Studying Abroad 101: Safety Tips

Now for a Public Service Announcement. Before I studied abroad, my school gave me a list of safety tips to follow while studying abroad to avoid trouble. Keep in mind this is a “general” list for studying abroad in all countries and some of the suggestions will not apply in Japan, which is generally very safe. This list that may useful to you one day if you intend to study abroad in Japan, or anywhere else for that matter, so here you go:

Safety and Travel: Everyday Safety tips

While you are abroad, you must exercise the same safety precautions you would at home. Don’t take the attitude that you are protected and safe because you are anonymous and no one knows you. Don’t travel with anything you are not prepared to lose. Use your common sense, avoid confrontations, try to bend in as much as possible, try to familiarize yourself with the area, ask the locals where the safe part of town is, and if you feel insecure in a certain place, don’t go there. Do not expose yourself to unnecessarily dangerous situations.

It will be difficult to fully hide that you’re a foreigner (and practically impossible in Japan). That may make you more vulnerable to theft and crime. While you can’t control everything that happens to you at home or abroad, you can sway the odds. Some practical suggestions include:

  • Don’t stand out. While “safety in numbers” is a good rule to follow, traveling as an identifiable group of students will attract attention and possibly cause problems. Try to fit in with the surroundings and be “invisible.” It is vital to remain alert within your environment – always be aware of what is normal and commonplace about where you live and work to immediately detect the unusual.
  • In large cities and other popular tourist destinations, avoid possible target areas, especially places frequented by U.S. Americans. Avoid using U.S. logos on your belongings or clothing, especially athletic and collegiate wear.
  • Keep all valuables on your person in a discreet place, preferable stowed away in a money belt or a pouch that hangs around your neck and under clothing. Do no leave valuables unattended.
  • Do not wear expensive clothes or jewelry, or carry expensive luggage.
  • Try to avoid arriving late at night in cities with which you are not familiar, and take along a reliable guidebook that lists resources and hotels/hostels.
  • Try to stay on well-lit, heavily traveled streets. Avoid shortcuts through alleys. Stay in the middle of the sidewalk; avoid walking close to the street or buildings.
  • Walk against the flow of traffic so oncoming vehicles can be observed.
  • It is preferable to travel with another person. It is not advisable to sleep on a train if you are traveling alone.
  • Do not agree to watch the belongings of a person whom you do not know.
  • Do not borrow suitcases. Ensure that nothing is inserted into yours.
  • Take off you luggage tags after arrival.
  • In all public places, remain alert.
  • Remember that hitchhiking can be as dangerous abroad as it is in the U.S. Hitchhiking is not advisable.
  • Never leave handbags/purses/baggage unattended and make sure they are locked. If the item has a shoulder strap, wear it crossing the strap over your body. Do not put valuables in the exterior pockets of book bags or backpacks or in bags that are open at the top.
  • Travel light!
  • Whenever possible, speak in the local language.
  • Be street wise. Avoid deserted areas and exercise caution in crowds.
  • Avoid impairing your judgment due to excessive consumption of alcohol.
  • Be aware that pickpockets exist and tend to prey on people who look lost or who do not seem to be paying attention to their surroundings.
  • Find out which areas are considered to be unsafe by the local people and avoid them.
  • Keep up with the local news through newspapers, radio, and television, and, in the event of disturbances or protests, do NOT get involved.
  • Do not be free with information about other students. Be wary of questions from people not associated with your program. Do not give you your and anyone else’s address or telephone number to strangers. Don’t give away your class or field trip schedule.
  • Develop with your U.S. family a plan for regular communication so that in times of heightened political tensions, natural disasters, or local incidents, you will be able to communicate directly with your family about your safety and well-being.
  • Understand and comply with the terms of participation, codes of conduct, and emergency procedure of the program.
  • Be aware of local conditions and customs that may present health or safety risks when making daily choices and decisions and promptly express any health or safety concerns to the program staff or other appropriate individuals.
  • Learn the location of the nearest U.S. Embassy or Consulate.
  • Behave in a manner that is respectful of the rights and well-being of others, comply with local laws, regulations, and customs of the host country, community, institution and study abroad program, and encourage others to behave in a similar manner.
  • Become familiar with the local emergency number (comparable to 911) and the procedures for obtaining emergency health and law enforcement services in the host country.
  • Be aware that you are responsible for your own decisions and actions.
  • Make an agreement with your fellow students that you will look out for each other and practice peer responsibility.

Did you know..?

  • Traffic and swimming accidents are the leading cause of death in travelers.
  • AIDS and other sexually transmitted diseases (i.e. Hepatitis B) are a global problem.
  • Always use clean water for brushing your teeth and for drinking.
  • Swim only in well-maintained chlorinated pools, in unpolluted rivers, or in parts of the ocean.

So long story short, is this list meant to scare you? Yes. It is. Like I said at the beginning a lot of these safety concerns will not come up while traveling in Japan. However, it is a good idea to keep your head about you while traveling.

Information from UNC Asheville Study Abroad Handbook.


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