Personal safety and security concerns like street crime and terrorism exist all around the world, including in the United States. Whatever your destination, it is important that you are vigilant and take precautions to help protect yourself while on your study away program. Here are a few best practices to follow:
- Try to fit in. Do what you can to blend into your surroundings. While “safety in numbers” can be a good rule to follow, traveling as an identifiable group of American students might attract unwanted attention. Try to act like the locals as much as possible. Whenever possible, speak in the local language, and memorize helpful words and phrases in that language. Dress inconspicuously, and avoid flashing expensive devices, money, jewelry, and other valuables in public. Avoid displaying conspicuous American logos/brands on your belongings and clothing.
- Make sure you understand the basic layout and orientation of your host city. Know which areas and neighborhoods to avoid, especially at night. If you aren’t sure, ask program staff or trusted local sources for guidance.
- Be cautious and alert. Practice heightened situational awareness when out in public. Immediately report any suspicious activities or people to local authorities. Be wary of sharing personal information with strangers, e.g. don’t share where you live or your class schedule. Don’t accept food or drinks from people you don’t know, and keep a watch on your (and your friends’) drinks. Avoid impairing your judgment due to excessive consumption of alcohol.
- Watch your valuables. Keep all valuables on you in a discreet place, preferably stowed away in a money belt or a pouch that hangs around your neck and under your clothing. You need to guard your laptop and phone as closely as you guard your wallet and passport. If possible, avoid carrying more money than you need for your daily expenses. Take good care of your debit and credit cards, as well as your passport. Never leave a handbag or backpack unattended – even briefly – and keep shoulder bags away from passing traffic when walking down the street. If your bag has a shoulder strap, wear it with the strap crossed over your body. Do not put valuable items in the exterior pockets of backpacks or other bags that open at the top. When riding in public transportation, keep your bag visible and in front of you. Be aware that pickpockets often prey on people who look lost, are inebriated, or who do not seem to be paying attention. Pickpockets often have an accomplice who will jostle you, ask you for directions, or distract you in another way.
- Be a wise traveler. Have a plan when you’re traveling. It is always preferable to travel with another person if possible. It is not advisable to sleep on a train if you are traveling alone. Don’t agree to watch the belongings of a person whom you do not know. Don’t borrow suitcases or agree to transport items for other people, and ensure that nothing is placed in your luggage. Don’t hitchhike. Let your program director, host family, and friends know your itinerary when traveling.
- Use the buddy system and stick with a group. When going out at night, make sure you go with at least one other person. Make sure everyone stays together, and don’t leave anyone behind.
- Be sure that your program faculty/staff know how to contact you, and that you know how to contact them, if needed.
While unlikely, you may find yourself caught in the midst of political tensions while on your study away program, which may take the form of protests, rallies, demonstrations, strikes, and other mass movements. While these events will most likely not be directed at you personally, or even at you as an American, nevertheless they can be very dangerous as an incidental risk, and thus should be avoided if possible. Be sure to monitor local news sources and alerts for information about such events. If you find yourself in such a situation, you should exit the area as quickly as you can safely do so. You should not attempt to watch such events from the sidelines, or photograph them.
While terrorist attacks are often indiscriminate in nature, and can happen anywhere in the world, there are steps you can take to help increase your personal security. In addition to following the personal security best practices mentioned above, you should also:
- Minimize unnecessary time spent around potential terrorist targets. For example: government/military buildings, transportation services and hubs, Western embassies/consulates, high-profile tourist sites and cultural/religious institutions, large gatherings of people and crowded public areas, busy entertainment venues, and religious gatherings and sites.
- When in public, be cautious, exercise heightened situational awareness, and report any suspicious activity or people immediately to the local authorities. As the saying goes: if you see something, say something.
- Comply with directives from program staff as well as local authorities.
- Closely monitor local news sources. Be aware of days that might have religious significance.
- Dress inconspicuously and avoid ostentatious displays of wealth. Try to blend in with the local population.
In the event of a terrorist attack in your host city, your program instructor, working closely with Duke personnel, local police, U.S. government personnel, and local support staff, will develop and institute all necessary security measures. As indicated above, you must follow all directives from local authorities and program staff during or following such events.