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Staying Safe Abroad

Crime and violence against students does occur during study abroad. Students have been victims of pick-pockets, robbery, sexual harassment and sexual assault while overseas.

In case of an emergency, after contacting the necessary police or medical authorities, your first point of contact should always be your on-site program coordinator or Resident Director.  Since these individuals are located with you in the host country, they will be able to address the problem, help you navigate the potential differences in emergency procedures and resolve any issues as quickly as possible. If the program coordinator or Resident Director is not available, you should utilize the International SOS emergency services.

Staying Safe Abroad Topics below:

General Safety Guidelines

Safety begins with packing. Plan to dress conservatively while overseas. For women, short skirts and tank tops may be comfortable, but they may also encourage unwanted attention. Men should leave the baseball hats, flip flops and Villanova logo apparel at home, as these types of stereotypical American items may make you a target for some crimes. Do not pack any expensive jewelry or watches and avoid the appearance of affluence as those indicators may also draw unwanted attention.

Travel light. Fewer bags and lighter luggage enables you to move more quickly. You will also be less tired and less likely to set your bags down. Since everything you own is in your luggage, you should never leave your baggage unattended. A thief can take advantage of even a few seconds of inattention. This holds true no matter where you are - in a hotel, at the train station, in the train or bus, at a restaurant or resting in a park.

Protect your valuable documents such your passport and credit cards. Consider carrying these items in a money belt or neck wallet and wear them under your clothing. Men should carry their wallets in their front pockets, and women should use handbags that zip closed to prevent theft.

Do not agree to meet a person whom you do not know in a secluded place. Be aware that sometimes people from other cultures tend to mistake the friendliness of Americans for romantic interest.

Do not use illegal drugsYou are subject to the laws of the country in which you are traveling. Hundreds of American travelers end up in foreign jails each year as a result of carrying, purchasing, using or even being suspected of using drugs.

Think and act confidently and self-assured. Try to seem purposeful when you move about and always plan your travels out before you leave.

Do not dress like a victim. Avoid flashy dress, jewelry, luggage, or conspicuous behavior, which would draw attention to you.

Avoid demonstrations, especially in politically volatile countries. Read the local newspaper and learn about potential civil unrest. What appears peaceful can suddenly become a dangerous situation, and you could be caught in the middle.

Use the buddy system when going out at night or traveling. Try to travel with at least one other person at all times. If leaving your host city for a side trip, be sure to let your program provider, host university, resident director, or faculty program coordinator know where you are going and how to reach you.

Use common sense if confronted with a dangerous situation. At times it may be best to attract attention by screaming or running. In some countries it may be important to have a male companion in the group.

Plan where you are going in advance and be aware of your surroundings at all times.This is not paranoia - it is just common sense. You know what feels comfortable and what does not. If your instincts tell you a situation is uncomfortable, trust them and move along. If you become lost, ask for directions if possible from individuals in authority.

Only use banks and authorized money exchanges. Do not exchange currency on the black market or on the streets. Learn about the currency and exchange rate prior to your arrival in a country. This will keep you from being a target as you use money. Be aware of your surroundings when using ATMs and do not let yourself be distracted.

Stay healthy by eating well, exercising, and getting sufficient restIf you become ill, take care of yourself by getting the proper care from a medical professional.

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Airport & Transportation Safety

Arrive at any airport early, check in with your airline as soon as possible, and proceed immediately through security clearance. All shops and services available in the non-secure area will also be available once you have passed through the security check.

Put your name and address inside and outside each piece of luggage. Use bright or fluorescent string or tape around your luggage will make it easier to find. Make sure you receive a claim check for each piece of luggage you check.

Be sure to carry all important documents and any medication you may need upon arrival in your carry-on baggage. This includes your passport, visa (if applicable), copy of acceptance letter, return air ticket, and prescriptions. You may also be asked by Immigration to produce proof of financial viability. A bank statement or letter of financial support from your parents normally suffices. When going through Customs & Immigration, be polite and do not offer any documents or information that you are not asked to produce.

Be aware of what you discuss with strangers or what others may overhear about your travel plans. Respond to all questions asked by security personnel seriously and honestly.

Try to avoid arriving late at night in cities with which you are not familiar, and take along a reliable guidebook that lists resources for reputable hotels or hostels.

Be watchful for suspicious abandoned packages and briefcases. Report them to airport security and leave the area. Never carry packages or letters for strangers or agree to watch a stranger's luggage.

Do not carry on your person, or in your hand luggage, anything that could be regarded as a weapon. Check TSA regulations before finalizing your packing. If you need prohibited items, you should pack them in your checked luggage or plan to purchase them once you are on foreign soil.

When traveling independently by bus or car, know where you are going and know about the safety of the route. Traffic accidents kill more Americans overseas than anything else.  Villanova University students are prohibited from renting or operating any motor vehicle while overseas.

Many countries drive on the opposite side of the road than the U.S. Be aware of your natural reaction to look to the left and then right. This is reversed in the countries which drive on the other side.

Only take taxis which are clearly identified with official markings. Beware of unmarked cabs. Agree on a fare before departing. Lock taxi doors if possible, especially at night in strange cities. Do not share personal information. Pay for the ride while in the car. Do not sit up front with the driver until you understand the social norms that govern taxi etiquette in your host country. If necessary, have the address of your destination written out in the local language and carry it with you.

Stay on your guard while in a terminal or a taxi stop, pickpockets and petty thieves love bus and train terminals. Be aware of people jostling you at busy stations or on crowded trains and buses and keep your possessions tightly closed.

When riding a subway, choose a car in the middle of the train and never board an empty car. Avoid dim or vacant entrances to stations and only get on and off the subway at busy, well-lit stations. When riding a bus, sit near the driver and choose an aisle seat.
Keep careful watch over your possessions while traveling. Well-organized, systematic robbery of passengers on trains along popular tourist routes is a serious problem. It is most common at night and especially on overnight trains. Where possible, lock your train compartment, especially at night. If it cannot be locked securely, take turns sleeping. If you must sleep unprotected, tie down your luggage, put your valuables in your hidden money belt and sleep on top of your belongings.

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Safety in Cities

In large cities and other popular tourist destinations, avoid possible target areas, especially places frequented by Americans. Avoid using U.S. logos on your belongings or clothing, especially athletic and collegiate wear. When possible, avoid places frequented by large numbers of Americans. Major restaurants and other premises clearly identified as American are best avoided. You many also want to avoid places frequented by military personnel. Always be aware of what is normal and commonplace about where you live and work so that you can immediately detect the unusual.

Many students dress in a way that immediately identifies them as American. It is important to realize that this can bring unwanted attention. Fraternity or college t-shirts, baseball hats, and white athletic shoes worn for non-athletic events will highlight the fact that you are an American - and some people will resent you for that fact. Consider following the typical dress of your host country to reduce your likelihood of being targeted by a criminal for being an American. Try to fit in with the surroundings and be "invisible."

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Crime Prevention

  • Be aware of your surroundings. Knowing where you are and who is around you may help you to find a way to get out of a bad situation.
  • Avoid isolated areas. It is more difficult to get help if no one is around.
  • Walk with purpose. Even if you do not know where you are going, act like you do.
  • Trust your instincts. If a situation or location feels unsafe or uncomfortable, it probably is not the best place to be.
  • Try not to load yourself down with packages or bags as this can make you appear more vulnerable.
  • Always carry a fully charged cell phone and have spare money for a cab to get home if necessary.
  • Do not allow yourself to be isolated with someone you do not trust or someone you do not know.
  • Avoid putting music headphones in both ears so that you can be more aware of your surroundings, especially if you are walking alone.
  • Beggars may approach you with children. Do not give them money and remove yourself from the situation.
  • Pickpockets usually do not work alone. Be aware of distractions by strangers, as a theft can follow a unexpected event.
  • If any of your possessions are lost or stolen, report the loss immediately to the police. Keep a copy of the police report for insurance claims and an explanation of the crime.
  • It is important to be aware that some people make a living off preying upon honest people. Follow your instincts with casual friendships they are not always what they seem to be.
  • If someone tries to take your purse, backpack, or other property by force, let them have it. Your personal safety is far more important than any property. Never pursue a thief. Instead, report the crime to the local police.
  • Never carry all of your belongings in a single bag. If your bag is stolen, everything in it will be gone too. Consider carrying extra cash and a copy of your ID in a separate location.
  • Cameras, cell phones and laptops are the most often lost or stolen items on study abroad programs. Be especially careful to not leave any electronic items in a taxi, hotel room, or on a bus. Carry your high tech devices inconspicuously so as not to draw attention to yourself and your expensive possessions.
  • Do not bring anything with you overseas that you are not prepared to lose. Think carefully before bringing any valuable or irreplaceable jewelry or other possessions.
  • When using ATMs, do not allow yourself to be distracted until you are finished your transaction and have collected your card and cash. Thieves working in pairs have been known to distract a person using an ATM, with one thief often asking for directions or other polite inquiries while the other removes the person's card from the ATM.

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Sexual Assault Prevention

Trust your instincts. If you feel unsafe in any situation, go with your gut. If you see something suspicious, contact the police immediately.

Like many other substances, alcohol can inhibit a person's physical and mental abilities. In the context of sexual assault, this means that alcohol may make it easier for a perpetrator to commit a crime and can even prevent someone from remembering that the assault occurred.

Don't leave your drink unattended while talking, dancing, using the restroom, or making a phone call.

At parties, don't drink from punch bowls or other large, common open containers.

Don't accept drinks from people you don't know or trust and never leave your drink unattended - if you've left your drink alone, just get a new one. If you choose to accept a drink, go with the person to the bar to order it, watch it being poured, and carry it yourself.

Watch out for your friends, and vice versa. Always leave the party or bar together. If a friend seems out of it, is way too intoxicated for the amount of alcohol they've had, or is acting out of character, get him or her to a safe place immediately.

Have a buddy system. Do not be afraid to let a friend know if something is making you uncomfortable or if you are worried about your or your friend's safety.

If you see someone in danger of being assaulted, before stepping in, make sure to evaluate the risk. If it means putting yourself in danger, call the police instead, but don't leave the potential victim alone with the attacker.

Additional information on preventing sexual assault and global resource centers for sexual assault victims can be found on the Rape, Abuse and Incest National Network website.

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Sexual Assault

Students in study abroad programs, like those on U.S. campuses, can become victims of sexual harassment and sexual assault.

Do not blame yourself for the harassment or assault. Victims do not cause rape and it can happen to anyone, male or female.

Go to a safe place if you have been sexually assaulted. Tell someone you trust who can give you comfort and emotional support.

If you want to report the assault to local authorities, first consult your local US Consulate or Embassy for guidance and support. They can also recommend a local lawyer or legal expert.

Please consider reporting the assault to your onsite program director or staff. They can provide access to emergency medical services (utilize ISOS for payment), legal and counseling services.

Please also consider reporting the assault to the Office of Education Abroad. We can assist in many ways, from connecting you to support services on campus, contacting ISOS to initiate medical and onsite counseling services, and assistance in reporting to the local authorities (only if you wish to report).

Seek medical attention to address the possibility of injury, pregnancy or sexually transmitted disease. Although it may go against your instincts, it is best to not shower initially, or to discard clothes you were wearing. These actions will limit your ability to take legal action if you decide to do so.

Know that you are not alone. Villanova University is here to support you. Please see your resources at Villanova here.

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Residence Safety

Keep your hotel/residence doors and windows locked when you are there and when you leave.

Do not open your door to people you do not know and do not give your room number to persons you do not know well. Meet visitors in the lobby or in a well populated spot. Always let someone else know when you expect to return home, especially if you will be out late at night.

Keep valuables in a safe place - this may be different for each place you stay.

Be unpredictable in your daily routine. Vary your school and travel hours whenever possible. Any predictable schedule can make you an easy target. Carry a police whistle when walking, biking, or jogging.

Close curtains after dark and lock ground floor windows and lock windows and doors accessible from balconies.

Learn the emergency exit routes in your residence or hotel in case you need to evacuate quickly in the event of an emergency.

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Mental Health

The stresses associated with studying abroad can negatively affect even the most well adjusted of college students. Small challenges overseas can be exacerbated by the differences in cultures, learning a new language, and developing new friendships. It is important for you to apply the coping skills you have already learned throughout your college career to these challenges that you will face in your study abroad experience. Your study abroad experience will be full of ups and downs, but there are ways to deal with these stresses and warning signs that will let you know if you or a friend needs to seek additional help. For additional information on a variety of health related topics please visit the University Counseling Center website.

Healthy ways to deal with stress:

  • Stay active. Schedule regular activities to explore your new city or campus
  • Exercise regularly and maintain a healthy diet
  • Build your friend network to include lots of different types of people
  • Keep a journal or a blog
  • Find a local friend with whom you can talk regularly
  • Practice your faith through prayer, meditation, or reading
  • Stay in touch with friends and family back home, but don't stay connected all day. Take time offline to meet new friends in country and become comfortable in your study abroad home.
  • Meet with your resident director or faculty program coordinator to talk about your stress level

Poor coping choices

  • Resorting to heavy alcohol/drug use
  • Staying in bed 12-14 hours a day
  • Staying in your living quarters all day
  • Eating excessively/not eating at all
  • Avoiding friends and neighbors
  • Escaping into dangerous or destructive relationships

Typical symptoms of high stress include

  • Irritability over small things
  • Difficulty concentrating
  • Difficulty falling asleep or staying asleep
  • Uneasy Stomach
  • Desire to run away
  • Constantly feeling tired
  • Excessive criticism of others
  • Poor work performance
  • Difficulty making decisions
  • Being unusually introspective
  • Feelings of guilt, worry and anxiety

If you feel that your mental health has declined beyond the scope of the symptoms listed above, then it is important for you to reach out to those who can help. Your host university representative, resident director, faculty program coordinator or OIS advisor will help you identify local health care professionals who are trained to help you through the challenges you are facing.

Signs of a serious problem, recognized in yourself or in a fellow student, which require intervention include:

  • Prolonged depression
  • Marked changes in eating or sleeping patterns
  • Excessive anxiety that interferes with the ability to function
  • Self-destructive or violent behavior
  • Alcohol or substance abuse
  • Failure to comply with medical recommendations

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Contact Us!

Office of Education Abroad

Villanova University
Top Floor, Garey Hall
800 Lancaster Avenue
Villanova, PA 19085
Phone: 610-519-6412
Fax: 610-519-7649

Meet Our Staff

Take the first step: Register for an Information Session

Meet with a Study Abroad Adviser: Schedule an Individual Meeting

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