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Student Safety Abroad
Student safety seems to be one of the last things you might think about when getting ready to study abroad. However, once you make the decision to go, it's important to get down to the practical nitty–gritty. After all, you want your time away to full of fun and adventure, not stress and anxiety.
After whittling all of your worldly possessions down to a suitcase or two, one of the most crucial pre–travel steps you can take is to pack a back–up for everything that you might have trouble replacing when you're abroad. Make copies of your passport and IDs, bring extra prescription medications (or, at the very least, have your doctor write down the chemical–not brand–name, dosage, and manufacturer), and write down your bank account information and routing numbers. Leave a copy of everything with a parent. Before you leave, talk to your bank about where you'll be able to use your account and your ATM card internationally. Also, be sure to inquire as to what exchange rates they offer and how long it takes to wire money from your U.S. account to an international account. If, for some reason, you ever find yourself in need of instant cash, there are always options–but the fees can be pretty steep. While planning for the worst might seem like a pessimistic way to look at your travels, making it one of your concerns before you go means you'll be less concerned once you get there.
Once You Arrive
As in the United States, you'll need to watch your valuables (hint: leave those diamond earrings at home). While there's no need to be paranoid, you should be aware of your surroundings. Purse–snatching and pick–pocketing can run rampant at popular tourist attractions. Bags should be worn slung across your body with the flap facing inwards. Men should avoid carrying their wallets in their back pockets. A money belt might be a wise choice when you are traveling around. It's important to remain vigilant even back at your hotel, especially if you're staying in a hostel where you'll likely be sleeping in a room with many strangers.
While you might be proud to be an American, for the purpose of safety, it's often wise to try to blend in with the local population. As a foreigner, the assumption may be that you're ripe for the swindle. When taking taxis, always ask for an estimate before you get into the cab, as many countries don't require meters on their cabs, and you won't be able to tell the "scenic route" from the most direct one. Watch where the locals go and what they pay, and you'll be able to get a better sense of what should be happening. Additionally, if you're thinking of joining a tour group, great! They can be an excellent way to get to know the lay of the land in a short period of time. However, keep in mind that you might be led to shops and restaurants that don't necessarily offer the best prices or merchandise.
Another thing that can set you apart (and make you unwelcome) is your lack of knowledge or respect for local traditions and practices. Make an effort to respect local customs when it comes to dress and behavior, especially in locations where American visitors are less common. In some cultures, boisterous public antics are lauded and applauded, and in others they'll get you arrested, as will the varying open container and conduct laws. Sometimes locals can get away with things that you cannot, and as unfair as it seems, it's true of your country as well. It's best to get a feel for scene before you start hopping up on tabletops. And while it may seem like a little thing, always learn the tipping procedures of each country you visit before you get there, and carry small bills for convenience.
All of this isn't to say that you need to spend the duration of your time abroad walking around on tiptoes. Just remember to stay on your guard and be aware that if something bad happens far away from home, it feels like things have gone twice as wrong. If you take the necessary precautions, you'll be fine even if something does happen, so there'll be no need for constant worry.