Well-Being and Safety Abroad

Your well-being and safety while abroad are our top priorities. A critical component of having a successful study-abroad experience is staying safe, healthy, and well. While unexpected health and safety situations can arise whether you are here in Medford or abroad, making some preparations beforehand can help avoid or minimize them. From a mental-health standpoint, it can be useful to think about some strategies you will use and support systems you might rely on as you acclimate to the host culture and navigate the stressors of being in a new, unknown, and sometimes challenging situation.

Before you go abroad, you will attend one of our required pre-departure meetings, in which we will discuss some of the most common health and safety challenges you might encounter abroad. However, we recommend that you also utilize the following resources to learn more about potential risks and how to prepare for them.

Tufts Travel Resources

The Tufts Travel Registry is the official and authoritative source of traveler information that forms the basis for the University’s emergency response protocols and communications strategy (such as alerts, warnings, and evacuation notices) when responding to an emergency or critical incident abroad. The Travel Registry is a confidential and secure database for maintaining key travel information for all Tufts Affiliates conducting international travel.

All Tufts students abroad on Tufts and non-Tufts programs are covered by International SOS. More information can be found via the Tufts International Safety and Operations website.

General Health and Safety Resources

Sexual Harassment and Sexual Violence

In some cultures, male chauvinism might be more prevalent or more overtly expressed than is typical here in the U.S. Women might experience or observe catcalls and other sexually-charged attention on a more regular basis, which can feel threatening. While it may seem counter to your principles, it is recommended that you ignore the attention or feign a lack of understanding, as engaging with aggressors can serve to encourage them and may escalate the situation. Ask your local friends or host family on how best to deal with such attention. There is a great article on sexual harassment in an international context found here: http://globaled.us/safeti/v1n22000ed_sexual_harassment_and_prevention.asp

Unfortunately, sexual assault can also happen overseas, and the intercultural context presents certain challenges in this respect. Lack of familiarity with the language, culture, and the area can make you more vulnerable and less in a position to keep yourself safe. Additionally, differences in cultural norms regarding personal boundaries and romantic relationships can sometimes lead to miscommunication regarding intention, expectation, and consent. If you do experience sexual violence while abroad, seek safety first. Once you are safe, your program director can help you access local support services and/or you can seek assistance through RAINN’s International Sexual Assault network or through SASHAA. Tufts in Medford is also here to support you, so please reach out to report sexual assault and/or to seek advice on your next steps: http://oeo.tufts.edu/sexualmisconduct/report-sexual-misconduct/

Some tips on staying safe (from SASHAA):

  1. Have fun, enjoy meeting new people but don’t throw caution to the wind.
  2. Follow your gut. Many victims have a “feeling” something isn’t right just before an assault takes place
  3. You don’t have to be polite. It is okay to say no.
  4. Stay with the group or person you are traveling with.
  5. Be aware of cultural norms in the country you are traveling to. Looking at someone in the eyes when you speak to them in the USA is normal. In another country it may mean you are interested in that person.
  6. Blend in with the crowd. Be aware of your surroundings. Are the women wearing long skirts and long sleeve shirts? If you are wearing shorts and a tank top you are going to stand out.
  7. Don’t look like a tourist. Don’t swing an expensive camera around your neck. Don’t open a map on the street corner and turn around in circles looking lost.

Alcohol Use and Overuse

In many countries where our students study abroad, the legal drinking age is lower than it is in the U.S. This means you will likely have legal access to alcohol while abroad. However, you will probably notice that binge-drinking of the sort that tends to happen on U.S. college campuses is not typically the norm in these countries. In many countries, wine and beer have been elevated to a sort of cultural art form, revered as a fine accompaniment to a meal or enjoyed over good conversation at a pub. With respect to both your personal safety and your physical and mental health, you will be far better off if you drink in moderation (if you choose to drink). Unfortunately, the majority of health and safety incidents that happen to students abroad do generally occur following overconsumption of alcohol and a resultant impairment in judgment and/or physical coordination. In addition, use or overuse of alcohol can not only jeopardize your academic performance but may also violate your program’s code of conduct and result in disciplinary consequences.

Personal Safety and Pickpocketing

Trying to live like a local will not only enhance your cultural immersion while studying abroad, it will also help you stay more safe. The more you can try to “blend in,” the less likely you are to be a target for theft or other crime. Pickpocketing is not uncommon, especially in and around areas frequented by tourists. It is advisable that you keep all valuables (such as cell phones) out of sight and out of the reach of would-be pickpockets. While you will likely have your passport on you only when you are traveling outside of your host country, it is always a good idea to have it well hidden in a passport wallet that you can wear under your outer garments (either around your waist or under your shirt). If you lose your passport or have it stolen, it can be very problematic and time-consuming to have it replaced, so guard it carefully. Making a photocopy and/or digital scan of your passport and keeping it separate from the original can make the replacement process go more smoothly. We also encourage you to write down your credit card and debit card numbers, along with the contact phone number if they get lost or stolen. This will make it easier for you to shut down the card and obtain a replacement; you will find that time can be of the essence in cases such as this!