Worth the Trip: The Truth about Study Abroad Safety
Oxford University (Fall 2015)
Every time I get on an airplane, I think that I am going to die. Now, the rational part of my brain reminds me that there is a one in eleven million chance that I will die in a plane crash. Yet, I can’t help myself from reciting a prayer or two as we prepare for takeoff and the plane starts to pull away from the gate. But every time, my fears have been unfounded. Despite all my worrying, I remain completely safe.
So when I started exploring the possibility of studying abroad, my parents quickly developed a list of worries regarding my safety, which is a perfectly understandable reaction to having your twenty-something daughter announce that she wants to go live in a foreign country, where she knows absolutely no one, and travel around to other countries with people she hasn’t even meet yet, for seven whole months.
If you ask me, studying abroad is similar to hopping on a plane: a lot of people are nervous but, in reality, there’s not much to be afraid of. Except for the occasional turbulence.
What if I get kidnapped? What if I get drugged and assaulted? What if my luggage gets stolen? What if my bank information gets stolen? What am I supposed to do if I get sick or hurt away from my family? What if there’s a national emergency? Or if ISIS takes over? What if I get arrested and don’t know my rights? What if something goes terribly, horribly, entirely wrong?
But what if it doesn’t? These are pretty big events and highly unlikely to occur. If any of these things actually happened, universities would stop sending students abroad. Universities are always aware of what is happening in countries where they send students, and would never send their students into a dangerous area. Your entire semester is carefully planned out with your safety as the top priority. I’m not going to pretend that everything is going to go exactly as planned, but as long as you remain aware of the situations you find yourself in, you should remain safe. There will be challenges, but little slipups won’t ruin your entire trip. You might have to get a new phone or ask someone back home to send you some extra money. You might be placed in a situation or two that is a little outside your comfort zone. Your credits might take a while to transfer over or you’ll struggle with learning a new language. These experiences won’t all be easy, but they will all be worthwhile, even if you don’t realize it at first.
Remember: every college that sends students abroad has thought about potential obstacles that their students could face abroad and do take all precautions to make sure these don't occur. Your home university will work closely with the program where you will be studying abroad to keep you as safe and comfortable as possible. A lot of planning goes into sending students abroad; you will not be without a support system in your new country. My university provided me with travel insurance. I have contact information for my study abroad advisor at my home university and the contact information for the person in charge of the study abroad students where I will be studying. They have walked me through the process of applying for a student visa, how to open up the bank accounts I need, and how to make the most of my semester abroad. I even took a self defense class in the months before I left, just to put myself and my parents a little more at ease.
Studying abroad is no cake walk. Only around 7% of U.S. students do it, according to the Institute of International Education. It requires constant awareness. You are immersed in a completely new environment and have to be able to adapt to this new lifestyle.
However, the benefits of studying abroad outweigh any concerns you have that might be holding you back. Traveling gives you a different kind of education that you can never receive in a classroom. You are given the opportunity to make friends people that you never would have met if you hadn’t gone abroad (our trips provide the opportunity to meet amazing people around the world!). Studying abroad looks amazing on job applications and resumes because it proves that you are able to quickly adapt to new environments and aren’t afraid to put yourself out there. You are able to see the world while receiving an education.
It’s okay to be scared! But remember, we think the world is a lot scarier than it actually is. So, take a deep breath, think logically, and get on that plane. Literally.
Kylie Walsh is a junior at Dominican University of California majoring in English with a Creative Writing emphasis. She is spending her junior year studying abroad, first at St. Catherine's College of Oxford and then at the American College of Greece in Athens.
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