When you’re considering studying abroad, you’ve probably checked
out other students’ stories and study
abroad blogs -- where they went, what they did, what they saw, what they
ate. You’ve probably learned which restaurants in your dream destination are
the most amazing, and read up on the best time of day to take the perfect
selfie in front of that popular tourist attraction you’ve always wanted to
visit. This kind of how-to, first-hand info is what makes travelling
“real,” and that’s why hearing from others who have been there, done that is so valuable.
But sometimes, students share stories about experiences that
aren’t so fun, like getting lost, taking the wrong train, or having their
wallet/purse/backpack stolen. And unlike the great stories that got you
all excited about which delicious dish to try or what time of day to take the
best photos in front of the Eiffel Tower, these stories don’t say much about
how to avoid the not-so-good stuff. Here are a couple of my own
stories – and a couple ways to help stay safe when you’re abroad.
and Other Shady Characters
It’s not like the plaza in Salzburg, Austria, was
particularly shady. In fact, there were plenty of other people spending a
pleasant, sunny afternoon shopping in this picturesque setting. The only thing
keeping it from being a perfect experience? That would be the three suspicious
people who were following me around waaay too closely.
These creepers (one of whom could have been my grandma, BTW)
kept eyeing my shoulder bag -- repeatedly coming closer, then falling
back. Literally, if I moved my bag to my other shoulder, these three shady
characters would move to that side too, always lurking along right behind
me. When I stopped and looked at them directly, they’d immediately turn
and pretend to be window-shopping.
So how did I get rid of them?
I finally ditched the would-be-pickpocketers by using the
“Stop & Rest” method (I sat down and ate an apple) and the “Go in &
Shop” method (I went into a store and bought some Swarovski crystal earrings,
which are a gorgeous reminder of the day).
What I learned: Don’t be an easy target for petty thieves.
Look around; stay aware of what’s
going on in your immediate area and who is near you. Keep your head up and
remain engaged with your surroundings. If you think you are being followed,
simply stop, sit down, and stay put for a few minutes, moving your bag/backpack
to your lap. Alternately, go into a store and speak with the clerk about
the items for sale.
Staying Safe While Abroad
I had another not-so-great experience when my friend and I had
just arrived in Ljubljana, Slovenia. I’d made reservations in advance, purposefully
choosing a hostel located in the mix of popular cafes and shops by the
Ljubljanica River. I thought I was good to go.
did I know what rush hour traffic would be like in this capital city – or take
into account that I didn’t speak the language! Four hours later, after trying
to decipher street names longer than my arm and not finding any good directions
at the train station or the McDonalds, I realized the one street we needed to
use was closed for construction. Leaving my rental car in a dimly lit parking
lot and taking a LONG walk with my bags to the hostel (so glad my friend was
there so I didn’t have to walk alone at 11pm at night!) is not anything I ever want
to do again.
What I learned: Be prepared before you go. Know where you are going, how long it’ll take
to get there, and where you are staying… and by this I mean really know. On the day of your
reservation, call and make sure you have accurate directions and ask how long
it might take to find the hotel or hostel. Print out your directions, write
down emergency numbers, and don’t just assume you can rely on your cell phone
to find your way around.
I hope my stories
help you with your learning curve of study abroad safety!
Kather is the Director of Student Affairs at CEA Study Abroad, which helps
students spend a semester, a summer, or an academic year studying abroad in 12
countries. Where will your learning take you?