Safety and Emergency Procedure—Study Abroad

Overview

Given world events, there are often questions asked by both students and parents regarding the safety of study abroad. It is easy to become alarmed when we hear the Homeland Security Office has raised the alert level for U.S. citizens or see natural disasters being broadcast on network television. However, it is important to step back when we receive such information, to view the information through an impartial and rational lens, to separate fact from rumor. We know this is difficult—as parents we worry about our children, and as students we wonder how these events might impact our study abroad experience.

At Michigan Technological University we take student safety and well-being very seriously. However, we cannot guarantee a risk-free overseas environment any more than we could do so for a student studying in the U.S. The best way a student can remain safe is to be aware, be responsible, and follow the advice of Michigan Tech and program staff.

Student safety is a three-pronged effort: initial preparation, on-site personal responsibility, and program preparedness. Find more information in the categories below:

Initial Preparation

Students on Michigan Tech programs participate in a required pre-departure orientation. Two of the main discussion points of this orientation are health and safety. Students also receive a Pre-departure Orientation Handbook that discusses these issues. When students arrive in-country, they receive another orientation that covers site-specific health and safety issues. As a part of this preparation (both in the U.S. and overseas), students should receive emergency contacts for:

  • Host institution international office staff and/or on-site resident directors
  • Michigan Tech Study Abroad Office staff
  • Police, fire, ambulance
  • Nearest U.S. Embassy or Consulate

If students have misplaced this information, they should request it from their resident director and/or host institution international office staff, or contact Michigan Tech’s Study Abroad Office (telephone: 906-487-2160, email: IPS@mtu.edu).

On-site Personal Responsibility

There are many things students can do to minimize their safety risk:

  • Blend in with the local surroundings as much as possible. Dress like the locals and avoid wearing clothes with American slogans, cultural icons, or company logos.
  • Avoid visiting American hangouts, moving about the city with large groups of other Americans, and visiting areas that are known to be unsafe.
  • Avoid consuming alcohol or other substances that might impair their decision-making ability.
  • Keep travel to a minimum, but if they do travel, they should journey with a companion (preferably a local citizen), and be sure to leave an itinerary behind with their host family or resident director.
  • Avoid crowds, confrontations/arguments concerning political/religious views, and public demonstrations of any kind.
  • Draw upon as many sources of information as possible before making decisions—the U.S. Consulate, host family members, on-site resident directors or program staff - and heed their advice whenever it is given.
  • Make every effort to be aware of their surroundings and keep in regular contact with the host institution and/or program provider staff.

If students follow these simple recommendations, they will keep themselves safe and have a great educational experience.

Useful Resources

Another important source of information is the travel advisories provided by the U.S. State Department. These usually come in the form of Public Announcements and Travel Warnings. A Public Announcement, in itself, does not necessarily constitute a reason for canceling a program. The incident may be in a remote region of the country where Michigan Tech students will not be going, or the threat might be non-specific, e.g., advising U.S. citizens to be cautious because of possible heightened terrorist activity worldwide. As when handling all potential safety issues, Michigan Tech consults as many sources of information as possible before making decisions or taking action on a Public Announcement. As a general rule, Travel Warnings tend to be more serious than Public Announcements, and Michigan Tech would likely cancel a program in a country for which a Travel Warning has been issued.

As defined on the U.S. State Department website www.travel.state.gov:

Public Announcements are a means to disseminate information about terrorist threats and other relatively short-term and/or trans-national conditions posing significant risks to the security of American travelers. They are made any time there is a perceived threat and usually have Americans as a particular target group. In the past, Public Announcements have been issued to deal with short-term coups, bomb threats to airlines, violence by terrorists and anniversary dates of specific terrorist events.

Travel Warnings are issued when the State Department decides, based on all relevant information, to recommend that Americans avoid travel to a certain country.”

Specific Issues and Situations

How often are programs cancelled or students evacuated, and what should I do if I am asked to evacuate a country?

Program cancellation and the necessity for student evacuation are really quite rare. In fact, in the many years that Michigan Tech has been operating study programs, we have never had to evacuate students or cancel a program, including the period during the Gulf War.

Should students be asked to evacuate, they should always follow the instructions of the resident director and/or the host institution's international office staff. Some program sites may have a predetermined emergency meeting place where students should go; or in other cases, students may be asked to remain with their host families or stay in residence hall rooms or apartments until further arrangements can be made. As in all emergency situations, it is important that students try to remain calm, not act impulsively, and follow any instructions that are given by program staff or the U.S. Consulate. Once students are safe, they should contact their family members in the U.S. at the earliest opportunity available.

During such an emergency, parents are encouraged to contact the Michigan Tech Study Abroad Office so they can be provided with the latest information available.

In the event of an emergency, the following Study Abroad Office numbers may be called (please call in the order listed):

  • 8:00 a.m. to 5:00 p.m. Eastern Time ( 7:30am – 4:00pm during months of June – August):
    • (906) 487-2160 (first point of contact)
  • After 5:00 p.m. Eastern Time, weekends or public holidays:
    • (906) 487-2216 (first point of contact) Michigan Tech Public Safety

Parents may also e-mail for information requests: IPS@mtu.edu.

Students: We recommend that you ask your parent(s) or designated emergency contact to obtain a passport so that they’ll be prepared if they need to go abroad to help you in an emergency.

What roles do Michigan Tech, the host institution, and/or program provider have in an emergency response situation?

Michigan Tech provides study abroad opportunities in approximately 134 locations in 34 countries through a variety of programs and collaborative relationships. This represents a wide array of language, social, political, cultural, and administrative differences. A “one size fits all" model for emergency protocols would not be possible or even practical.

Generally speaking, Michigan Tech’s study abroad programs can be categorized into three main types: Michigan Tech’s own faculty-led programs, reciprocal programs that involve two universities (Michigan Tech and the host institution), and programs delivered by program providers. Program providers may be a membership organization made up of many universities such as the University Studies Abroad Consortium, or JCMU. In most cases, they provide programs at multiple sites and act as an intermediary between Michigan Tech and the host institution(s).

Faculty-led programs are in regular contact with Michigan Tech. In case of difficulty, Michigan Tech’s own emergency response teams work with the faculty leader(s) to respond appropriately. In the case of reciprocal programs, each foreign university has developed its own emergency response protocols based on what makes sense for that institution given its particular environment; and Michigan Tech works within the framework of those established protocols should an emergency situation arise. Emergency response and decision-making are equally shared by Michigan Tech and the host institution.

Program providers have also developed their own emergency response protocols. These typically operate in tandem with host institution protocols where the providers deliver programs. However, when a program provider leases campus space, hires its own faculty, and delivers its own curriculum—creating an “island program”—the protocol used may be entirely its own. Regardless, the emergency response is coordinated by the provider (usually via a U.S. office), and although Michigan Techremains an active partner in the process, it is to a lesser degree than with reciprocal programs.

Specific Reminders for Students

YOU MAY NOT HAVE THE RIGHT TO
REMAIN SILENT…
SAFETY REMINDERS & TIPS FOR YOUR
INTERNATIONAL EXPERIENCE

Remember that there are things that increase your risk of being the victim of crime. Some of the things that increase your risk are:

  • Being intoxicated or under the influence of drugs
  • Being alone at night
  • Being in an isolated area
  • Being asleep in an unlocked or public place
  • Being new to the country
  • Being unable to speak the local language

Do not think, "It can't or won't happen to me.” It’s very unpleasant to consider the possibility of danger when thinking about how exciting it is to be in a new place. The fact remains, however, that consequences can be more severe and unpleasant because this is a new place and should, therefore, be more seriously considered. Our advice to you is to try to think, “It CAN happen to me” and then act even more responsibly than you would at home.

Students are most often victims of petty crime shortly after they arrive in the foreign country while they are still somewhat disoriented and uncertain of themselves and their surroundings. You may forget to lock your room, your purse or backpack may be snatched or, in the confusion and newness, you may simply become careless. Be particularly protective of your personal possessions the first week or two after your arrival.

U.S. citizens should register with the U.S. Embassy in the country(-ies) in which they are traveling or studying.

Non-U.S. citizens should register with their passport country’s embassy in the country(-ies) in which they are traveling or studying.

Non-U.S. citizens should understand that the services the U.S. government provides to U.S. citizens while abroad (including assistance in an emergency) will not be available to them, even though they are hosted by a U.S. program.

ALL: Make copies of your travel documents – passport and visas. Keep copies in a safe place (separated from the original documents) and leave a copy in the U.S. with someone you trust.

Fill out the emergency info section of your passport. Do not list someone who will be traveling with you as an emergency contact. Carry extra passport photos – this can help to ease the process of replacing a lost or stolen passport once you are overseas.

Be sure that a parent or emergency contact also has a valid passport in case of an emergency. S/he should be prepared to be able to get to your foreign location in less than 24 hours if necessary.

Make copies of your traveler’s cheques and credit cards (customer service phone numbers and account numbers); keep copies in a safe place (separated from the originals) and leave a copy in the U.S. with someone you trust. If these are stolen, you will be able to call companies to put a hold on your accounts and replace them. Many have numbers that you can call collect from abroad, so check with your providers before you leave.

Become familiar with the basic laws and customs of the country you plan to visit before you travel. Do not assume that because it is legal in the U.S., it is legal everywhere. Remember, while in a foreign country, you are subject to its laws.

Avoid public demonstrations, even peaceful ones. If there should be any political unrest, don’t get involved. Unsuspecting guests sometimes find themselves in downtown areas during protests. If this occurs, you should leave the area immediately.

Try to act like you know what you are doing and where you are going so that you are less easily identified as a newcomer.

  • Whether you are on foot or in a car, be aware of everyone around you and assess their probable intentions. This means occasionally looking behind you.
  • If you’re being approached by a potentially threatening person, make some radical or abrupt change in your speed or direction, or cross the street.
  • Try to walk in groups of four or more, especially at night or in areas with high crime rates. In most cases, the bigger your group, the safer you are.
  • Avoid places where someone could be hidden (bushes, recessed doorways, "back alleys", etc.), especially if you are alone.
  • As you walk, especially at night, be aware of good "escape routes." Avoid wearing conspicuous clothing and expensive jewelry.
  • Remember that your life is more valuable than any of your possessions. Learn the transport system so you’ll know how to get home.
  • Do not hitchhike.
  • Do not ride bikes in the city, or on crowded streets–you could be hit by a car.
  • Taxis are not safe everywhere, especially late at night. Read guidebooks and ask locals about the taxis.
  • Avoid being alone on trains. If, for example, you suddenly find yourself alone in a train car, move to another one where other people are sitting.
  • Do not leave your bags or belongings unattended at any time. Security personnel in airports and train stations are instructed to remove or destroy any unattended luggage. Do not agree to carry or look after packages or suitcases for anyone.
  • Never keep all of your important documents and money together in one place or in only one suitcase.
  • Have sufficient funds or a credit card on hand to purchase emergency items. At the same time, don’t carry excessive amounts of cash or any unnecessary credit cards.
  • Keep informed of current political situations. In an emergency, advisories may be made to the general public through the media.
  • Learn what the locals do to protect themselves (neighborhoods to avoid, places that are known to be safe, where to walk, where to shop, etc.)
  • Take nothing of great value with you when you go out, and try to carry as little cash as possible.

Informational Resources/Links

There are many on-line resources that provide safety information for travelers in general or specifically for study abroad students. Some of those resources, which we advise you to consult, are listed below:

Emergencies and Emergency Procedures

Fortunately, true emergencies are actually quite rare. You may lose your luggage, your plane ticket, or even your passport while you are abroad. While any of those occurrences would certainly be inconvenient, none is an emergency. Emergencies are situations in which there is an immediate threat to a student or staff member’s health and/or safety.

We advise you to: Make sure you know how to use the telephone and have a calling card or other means of using the telephone in the country(-ies) that you visit as part of the program or on your own. AGAIN, we recommend that you ask your parent(s) or designated emergency contact to obtain a passport so that they’ll be prepared if they need to go abroad to help you in an emergency.

Emergencies Abroad (For Michigan Tech Faculty-led programs)

Michigan Technological University has an Emergency Response Plan for its study abroad programs. If you witness an emergency or are in an emergency situation yourself, your first call (after you have attended to any life-threatening matters, of course) should be to the Program Director/Coordinator of your program. Your Program Director or Administrator will provide you with information on how to reach him/her, or another designated contact, in case of an emergency. The emergency contact for your program will then contact Michigan Technological University to activate the Emergency Response Plan.

If you need to contact Michigan Tech for an emergency reason, you should call IPS (906) 487-2160 or the Michigan Tech Police Department at 906 487-2216. The Michigan Tech Police Department can contact IPS or the Dean of Students or her representative 24 hours per day.

Emergencies Abroad (For Michigan Tech Exchange/Consortium Participants)

Before you leave the United States, get the address and phone number of the U.S. Consulate or Embassy closest to your host city. These addresses and phone numbers can be obtained on the web at: http://www.usembassy.gov/. When you arrive in the host country, you should register with the U.S. Embassy or Consulate by providing them with information on the length of your stay and information on how to reach you. If you are not a U.S. citizen, you should register with the embassy of your passport country. When you arrive at your host institution, you should ask what emergency procedures and resources will be available to you there. If you witness an emergency or are in an emergency situation yourself, your first call (after you have attended to any life-threatening matters, of course) should be to the appropriate person at your host
institution. You should also contact the Michigan Tech by calling IPS at (906) 487-2160.

While abroad, you’ll want to be able to communicate with your parents and others directly about your safety and well-being. People need to know how to get in touch with you, especially if you are away from your program city or traveling on your own before or after the program. If there is a serious illness or death in your family, your family will want to be able to reach you. Or even if there is a crisis in the U.S. or elsewhere in the world, loved ones will often want at least to hear your voice and make sure you are okay.

We advise you to: Develop a plan for regular telephone calls and/or e-mail contact with your family and others with whom you wish to stay in contact. Develop your plan before your departure.

If there is an emergency that requires you to leave your program and return to the U.S. for any length of time, you should notify your Program Director/Coordinator/Group Leader.

Make sure that someone always knows where and how to contact you in an emergency and knows your schedule and itinerary when you are traveling. If you have any questions or concerns about safety or emergencies before your departure or during your study abroad program, you should contact the Program Director/Coordinator of your program or IPS.