…or any student anywhere. 3-7 are spectacularly normal pieces of wisdom, to the point where I wouldn’t be surprised to see them featured on a much broader list: Top Ten Safety Tips to Survive Life!

It’s common sense, people. You might live in the safest neighborhood around, but I can’t imagine you’d go for 2am jogging without at least a few reservations. That’s particularly true for city slickers, who likely know striking out for a nightly sojourn is better left for the guys and girls in uniforms. The same logic applies in a foreign city – sure, it’s going to be exotic and strange and exciting and terribly, terribly confusing right at the start, but take a deep breath and remember this: the people who live there aren’t really that different from you.

They want to make money. They want to live happy lives, and odds are they don’t want to break a bottle over your head just because you’re wearing American clothing and shouting your political/religious beliefs out for the world to hear. Sure, they’d probably find that annoying (and, uh, that’s true everywhere), but not to a point where you’d find yourself in legitimate danger.

Don’t get me wrong. There are issues with traveling, especially if you’re American. Sporting expensive clothing and flashing your wealth around in the streets is a no-no. Being oblivious to the fact that the local culture operates differently than you’re accustomed to is a no-no. Refusing to adapt to that local culture is a definite no-no. Again, it’s common sense, people – don’t do anything blindingly dumb and you’ll make it out just fine.

I’ve done my share of questionable things. Walking through Mexico City at 3am was one of them, though I can justify it by saying that I went with about six or seven other travelers as we headed back to our hostel. A friend I was bumming around with decided to disappear with a local girl for the entire night as she went through the Mexican equivalent of the red light district. Sounds scary on paper, but he made it through completely unscathed.

The one dangerous thing that happened? Street tacos at 2am were delicious, but, uh, not so good on the stomach.

Something legitimately bad could happen. In the instance that it does, it’s important to know what to do, whether that involves visiting the local American Embassy or seeking outside help. Here’s a handy-dandy list to consider for the excellent advice it offers for potential disasters – strong wording, but effective – that might occur abroad. It’s not specific to students, but the advice contained therein is pretty handy and useful for everyone.

Every trip out of the country will be different. But it’s worth remembering two things: act like you do in your own home town and you’ll be just fine, and it’s not as dangerous as it sounds. That second point is especially important with that psychological theory mentioned way back at the beginning of this post. Sure, turning on the TV will tell you otherwise, but the real world is not as scary and dangerous as you might think.

Use common sense. Read up on the country you’re planning on studying in to get an idea of local customs and what is or isn’t appropriate in public. Make a few friends and travel in numbers — locals are even better. Don’t flash your cash around, and be a dork and carry it on a stomach belt or somewhere inconspicuous. Don’t go into dark alleys late at night. Don’t do anything really stupid.

Simple enough, right? It’s the same wisdom you’d follow in any big city in the States, and it can take you quite far no matter what country you’re in.

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