Aren't Americans often the target of terrorists and others unfriendly to our nation's values or foreign policy?
There are very few documented instances in the history of study abroad when it has been apparent that American students have been the specific targets of political violence. However, carrying a U.S. passport, in and of itself, is no guarantee of safety or absolute security. In certain places and certain times, it is very possible to get caught in the midst of forms of political strife that may or may not be directed at foreigners generally or Americans in particular, but nevertheless can be very dangerous.
Who can help my daughter or son if trouble erupts?
In those few locations where even remote danger might occasionally exist, program directors work with local police, US consular personnel, and local university officials in setting up whatever practical security measures are deemed prudent. In such places, students will be briefed during orientation programs and reminded at times of heightened political tension about being security-conscious in their daily activities. Terrorism is a twentieth-century reality and is not likely to diminish (or increase) significantly. To succumb to the threat by reacting in fear may well be the objective that terrorists seek to achieve. On the other hand, no one wants to make this point at the expense of the health and safety of your daughter or son. It is important to ensure that your son or daughter has sufficient insurance, which would include major medical, evacuation, repatriation, and 24 hour emergency assistance.
How can I tell in advance which countries might be dangerous? Is watching the nightly news and reading the newspaper enough?
The U.S. government monitors the political conditions in every country of the world daily. Parents with concerns about crime and security threats in a given country are urged to take advantage of US State Department Travel Advisories, which are available to the public free of charge. Travel Warnings are issued when the State Department decides, based on all relevant information, to recommend that Americans avoid travel to a certain country. Consular information sheets are available for every country of the world, and include information such as location of the US Embassy or Consulate, unusual immigration practices, health conditions, minor political disturbances, unusual currency and entry regulations, crime and security information, and drug penalties. If an unstable situation exists which is not severe enough to warrant a travel warning, this is duly noted. Public announcements contain information about terrorist threats and other relatively short-term and transnational conditions posing significant risks to the security of American travelers/ For current information, advisories, or warnings, you can contact the State Department in Washington DC (tel: 202.647.4000), or get access to this same information via the World Wide Web, at the US Department of State Consular Affairs Website [http://travel.state.gov/travel_warnings.html] that includes Tips for Students [http://travel.state.gov/studentinfo.html], a good background on how the US government can help, and issues that students should consider before going abroad.
If our child is abroad when something dangerous develops, how can we make contact? Or what if something happens here, and we want to communicate this immediately?
Don't let your child leave home without having as many reliable means of contact as possible in place- a mailing address, an email address, and phone and fax numbers. You should develop a family communication plan for regular telephone or email contact, with contingencies for emergency situations. With this in place, in times of heightened political tension, natural disaster, or other difficulty, you should be able to communicate with each other directly about safety and well-being. Instant international communication in emergency situations continues to improve with easy access to international email access and cell phones around the world.
Can anyone absolutely guarantee our child's safety?
No. Nor can her or his home university guarantee safety on-campus in the U.S. But as long as you have asked all the questions of the campus, of the program sponsor, of your son or daughter, and of anyone else with information that is reliable, and have got the answer you conclude you need to have concerning potential health and safety risks, you have done all you can do. If the risks are unacceptable, you have every right to find another alternative or decide not to support study abroad in any form. If they are acceptable, then only fate can interfere with what should be a great journey and return.
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