University of South Florida
Safety While Abroad
Emergency Assistance Line: 813-317-5815 (Click here for details on accessing emergency assistance while abroad)
Emergency Assistance Email: EAAssist@usf.edu
- Safety & Wellness
- Alcohol & Drugs
- Arrests overseas
- Emergency assistance
- Road safety
- Culture Shock
- Adjustment for women
- LGBT Information
- Dating and sex
- Adjusting to a different educational system
- Contact Numbers
Participants' safety and wellbeing are paramount to USF. Because of the added stresses associated with operating in a foreign culture and language, even the safest foreign locations are likely to carry more risk to your safety and health. For this reason it is vital that you learn as much about the places you will be traveling to; the more you are familiar with the host country's geography, culture and language, the safer you will be. All participants will be required to attend a general study abroad orientation as well as program-specific orientations. In addition to these sessions, you should consult the USF Safety Website as well as the websites listed in the Before You Go section of the Pre-departure information. USF will also register all groups of USF students abroad on the State Department website. If you are traveling independently or are participating in a semester-length program, please register your trip: http://travel.state.gov/travel/tips/registration/registration_4789.html, and your local contact information. This will help in cases of man-made or natural disasters, and in the event that you lose your passport or have other difficulties.
Medical Care Abroad
In the event that you become ill while abroad:
- All students on USF sponsored programs are covered through CISI health insurance. You will receive an ID card with the dates of coverage and important phone numbers in case you need to contact them.
- Illness is defined as not feeling well, depression, headache, stomach upsets, diarrhea, flu/common cold or any other condition that makes you feel that you would like to seek the assistance of professional care.
- Report any illness to your local host coordinator, roommate, USF or local faculty and ask for assistance.
You have every right to see a physician and should take extra care while abroad, as any common illness can become major when under stress.
- CISI Contact Information
- TeamAssist will call you back regularly to follow-up. They will call your physician to check on appropriate treatment. They will notify USF of your situation and - where needed - request staff assistance. They will notify your parents only at your request.
- Keep receipts for any "routine" medical care, prescriptions, or other medical costs. You must have these in order to file a claim with CISI when you return to the U.S. If you are staying longer than two months you may wish to mail these receipts to your parents, family or other trusted caregivers here in the U.S. so that they can file a claim for you.
- Make sure that you familiarize yourself with the host institution's support infrastructure on arrival. It will be something that you don't want to worry about if you do become ill or injured.
To enjoy your time abroad you must be in good health. If you get a cold at home you can still function normally, but overseas you have many other strains on your system so an illness can quickly become more serious. At the first signs of illness take steps to find treatment and do not forget preventive measures. Staying warm, dry, eating properly and getting enough sleep will help your system fight off illness.
- Do not touch animals! They bite and rabies is a world-wide problem.
- Take care of insect-bites immediately!
- In places where the water is questionable, drink bottled water -- preferably carbonated.
Mental Health Abroad
As mentioned earlier, there are a number of stressors that are associated with study abroad: jetlag; sleeping problems; new and alien living arrangements; different food; strange language; different cultures; home-sickness; loneliness; fear of new places; unfamiliarity with your surroundings, etc.
You may in fact hate the experience at the end of the first week – but wait, give yourself a bit of time to adjust and use the suggestions out-lined in the section on Culture Shock. If you are experiencing:
Difficulties in concentration and motivation;
Persistent loneliness and sadness;
Episodes of crying;
Disrupted sleep (too little or too much);
Disabling anxiety or exaggerated fears;
Major loss of appetite;
Significant loss of personal energy.
Then you should get some help:
Talk to others about your experience;
Set up a schedule of communicating with family or close friends (e-mail, letters, phone); Keep a journal of your experiences;
Try to eat a healthy diet and avoid over-indulging;
Write in a journal – this really helps!!
Do not use alcohol – it is a depressant;
CONSULT WITH SOMEONE!!! (Program coordinator, instructor, liaison, Physician, counselor)
If you notice these signs in someone else, please contact the program director or the EA office – we will help.
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 blend 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 the fact that you're a foreigner. 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 U.S. 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, preferably stowed away in a money belt or a pouch that hangs around your neck and under clothing. Do not 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 your luggage tags after arrival.
- In all public places, remain alert.
- Remember that hitchhiking can be as dangerous abroad as it is in the United States. 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.
- Report suspicious events immediately: contact your leader or resident director if you observe suspicious persons within the premises of your educational environment. Act similarly if anything might indicate threats or an actual terrorist attack on the premises or on student activities.
- If you have been a victim of a crime, report this immediately to your leader or resident director. If you wish to speak directly to someone in Education Abroad (813) 974-4314 during business hours or after hours at (813) 317-5815. Another helpful number is the USF Police Emergency Assistance number which is manned 24 hours a day: (813) 974-2628. In order to contact the insurance provider for assistance, please see: CISI Contact Information
- Do not be free with information about other students. Be wary of questions from people not associated with your program. Do not give out your or anyone else's address or telephone number to strangers. Don't give away your class or field trip schedule.
- Your leader or resident director may have an agreement with you about leaving the site and staying with others. Be sure to give this person your schedule and itinerary if you are traveling, even if only overnight, and where and how to contact you in case of an emergency.
- Develop with your U.S. family a plan for regular communication so that in times of heightened political tensions 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 procedures 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. Education Abroad will register you with the State Department and give full details of your program itinerary.
- 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.
- You should always use clean water for brushing your teeth and for drinking.
- You should swim only in well-maintained chlorinated pools or in unpolluted rivers or parts of the ocean.
Once on-site, your program leader should discuss appropriate emergency preparedness steps with you. These steps might reflect preparing for natural disasters such as hurricanes or earthquakes, as well as communication protocols for electrical outages or cell tower overloads. For more information on personal emergency planning visit the U.S. State Department's Emergency Assistance to American Citizens Abroad Web site.
Many of the injuries sustained by study abroad students are related to drunkenness and the associated condition of temporary stupidity.
Although alcohol misuse may not carry the same legal penalties as use of illegal drugs, it can create dire circumstances for you, your participation in the program, your safety on site, and the future of the program. Remember that you are serving as an ambassador of USF, Florida, and the United States.
Although there may be no minimum or a lower drinking age in your host country, the customs regarding alcohol use may be very different from ours. You may be tempted to slip into - or maintain - patterns of alcohol misuse while abroad. Such use may occur for a variety of reasons: a mistaken impression of how alcohol is used in your new surroundings; cheaper costs in some countries; a lower minimum drinking age; more lenient laws against drunkenness; or a desire to experiment or fit in. Alcohol abuse and misuse are not tolerated globally and will not be tolerated on USF study abroad programs. Violation of local laws and/or USF regulations or policies may result in (i) immediate dismissal from the program; (ii) academic withdrawal from the University for the semester in progress; and (iii) disciplinary action upon return to campus.
During your orientation you will be informed of program requirements and host country laws regarding alcohol consumption, as well as the consequences for misuse. Most countries with the exception of those with religious prohibitions, tolerate social drinking. Intoxication, public drunkenness and inebriating behavior, however, are seldom allowed under any circumstances. If you attend Alcoholics Anonymous (AA) meetings in the United States, check the AA Web page for information about meetings abroad.
Alcohol misuse is defined as any use that is harmful or potentially harmful to self or others. Alcohol abuse is planned, systematic misuse of alcohol.
Alcohol misuse will not be tolerated on USF study abroad programs.
What is "alcohol misuse?" Alcohol misuse is present when:
- A student misses any scheduled event because of the effects of alcohol consumption;
- A student becomes ill due to the effects of alcohol consumption;
- A student is disrespectful of others sharing the same or neighboring housing, due to the effects of alcohol consumption;
- A student engages in inappropriate behavior toward other individuals that is the result of alcohol consumption;
- A student becomes so intoxicated that he/she cannot walk unassisted;
- A student engages in destructive behavior toward property that is the result of alcohol consumption;
- A student does not abide by the laws of the country in which he or she is staying;
- A student engages in behavior that causes embarrassment to the other members of the group, the faculty member(s) or the in-country host(s) as a result of alcohol consumption;
- A student engages in behavior that causes his/her companions concern for the safety of the individual or the group;
- Students in a group encourage or ignore a fellow student who is misusing or abusing alcohol; or
- Students who transport quantities of alcohol to program sites with the intent of sharing the alcohol with members of the group.
Students are encouraged to use good judgment if consuming alcohol at private homes or other accommodations during non-program hours. Student groups are encouraged to discuss issues related to alcohol abuse by other members of their group with the faculty leader or resident director. Peers should look out for each other and keep each other safe.
If a student becomes incapacitated due to alcohol overuse, or if he/she is in need of medical attention, others are strongly encouraged to contact a local emergency medical service, faculty leader or resident director immediately, in order to protect the health and well-being of the affected student. Peers are encouraged to make the responsible choice to notify program or emergency personnel quickly. The person (or persons) making the call will not be subject to disciplinary action.
If you plan to drink – do it moderately. Do not endanger yourself, others, property, or the future viability of the program. Know when to say "no," stay with your friends, and look out for each other!
University of South Florida has a zero-tolerance policy regarding the possession, use, manufacture, production, sale, exchange or distribution of illegal drugs by students participating in USF study abroad programs. Violation of this policy may result in (i) immediate dismissal from the program; (ii) academic withdrawal from the University for the semester in progress; and (iii) disciplinary action upon return to campus.
Each year 2,500 U.S. citizens are arrested abroad. One third of the arrests are on drug-related charges. Many of those arrested assumed as U.S. citizens that they could not be arrested. From Asia to Africa, Europe to South America, U.S. citizens are finding out the hard way that drug possession or trafficking equals jail in foreign countries.
There is very little that anyone can do to help you if you are caught with drugs. You are operating under the laws of the host country and the regulations of the local institution. Neither the U.S. government nor University of South Florida will be able to secure your release should you be caught.
It is your responsibility to know the drug laws of a foreign country before you go, because "I didn't know it was illegal" will not get you out of jail. Some laws may be applied more strictly to foreigners than to local citizens; therefore, don't assume that just because local people are using drugs, it's acceptable for you to use drugs.
Information regarding drug penalties of your host country is available at the State Department Web site.
The rules and regulations of your host institution will be provided during on-site orientation.
In recent years, there has been an increase in the number of women arrested abroad. These women serve as drug couriers or "mules" in the belief they can make quick money and have a vacation without getting caught. Instead of a short vacation, they get a lengthy stay or life sentence in a foreign jail.
U.S. Americans have been arrested abroad on drug charges for possession of an ounce or less of marijuana. The risk of being put in jail for just one marijuana cigarette, or for other illegal substances, is not worth it.
If you are purchasing prescription medications in quantities larger than that considered necessary for personal use, you could be arrested on suspicion of drug trafficking.
Once you're arrested, the U.S. consular officer CANNOT get you out of jail!
You may say "it couldn't happen to me" but the fact is that it could happen to you if you find yourself saying one of the following:
- "I am a U.S. citizen and no foreign government can put me in their jail."
- "If I only buy or carry a small amount, it won't be a problem."
If you are caught using illegal drugs by USF on-site or by host-country personnel, you will be immediately dismissed from the study abroad program. If you are caught by local authorities buying, selling, carrying or using drugs -- from hashish to heroin, marijuana to mescaline, cocaine to quaaludes, to designer drugs like ecstasy it could mean:
- interrogation and delays before trial including mistreatment and solitary confinement for up to one year under very primitive conditions
- lengthy trials conducted in a foreign language, with delays and postponements
- weeks, months or life in prison (some places include hard labor, heavy fines, and/or lashings), if found guilty
- death penalty in a growing number of countries (e.g., Malaysia and Pakistan)
Although drug laws vary from country to country, it is important to realize before you make the mistake of getting involved with drugs that foreign countries do not react lightly to drug offenders. In some countries, anyone who is caught with even a very small quantity for personal use may be tried and receive the same sentence as the large-scale trafficker.
A few words to the wise...
- A number of countries, including the Bahamas, the Dominican Republic, Jamaica, Mexico and the Philippines, have enacted more stringent drug laws that impose mandatory jail sentences for individuals convicted of possessing even small amounts of marijuana or cocaine for personal use.
- Once you leave the United States you are not covered by U.S. laws and constitutional rights.
- Bail is not granted in many countries when drugs are involved.
- The burden of proof in many countries is on the accused to prove his/her innocence.
- In some countries, evidence obtained illegally by local authorities may be admissible in court.
- Few countries offer drug offenders jury trials or even require the prisoner's presence at his/her trial.
- Many countries have mandatory prison sentences of seven years to life without the possibility of parole for drug violations.
- If someone offers you a free trip and some quick and easy money just for bringing back a suitcase...SAY NO!
- Don't carry a package for anyone, no matter how small it might seem.
- The police and customs officials have a right to search your luggage for drugs. If they find drugs in your suitcase, YOU will suffer the consequences.
- You could go to jail for years with no possibility of parole, early release, or transfer back the United States.
- Don't make a jail sentence part of your trip abroad.
If you are arrested while abroad for any reason, it is important that you know what the U.S. government CAN and CANNOT do for you.
The U.S. Consular Office CAN:
- visit you in jail after being notified of your arrest
- give you a list of local attorneys (The U.S. Government cannot assume responsibility for the professional ability or integrity of these individuals or recommend a particular attorney)
- notify your family and/or friends and relay requests for money or other aid - but only with your authorization
- intercede with local authorities to make sure that your rights under local laws are fully observed and that you are treated humanely, according to internationally accepted standards
- protest mistreatment or abuse to the appropriate authorities
The U.S. Consular Office CANNOT:
- demand your immediate release or get you out of jail or the country
- represent you at trial or give legal counsel
- pay legal fees and/or fines with U.S. government funds
Overseas Citizens Services
- OSA will register all participants with the U.S. Department of State in all countries included in your program itinerary. However, you should also register with the U.S. embassy or consulate as soon as you arrive on site. To register, you will need to provide all the information on the front page of your passport. This will be helpful to you and your family if there is a need to locate you in the event of an emergency.
- The Overseas Citizens Services of the Bureau of Consular Affairs is responsible for the welfare and whereabouts of U.S. citizens traveling and residing abroad. American Citizens Services and Crisis Management (ACS), a branch of OCS, assists in all matters involving protective services for Americans abroad, including arrests, death cases, financial or medical emergencies, and welfare and whereabouts inquiries. The OCS toll-free hotline is (888) 407-4747. From overseas, call (202) 501-4444. An OCS duty officer is available for after-hours emergencies and during Sundays and holidays at (202) 647-4000.
- Further information regarding the emergency services to U.S. citizens abroad and related U.S. Department of State services can be obtained at their International Travel Web site.
- Travel warnings can be viewed at the U.S. State Department Travel Warnings Web site. You should check this site regularly until your departure to ensure you are familiar with events on-site and any concerns of which you should be aware.
If your host country emergency services are not readily available and you feel there is a threat to your personal safety, follow these procedures:
- Dial the international access code for the U.S.*
- Then dial (call collect if possible) Education Abroad (813) 974-4314 during business hours or after hours at (813) 317-5815. Another helpful number is the USF Police Emergency Assistance number which is manned 24 hours a day: (813) 974-2628. In order to reach the insurance company, please see: CISI Contact Information
- Identify yourself as an USF study abroad student and give the country where you are currently located
- State your name
- Tell the person what is wrong
- Tell the person how to contact you
- Respond to questions and listen carefully to any instructions
*To prepare in advance, learn the international access codes for calling to the U.S. from abroad at the Country Codes Web page.
The above procedures, produced on a wallet-size card, are given to all students at the on-site orientation so you can carry this card with you at all times while traveling on an USF study abroad program.
Education Abroad Office may choose, in consultation with the program leaders or on-site representatives, to inform emergency contacts about a potential emergency abroad without the student's permission, such as when the student:
- is unable to speak for themselves,
- has been missing for more than 24 hours,
- is perceived to be a danger to themselves or others, or when
- a significant health, safety or security incident affecting the entire program has occurred abroad
Road safety is not something that you may necessarily think about in planning your study abroad experience, yet the Association for Safe International Road Travel (ASIRT) reports that road crashes will soon become the third greatest global health concern. In fact, death and serious injury from road crashes are among the greatest risk for healthy travelers. And, contrary to popular belief, 85% of such crashes occur in industrialized countries. You can minimize your risk by assessing road culture in your areas and implementing safe precautions.
ASIRT suggests that you:
- select the safest form of transportation in your area
- avoid late night road travel in counties with poor safety records and/or mountainous terrain
- understand how seasonal hazards affect road conditions
- know dates of local holidays (when road accident rates rise)
Additional suggestions for pedestrians are:
- be aware of traffic patterns in your area (they may be very different from the US)
- be especially alert at intersections
- wear reflective clothing if jogging at dusk or dawn (especially in locales where jogging may be uncommon)
- do not walk where you cannot be easily seen
- remember most road fatalities are pedestrians
- do not hitchhike
Additional suggestions for passengers are:
- avoid riding with a driver that appears intoxicated, irrational, or over-tired
- always ride in the back seat of a taxi cab
- wear seat belts whenever possible
Many students are tempted to rent cars, mopeds, or motorbikes during their time abroad, but often do so without regard to the risks of driving in a county whose rules of the road are unfamiliar. Therefore, while the EAO understands that some students choose to rent such vehicles largely for economic reasons, EAO does not recommend it. In the past, study abroad participants have been injured and even killed while riding in vehicles with drivers unaccustomed to local driving practices and traffic patterns. To prevent such accidents, some countries also limit the minimum age for drivers to rent a motorized vehicle. Also note that most countries will require an international driver's license, and driving without one could result in a severe penalty.
Traveling in some developing countries may pose additional road risks. Public transportation in some areas may consist of overcrowded, overweight and top-heavy minivans or buses. Taxicabs may not appear in good condition; drivers may or may not be licensed. Sidewalks may or may not be lit, or exist at all. In these cases, follow the advice of the on-site staff or your faculty leader. They can teach you how to minimize your risk when selecting various modes of transportation.
For more information about safe international road travel, visit the Association for Safe International Road Travel Web site.
"The process of adapting to a foreign culture is mostly about change, and the change must occur in you. If you are to function happily and productively in a culture foreign to you, then you have to meet that culture on its own terms, because it's not going to meet you on yours". (from Culture Shock!-Morocco, Orin Hargraves)
Culture shock comes from:
- Being cut off from cultural cues and known patterns within which you are familiar
- Living and studying over an extended period time in a situation that is ambiguous.
- Having your own values brought into question
- Being continually put into situations in which you are expected to function well, but
where the rules have not been adequately explained.
Stereotypes work both ways
In adjusting to your study abroad environment, you will have to deal with real as well as perceived cultural differences. Keep in mind that people of other cultures are just as adept at stereotyping the U.S. American as we are at stereotyping them - and the results are not always complimentary.
The following, for example, are a few of the qualities (some positive, some negative) that others frequently associate with the "typical" U.S. American:
outgoing and friendly
sure to have all answers
lacking in class consciousness
loud, rude, boastful, immature
disrespectful of authority
always in a hurry
extravagant and wasteful (this goes for energy use too!)
ignorant of other countries
While a stereotype might have some grain of truth, it is obvious when we consider individual differences that not every U.S. American fits this description. Keep in mind that this same thing is true about your hosts vis-à-vis your own preconceptions. Remember that you are an ambassador from USF and the United States. Avoid falling into any of the "ugly American" categories.
Working Through Culture Shock and Homesickness
Going abroad requires that you adjust to the same sorts of things as if you would move to another part of the United States: being away from family and friends, living in an unfamiliar environment, meeting new people, adjusting to a different climate, and so on. These changes alone could cause high stress levels, but you will also be going through cultural adjustments and you may experience "culture shock." In another cultural context, you will often find that your everyday "normal" behavior becomes "abnormal". The unspoken rules of social interaction are different, and the attitudes and behavior that characterize life in the United States are not necessarily appropriate in the host country. These "rules" concern not only language differences, but also wide-ranging matters such as family structure, faculty-student relationships, friendships, gender and personal relations.
One way to handle these social and personal changes is to understand the cycle of adjustment that occurs. You can expect to go through an initial period of euphoria and excitement as you are overwhelmed by the thrill of being in a totally new and unusual environment. This initial period is filled with details of getting settled into housing, scheduling classes, and meeting new friends, and a tendency to spend a great deal of time with other U.S. students, both during orientation activities and free time.
As this initial sense of "adventure" wears off, you may gradually become aware that your old habits and routine ways of doing things are no longer relevant. A bit of frustration can be expected, and you may find yourself becoming unusually irritable, resentful and even angry. Minor problems suddenly assume the proportions of major crises, and you may grow somewhat depressed. Your stress and sense of isolation may affect your eating and sleeping habits. You may write letters, send e-mails, or call home criticizing the new environment and indicating that you are having a terrible time adjusting to the new country. Symptoms include anxiety, sadness and homesickness.
However, the human psyche is extremely flexible and most students weather this initial period and make personal and academic adjustments as the months pass. They may begin to spend less time with U.S. Americans and more time forming friendships with local people. They often forget to communicate home.
Finally, when the adjustment is complete, most students begin to feel they are finally in tune with their surroundings, neither praising nor criticizing the culture but becoming, to some extent, part of it.
Recognizing the existence of and your vulnerability to culture shock will certainly ease some of the strain, but there are also several short-term strategies you can use beforehand as well as on-site when your recognize culture shock and are faced with the challenge of adjustment.
- Become more familiar with the local language
Independent study in the local language should facilitate your transition. Continue your study of the foreign language before and throughout your program. Rent and watch foreign films to become accustomed to the rhythm and sounds of the language of your new home. Do not become so concerned with the grammar and technicalities of a language that you are afraid to speak once you are abroad.
- Know your own country
You will find that people around the world often know far more about the United States and its policies than you do. Whether or not you are familiar with current events, particularly foreign policy, expect to be asked about your opinions and to hear the opinions of others. Start preparing now by reading newspapers and news magazines.
- Examine your motives for going
Although you will certainly do some traveling while you're abroad, remember that your program is not an extended vacation. Set realistic academic goals, particularly if you are studying in another language. Reduce your expectations or simplify your goals in order to avoid disappointment or disillusions, but don't forget to study!
- Recognize the value of culture shock
Culture shock is a way of sensitizing you to another culture at a level that goes beyond the intellectual and the rational. Just as an athlete cannot get in shape without going through the uncomfortable conditioning stage, so you cannot fully appreciate the cultural differences that exist without first going through the uncomfortable stages of psychological adjustment.
- Expect to feel depressed sometimes
Homesickness is natural, especially if you have never been away from home. Remember that your family and friends would not have encouraged you to go if they did not want you to gain the most from this experience. Don't let thoughts of home occupy you to the point that you are incapable of enjoying the exciting new culture that surrounds you. Think of all you will share with your family and friends when you return home.
- Expect to feel frustrated and angry at times
You are bound to have communication problems when you are not using your native language or dialect. Even if they speak English in your host country, communication may be difficult! Moreover, people will do things differently in your new home, and you will not always think their way is as good as yours. Once you accept that nothing you do is going to radically change the different cultural practices, you will save yourself real frustration. Remember that you are the foreigner and a guest in the other culture.
- Expect to hear criticism of the United States
If you educate yourself on U.S. politics and foreign policies, you will be more prepared to handle these discussions as they occur. Remember that such criticism of U.S. policies is not personal. Don't be afraid to argue if you feel so inclined. Most foreign nationals are very interested in the U.S. and will want to know your opinions.
- Do not expect local people to come and find you
When was the last time you approached a lonely-looking foreign student with an offer of friendship? Things are not necessarily any different where you are going. If you are not meeting people through your classes, make other efforts to meet them. Take advantage of the university structure and join clubs, participate in sports, attend worship services, participate in volunteer and service-learning projects, and attend other university-sponsored functions. Maintain a sense of meaning to your life and allow time for leisure activities.
- Keep your sense of humor and positive outlook
Almost all returned study abroad students have wonderful stories about how much fun they had during their time abroad. If you have a terrible, frustrating day (or week) abroad, remember that it will pass. Time has a way of helping us remember the good times and turning those horrible times into fascinating stories!
- Write a journal
One of the best ways to deal with cultural adjustments and to reflect thoughtfully on the differences between U.S. and the other cultures is to regularly write a journal. As you write, you'll think your way out of the negative reactions that may result from your unfamiliarity with language and cultural behavior. Journaling will force you to make meaningful comparisons between your own culture and the host country. When you return home you'll have more than just memories, souvenirs, and photos of your time abroad; you'll have a written record of your changing attitudes and process of learning about the foreign culture.
- Adopt coping strategies that work for you
Keep in touch with friends and family but not to the point you are consumed with calling and e-mailing that you miss out on the study abroad experience. Exercising can also contribute to improved mood and better sleep.
- Talk to someone if you have a serious problem
The faculty director and USF EA staff are here to counsel students with serious problems. He/she has first-hand experience with adjustment abroad and can be a real friend in times of need. Share smaller problems with other students since they are going through the same process and can provide a day-to-day support group.
The overwhelming majority of students who study abroad are women and they report back that they have had incredible experiences. However, in certain locations and programs, women may have a difficult time adjusting to attitudes they encounter abroad, both in public and private interactions between men and women. Some men openly demonstrate their appraisal of women in ways that many women find offensive. It is not uncommon to be honked at, stared at, verbally and loudly approved of, and, in general, to be actively noticed simply for being a woman, and in particular, a U.S. American woman. Sometimes the attention can be flattering. Soon, it may become very annoying and potentially even angering or frightening. Local women, who often get the same sort of treatment, have learned through their culture how to respond to the attention.
Eye contact between strangers or a smile at someone passing in the street, which is not uncommon in the U.S., may result in totally unexpected invitations, and some women feel forced to avoid eye contact. You will have to learn the unwritten rules about what you can and cannot do. Women can provide support for each other; you may wish to get together several times early in your stay abroad to talk about what does and doesn't work for dealing with unwanted attention. U.S. women are seen as liberated in many ways and sometimes the cultural misunderstanding that comes out of that image can lead to difficult and unpleasant experiences.
These cultural differences may make male-female friendships more challenging. Consider the implicit messages you are communicating, messages you may not intend in your own cultural context. Above all, try to maintain the perspective that these challenging and sometimes difficult experiences are part of the growth of cultural understanding, which is one of the important reasons you are studying abroad.
Female travelers may be more likely to encounter harassment such as unwanted sexual gestures, physical contact, or statements that are offensive or humiliating. Uncomfortable situations such as these may be avoided by taking the following precautions:
- Dress conservatively; while short skirts and tank tops may be comfortable, they may encourage unwanted attention, and in some countries it is entirely inappropriate – like a woman walking around in a bra and underpants.
- Avoid walking alone late at night or in questionable neighborhoods.
- Do not agree to meet a person who you do not know in a non-public place.
- Be aware that some men from other cultures tend to mistake the friendliness of U.S. American women for romantic interest.
If, after acknowledging cultural differences, you still feel uncomfortable with what you interpret as sexual harassment, you should talk with your leader, resident director, or other on-site personnel. This conversation may provide you with some coping skills and a possible action plan to avoid future encounters. It may also help you gain a different perspective by understanding the local customs and attitudes. It could be possible that the behaviors you feel uncomfortable with are behaviors that are also considered unacceptable in the host culture.
If you feel you are being sexually harassed by your fellow American students, speak with your program leader. If you feel you are being sexually harassed by your program leader, resident director, or other on-site personnel, contact the Education Abroad office immediately (813) 974-4314.
Please view our LGBT Student Guide for Education Abroad
It is important to note that different cultures have different norms in regard to gender. Women and men should both be aware that the ways people interact vary widely by region and country, and issues around dating and sexuality can be particularly difficult in a cross-cultural setting. Such things as eye contact, the way one dresses, and body language can send very different messages by region and culture. Observing interpersonal interactions within a culture can be useful in helping you choose the way you communicate verbally and non-verbally with others in that country.
Some people consider traveling an aphrodisiac. Meeting new, exciting, and different people may stimulate action that you would not have taken under similar circumstances in the United States. Don't be foolish in assuming that you are invulnerable because you are a visitor in the country and no one is judging your behavior. Ask yourself why you are choosing to be sexually active and be aware of and set your boundaries and partner expectations.
If you choose to be sexually active, practice safe sex and protect yourself and your partner against unintended pregnancy, sexually transmitted diseases, AIDS, and misunderstanding about the meaning of the relationship. Sexually-transmitted viruses and bacteria do not respect national borders. Take a supply of condoms with you since conditions of availability and purchase may be limited, and conditions of manufacture and storage may be questionable. Emergency contraception (EC) is birth control that prevents pregnancy after sex, which is why it is sometimes called "the morning after pill" and can be very effective if you think your birth control failed, you didn't use contraception, or you were forced to have sex.
Be responsible if using alcohol or other drugs because they can affect your behavior and ability to make decisions. Don't leave the country with anything you didn't bring: this means a pregnancy, sexually transmitted diseases, or AIDS.
For many students, meaningful cross-cultural learning continues in the weeks and months following the study abroad experience. This section of the handbook details what you can do to ensure a smooth return to the U.S. and to continue your international and inter-cultural learning back home.
When we find ourselves in a new setting – particularly in a new culture – we usually judge and compare everything against "home". We tend to use our own cultural framework to make sense of our observations and experiences.
It is difficult to generalize about different educational systems around the world. Most undergraduate instruction will include lectures, seminars, laboratory sessions, papers and examinations, but that may be the end of the similarities. Although it may not be explicitly stated in the syllabus, attendance is important. Adjusting to a new system may be compared to the feeling you have in USF courses prior to taking the first exam. You usually understand the discussion and lectures, but not until you take the first exam do you really understand what you are being asked to retain. You may feel this way throughout your semester abroad.
For instance, you may attend lectures, but a larger share of the classroom time may be spent in small tutorial and seminar groups. You may be asked to be an equal contributor to these discussions. Generally speaking, emphasis is put on reading widely and making use of what you have read in essays and during seminars. Your reading will not usually be based on a textbook or directed in the detailed way that is common at USF. If you are told: "You may wish to have a look at these specific titles," that implies strong advice that these books should be read! Don't rely on being told exactly what to do or when to do it.
In many cases, the professor may be expecting you to be reading on your own and ask you for original research and thought in the exam essays. You will be expected to provide your own motivation and to assume responsibility for your own education and learning, and not to simply wait to be taught the course material.
It is likely exams will be essay-type. Before you take your first exam, ask for clarification of the grading system. This will help alleviate any surprises when you receive your results! We also recommend speaking to students of the host institution so as to get a feel for the type of exams, and how to study.
24 hour Education Abroad Cell Phone Number: 813-317-5815
*This phone is staffed 24 hours a day for emergency use
Emergency Assistance Email: EAAssist@usf.eduCISI Contact Information
US STATE DEPARTMENT EMERGENCY
Office of Overseas Citizens Services in US: 202-647-5225
Telephone and Address of closest Embassy/Consulates available at: http://travel.state.gov
Emergency Assistance Line:
- Dial the international access code for the U.S.*
- Then dial 813- 317-5815
- Identify yourself as a USF study abroad student and give the country where you are currently located
- State your name
- Tell the person what is wrong
- Tell the person how to contact you
- Respond to questions and listen carefully to any instructions
*To prepare in advance, learn the international access codes for calling to the U.S. from abroad at the Country Codes Web page. Write the numbers on the back of the card.