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The Daily Wildcat

The Daily Wildcat

 

    Organization instructs students on the do’s and don’t’s of studying abroad to help keep them safe

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    Studying abroad in college is a unique opportunity that changes students’ lives forever. Whether that change is for better or for worse depends on the trip, basic safety knowledge and trip protocol.

    ClearCause Foundation aims to make students’ travel safer and “ensure that [students] all return with a rewarding experience” said Sheryl Hill, founder and executive director of ClearCause.

    The preventable death of her son while abroad prompted Hill and her husband to found ClearCause and use the first hand experiences of students who have studied abroad to educate other students.

    With emerging programs like Safe Journey Academy and Depart Smart, Hill is attempting to educate students and families to make their safety a priority.

    ”Our cause is clear: save lives and protect students abroad,” Hill said.

    Inquiring students can go to departsmart.org and take the short quiz to find out how much they know about traveling to other countries before going abroad. Hill suggests that before traveling to any foreign country, students do research by going to travel.state.gov and searching for the country of their study abroad program.

    Hill emphasized the importance of utilizing one’s local embassy. Know the embassy contact information and to always pay attention to embassy messages when traveling. These messages will tell you about any local political unrest, natural disasters, infectious diseases and other important news for that country.

    Become familiar with common crimes happening around the area of travel. These crimes vary and can be anything from petty theft, to sexual assault on female tourists to terrorism warnings.

    Another suggestion from Hill: brush up on health information.

    The travel.state.gov site provides information on the health care facilities’ specific conditions or concerns a traveler should know about them. Hill recommends checking the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention for any vaccinations needed and possible foreign viruses.

    “I really, truly believe in cultural immersion” Hill said. “If you want to go into a war zone, then you should join the army.”

    It is largely the school’s or third-party organization’s responsibility for many of the tragic events that have happened to students abroad. Hill said she believes schools sometimes knowingly put students in potentially dangerous countries, citing a banner that advertises a summer program in Turkey on the UA’s study abroad homepage. The U.S. Department of State put up a travel warning advising against traveling to Turkey because of its border with Syria and potential terrorist attacks.

    “Of course we take the CDC recommendations and the State Department,” Jill Calderón, program director at the UA Study Abroad and Student Exchange office, said. “But we also look at what the British government, the Australian government and various other agencies are saying about safety.”

    Calderón also discussed the difficulty and process of keeping up-to-date with the risk of going abroad.

    “We pull in information from not just the State Department, but all sorts of other resources so that we can have a very complete view of the risks that the students are going to face,” she said. “It’s kind of an ongoing process where we’ve got our finger on the pulse of what’s going on in the world.”

    You can also download a travel checklist from the ClearCause Foundation’s website, which was compiled from countless tragic stories gathered over the years. After each story, the question “What is it that didn’t happen that might have saved their life?” is asked.

    Hill emphasizes personal learning about the destination country instead of relying on the group.

    “Students and survivors want to go abroad and travel the world, but we want to depart smart,” Hill said.

    When asked about how safe UA study abroad is, Calderón explained the school’s safety procedures.

    “We have lots of resources available to students. We have extensive protocol and procedures in place,” Calderón said. “We do not function in a bubble. We’re very connected to all the different units on campus that can support students before, during and after study abroad.”

    Aside from the travel checklist, Hill advises that travelers always have these three small items on hand when traveling abroad: A cheap portable smoke alarm, a PC lock and a small, wedged door stop for living in rooms that do not lock from the inside.

    “I always get a local cell phone and carry my phone numbers of my host family and their address, and the phone number of whoever is our local contact,” said Alyssa Goya, a senior studying global studies and Spanish. “People that I can contact if I find myself in any sort of situation.”

    Goya has traveled abroad many times, twice with the UA.

    “I’ve heard plenty of stories of people not feeling safe,” Goya said. “My personal experience has been generally when people run into instances when they feel threatened, it’s usually as a result of their actions.”

    Schools and student travel organizations have a responsibility to properly vet the programs they advertise, but it becomes the student’s responsibility to educate themselves on health, safety and foreign common customs in other countries.

    For example, 911 is not the emergency contact number for most countries and most countries have separate numbers for fire departments, police and ambulances.

    Other questions to ask before departing on study abroad include: Do you know how far in advance you should go to a travel clinic for vaccinations before your departure date? Do you know the currency exchange rates? What are fair prices for a cab ride?

    Study abroad trips can and should be amazing experiences for students.

    “I would go again in a heartbeat and tell students they absolutely should,” Goya said.

    The ClearCause Foundation website provides ways to get involved, including becoming a “lifesaver” to spread the ClearCause message. Properly preparing for the trip beforehand will allow maximum enjoyment while you’re there.

    “Let go of what you think your experience is supposed to be and just embrace the experience that shapes up as you are there,” Goya said. “Things don’t always work exactly the way you want them to or exactly the way they’re supposed to, but the way that they work out is always so incredible.”

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