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3 Things I Should Have Told My Students at My Study Abroad Pre-Departure Meeting
Danger and safety are often in the mind
This week I am taking 11 students to Krakow, Poland for the first time. Last week, I sat down with an experienced study abroad professor to discuss how we are preparing students before beforehand.
I talked a lot about logistics. I organized the heck out of this thing and made sure the students were comfortable with the schedule and their arrival process. Some students have never been abroad before!
I also talked to the students about the culture shock they are likely to face. Some students are going to experience culture shock, and some won’t. I told them it’s important to understand what the culture is like where we are going and be prepared for it.
Those are the obvious things.
Here are 3 things I should have mentioned more in that meeting about student perceptions of safety.
Travel isn’t as dangerous as we perceive it to be.
Often our only experience of a country is from within what I call the news bubble … we only see the most terrible things, because that is how news organizations drive audiences. Just imagine how people might understand your hometown through a news lens?
We must know this and try to expand our bubble to include more of the good things. I want students to know that Poland is a beautiful, friendly place where they will enjoy themselves and make friends. I also want to show them it is a safe place to visit.
No study abroad leader can keep students safe … students need to be a part of the process.
No place is 100% safe … not even the town we call home. The same dangers that are present here are certainly present elsewhere … and complicated by linguistic and cultural barriers. Sometime the allure of a new place can blind us to this, and students need to play their role and keeping themselves safe.
We can’t just go to Krakow and expect that everything will be wonderful. We have to learn about Krakow and its history and culture and be open to the different ways of life in Krakow. Students should understand that there may be some miscommunication or frustration during our adventures.
If you want to make sure you are safe and comfortable while you are on a study abroad program, you should know how to get around safely and where you can go if you need help.
99% of the safety issues on study abroad involve drinking alcohol.
If you truly want to be the safest possible on a study abroad program, don’t drink … or drink in moderation with a responsible friend. Most of the bad things that happen on study abroad programs have something to do with alcohol.
Alcohol is a drug that affects your judgment, slows your thinking, and makes you do stupid things. If you want to have a truly safe trip, stay sober.
When traveling to a new country, our brains can’t always be trusted. We may have unfounded fears and prejudices mixed with an irrational sense of freedom or safety. Shake that up with some alcohol, and you’ve got some bad business.
In conclusion, I’ve learned that my best advice for students is to be open to new experiences. Even if you think you know what you’re getting into, you’ll probably find out that you don’t. And that’s a good thing. The more you know that little tidbit, the better prepared you’ll be.
Every student should think about that when going on a study abroad.