Student Safety: How to Maximize Your Students’ Security during Study abroad

The safety and well-being of students when they travel academically is one of the major concerns when choosing a suitable destination or provider.

Alandis' years of experience have shown us that industry professionals, academic institutions, and parents prioritize ensuring safety as a number one priority.

This requirement has been reinforced in recent years. The pandemic has added new requirements and led to more protocols. Indeed, the Russia-Ukraine conflict has added other fears, too.

For this article, the Alandis team has brainstormed and laid out our best practices for maximizing Student Safety & Security during Study abroad. 👇

Photo by Mantas Hesthaven on Unsplash
Photo by Mantas Hesthaven on Unsplash

Strategies for Study Abroad Providers and Educators to Address Student Safety Abroad

Plan and prepare

  • Staying informed: Although it may seem obvious, you should consult the many reliable websites where travel requirements or alerts appear: U.S. State Department, embassiesCenters for Disease Control and Prevention, etc.
  • If you have chosen or are thinking about a destination, evaluate its safety and risks. How safe is your destination, what are the facilities at your study center, what types of excursions and activities will you do, do you have an internship, what are the risks involved, and what will your accommodations be like? You can find information on the strengths and weaknesses of programs abroad.
  • Inform the official authorities that you are on a study trip abroad. Register with the local U.S. Embassy through the STEP program, program-related travel registration, and get independent student travel tracking.
  • Ask your supplier for the safety protocols they have in place. Ensure they are up to date and include communications, protocols to be followed, group health insurance, security, and natural catastrophe evacuation coverage.
  • Ask your provider which physical and mental health facilities they work with, what addresses they have, and what their emergency contacts are. If you purchase health insurance, have the terms and conditions handy to know what the coverage is.
Alandis Travel Study Abroad Safety Tips
Alandis Travel Study Abroad Safety Tips

Train and teach

Orientation at Alandis Headquarters in Seville
Orientation at Alandis Headquarters in Seville
  • It is essential to orient students. Provide orientation meetings before departure and upon arrival at the destination. Give them the information they need to make good decisions and stay safe and healthy during their stay abroad.
  • Keep your study abroad staff trained and qualified for emergency management. There are courses and seminars, preparedness drills, and crisis response. Evaluate after the event what situations could have occurred. 

Communicate and inform

  • Develop a communication plan that integrates parents and providers. Be ready to respond to emergencies and maintain 24/7 contact with the most appropriate communication channels. This plan should specify whom you would contact first and how they should share the information.
  • Diffuse it and keep it constantly visible

Assess and improve

  • Review and improve emergency response plans and protocols regularly. It’s good for keeping your organization prepared and informed. Also, to keep parents, family members, and institutions aware of any changes or updates.
  • Review and assess insurance coverage regularly. Many insurers have changed their coverage following the pandemic. These changes range from flight cancellations to medical coverage to quarantine. Check with your provider for updates on possible changes.
  • Make use of the most appropriate technologies in emergency communications. Certain natural events cause power outages. The Internet is not always the best way to communicate. Make sure you have landlines for emergencies.
  • Share information across the field at The Forum’s annual conference, its annual Standards Institute on Health, Safety, Security and Risk Management, and other national and international conferences
  • Learn from education abroad safety professionals who have specialized knowledge and experience in international emergency and risk management. There are specific local risks such as tornadoes or hurricanes. Their protocols are concrete and specific.
  • Develop and offer retraining opportunities to staff and faculty leaders.
  • Learn from experts outside the education abroad field, such as legal and regulatory compliance officers, media and communications officers, risk management and insurance professionals, and outdoor education professionals.
Civil protection officials in Spain warning of severe rains
Civil protection officials in Spain warning of severe rains

Health & Safety Precautions for Students: How Can Students Prepare for Study Abroad?

Photo by Dariusz Sankowski on Unsplash
Photo by Dariusz Sankowski on Unsplash

Study Abroad Preparation (Before you leave)

  • Signup for travel warning notifications
  • Investigate specific details of the program site such as current security and health situations, safe transportation means, location of local hospitals, embassies, etc.
  • Share details of the program with parents, guardians, or spouses.
  • Share concerns about personal matters such as health conditions, medications, ethnicity/religion, security questions, questions about women traveling alone, and LGBTQ safety abroad with your educational establishment, study abroad provider, parents, or any way you feel comfortable talking to and receiving advice from
  • Understand their program’s safety and security practices and ask questions if something is unclear.
  • Take seriously pre-departure and on-site orientation and your institution’s and program’s policies.
Orientation document for students at Alandis Travel
Orientation document for students at Alandis Travel
  • Ensure you have the correct visas
  • Buy travel insurance. Or make sure your provider takes care of it. Be aware of any limitations in your policy before you leave (maybe you won’t be covered (or have a horrendous premium) for certain activities like hiking at high altitudes)
  • Know how things like mental illness and sexual health are dealt with abroad. Check the coverage of these topics by your health insurance.
Photo by Artem Beliaikin on Unsplash
Photo by Artem Beliaikin on Unsplash
  • Enroll in OSAC and STEP
  • OSAC (The Overseas Security Advisory Council): A travel resource between the government and private sectors for security issues
  • STEP (Smart Traveler Enrollment Program): A program that issues communication for the nearest travel consulate and embassies to your registered location
  • Investigate local laws & customs. Some countries have strange regulations you wouldn’t expect, such as:
    • Regulations for taking photographs in public buildings
    • Laws against having an alcoholic beverage and riding a bicycle
    • Clothing-specific limitations and rules
    • Research local customs. It is essential to know them as a foreigner to stay out of trouble and show respect for the country you are visiting.
  • If working in a business, lookup typical business etiquette, such as:
    • greetings such as handshakes, bowing, eye contact
    • clothing
    • typical food & working timetables as well as national holidays
Read up about its culture, traditions and current events, such as this “theater dress code”
Read up about its culture, traditions and current events, such as this “theater dress code”
Celebration of Labor Day in Cuba
Celebration of Labor Day in Cuba
  • Get any necessary vaccinations before you leave. Visit your local primary health practitioner and get all required vaccinations before you go.
  • Study Abroad Packing List
    • Travel documents and copies: I.D., passport, insurance, and accommodation information.
    • Required visa or travel waiver: Keep in mind that requirements can change frequently
    • A list of critical telephone numbers: an emergency contact, the travel insurance provider, local authorities, the embassy or consulate, credit and debit card companies.
    • Local currency: Keep your cash safe while out and about with a money belt and the rest at home in your luggage.
    • Prescriptions: Be sure you have enough to last the entire length of your trip.
    • Power adaptors: Your chargers or plugs may not work with international outlets.
    • Clothing and day pack with school supplies: Keep this attune to the customs and cultures
    • Driving license

Find out if you need to obtain validation or if your license is accepted at your destination. Also, ascertain if any additional documents are needed.

International driver’s document
International driver’s document
  • Learn some basic language phrases to help you in tricky situations

Study Abroad Safety Tips While You’re There

Travel in groups

  • Be aware of your surroundings. Avoid unfamiliar areas. Remain alert.
  • Don’t go out alone at night. Stick to well-lit streets, even with friends.

Avoid demonstrations as even unfortunate bystanders can be hurt or arrested.

Keep an eye on the local news for events that may affect you.

Before you travel from your program site, find out what transportation methods are safest and whether you should avoid any roads.

In some places, the train is not a reliable mode of transportation. Also, find out how to transfer from the airport or the possible cost of a taxi for some journeys.

A train in Cuba

Read the local papers to determine where high crime areas are and whether civil unrest is brewing.

Follow the news of what’s happening at your destination.

Ask your host family or your resident director for support. Ask about local customs, and comment on your observations or perspective on situations you don’t understand.

Students in Ukraine.

Be aware of pickpockets.

  • In general, avoid being engulfed in a crowd. Crowds are a pickpocket’s favorite environment
  • Keep valuables at home

Protect your passport. Keep it with you, in a front pocket or in your purse. Be careful when displaying it. As often as possible, leave it at home. You can carry a photo on your phone.

  • Don’t flash jewelry, expensive cameras, or electronic equipment.
  • Don’t attract attention to yourself with provocative or expensive clothing or boisterous conversation in public. Observe local students’ behavior, and try to mimic it.

Cars & accidents

  • Remember that pedestrians may not be given the right of way when crossing streets.
  • Accidents can happen anywhere. If driving, know what local traffic laws are and follow them. Always use a seat belt. Make sure you understand local road signs and signals.
  • Look both ways as traffic might run on the opposite side of the road to what you’re used to.
  • Use caution when walking or jogging. Remember that drivers use the left side of the road in some countries. In certain areas, drivers may not expect anyone to be running along the road.
  • Use official taxis. Agree on a price before departing (if there’s no meter)

Be careful with alcohol and avoid unknown substances!

  • Always name a designated non-drinker.
  • Never drink and drive. Foreign laws may be particularly severe on drink-driving.

What should I do if the country I’m in goes into lockdown?

  • Find out immediately (from who?)
    • When will I be able to leave the country?
    • Will I be able to return to my program?
    • How will you notify me that it’s safe to leave?
  • How to stay healthy during a lockdown
    • Don’t panic
    • Stock up on supplies
    • Gather non-perishable foods
    • Cook fresh meals and freeze them
    • Stay social through digital channels.
    • Keep up a fitness routine.
    • Clean your space regularly.
Alandis students learning about Santeria Religion in Cuba
Alandis students learning about Santeria Religion in Cuba

Study Abroad Student Safety & Security

Studying abroad does not have to be complicated if you follow some of these rules. 

Fundamentally, count on a reliable host provider. Make sure you receive all the pre-departure information and know the security protocols. Get to know your destination and its peculiarities. Keep up to date with local news, and enjoy the program responsibly and healthily.

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