Staying safe while studying abroad

egypt_june_protests_7_2013_7_1In the wake of the recent murder of Andrew Pochter, an American student interning in Alexandria, Egypt, risks of studying abroad have come under the spotlight.

Today, when it comes to choosing a location for gaining an international experience, students go beyond the traditional borders of the West and sometimes do not hesitate to venture into unstable territories. Pochter chose Middle East despite its political turmoil.  He was not new to the region having already spent a year in Morocco after graduating from high school and like other students, local or international, had actively taken part in the protests on the streets of Morocco during the 2010-2011 Arab uprising.

But when you are a foreign student is it advised to take part in such demonstrations? There’s no doubt that students have always played a significant role in political upheavals and in reforming the society but they still remain the most vulnerable targets as well, especially in a foreign land.

Following the Turkey unrest in the beginning of June that forced a group of MBA students from George Washington University who finished a one-week residency in Ankara to move, the Bloomberg Businessweek published an article on how to remain safe while studying abroad. It was written in consultation with John Rendeiro Jr., vice president for global security and intelligence at International SOS, a Singapore-based company hired to provide medical, security, and evacuation services for student groups and others traveling far from home.

Here’s what one should keep in mind while in a troubled foreign country (taken from the Bloomberg Businessweek article):

Don’t Get Involved: The temptation, especially for students, is to want to be at the center of the action, but that’s usually a big mistake. “It’s a really bad policy to get involved in demonstrations in a foreign country. You could be injured, or you can come to the attention of police,” Rendeiro says. “It doesn’t pay to get involved when there’s a chance that things can get violent.”

Prepare: Know the location of your hotel and how to get there, and make sure you have reliable transportation. Know who to call in the event of emergencies—for students traveling abroad as part of a study group, this will probably be the program director or faculty member they’re traveling with. Keep all your documentation in a secure location. If you take medication, take enough for the entire trip, make sure you have the necessary clearance to get it into the country, and have a way to resupply once you arrive. Carry only the cash and valuables you absolutely need.

Register with your country Consulate: In the event of a large-scale emergency, registering at your country Embassy ensures that your government knows your whereabouts and how to contact you. It also allows you to receive updates on travel warnings, travel alerts, and other information.

Stay alert: Rendeiro suggests monitoring the local news media for demonstrations and other hot spots, and steering clear of those locations. “If you find yourself in the vicinity of a protest, don’t take pictures, and get away from that area as quickly as possible,” he advises.

Call the Embassy: If you find yourself in a real jam—you’re in police custody or have a serious medical problem or injury—call your country Embassy, which can help locate medical assistance or legal representation. You should also contact your group’s program director or faculty leader, as well as the security provider for the trip, if there is one.



Noir sur Blanc is an international communications agency specializing in higher education. Based in Paris and serving the higher ed community for over 20 years, with offices all over the world, the New York office opened in Spring 2010. Noir Sur Blanc USA is the official blog from the Noir sur Blanc New York office. Follow-us to stay informed on hot topics and trends in higher education.
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