The challenge of travelling abroad in a threatening world
August 9, 2016
As summer starts to transition into fall, many young people will be heading back to local college campuses. Some of those college age students will instead spend the fall studying abroad.
According to the Association of International Educators, around 1.5 percent of U.S. students studied abroad for credit during the 2013-14 academic school year, and that doesn't include students travelling with other non-school organizations.
Studying abroad is meant to expand horizons and provide new experiences but it can be hard to see the benefits when compared with the danger of travelling to a foreign country experiencing political turmoil or terrorist threats.
But the rewards of travelling far outweigh the risk for Sara Tabin, a Park City High School graduate who will be entering her second year at Yale this fall. Tabin has visited more than 15 countries and says, in her view, media can overstate the dangers of travelling abroad.
"There are places that if you go it's not great to be an American and it's always better if you speak the language, but I feel less safe driving in my car on the highway than I do usually travelling to different countries," she said.
Tabin most recently travelled to Israel with the Birthright Israel organization, which is a non-profit group that provides a free trip for Jewish students. The current political situation in Israel is tense and Tabin said there were soldiers with large guns everywhere and the group travelled with an armed guard.
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The dangerous nature of travelling abroad strikes a chord with me personally, since I am leaving in just under a month to study abroad in Athens, Greece.
Though Greece has experienced relatively little terrorist activity this year, it has a young government, was at the center of the refugee crisis and is just across the Aegean Sea from Turkey, which is also struggling with political unrest and terrorism threats.
It was a challenge deciding whether or not the risk was worth my educational growth. I decided it was, partly because nestled here in the mountains of Utah it is sometimes hard to fathom the danger that can be found in other parts of the world.
I have yet to really travel out of the country for an extended period of time, but Tabin said she sees just as much risk in staying home as she does travelling.
"Mass shootings are pretty rampant in the U.S., but if there is a war or terrorist attack abroad, we hear about it a lot in the media," she said. "You take a risk leaving your home every day and crossing roads and whatnot. The chance of you dying in a freak accident abroad is unlikely."
According to the United States Travel Association, by March of 2016 seven and a half million people had travelled overseas. If the trend continues around 2 million more will travel each month until the year's end.
That number suggests that, like Tabin and myself, people are traveling abroad despite the potential danger.
"Travelling is a good thing because we hear a lot about violence and poverty and all of the bad things in the world in the media and it's a good thing to see that other countries are not that different and that other people are friendly, nice and generally want the same things out life," Tabin said. "I don't want to make anyone who can't afford to travel or doesn't get to feel less worldly or knowledgeable, but I think that if you have the ability to travel you shouldn't let fear hold you back."
That is exactly why I made the decision to study abroad in Greece. I have the opportunity of a lifetime in front of me and though there may be risks, the experience I will have outweighs the fear of going.
Park City Alumna Rhea Cone graduated from the University of Utah in May and went on a research trip to several Mexican states where she said she never felt in danger.
"I was traveling with a large group and we tended to stick together," she said. "In one area, we heard that there were robberies close by, so we left more important things like IDs and cameras back at our field site."
I am, of course, not going into the trip blind. I have learned traveling can be made safer by taking a few simple steps.
For instance, Tabin has dual citizenship in Italy and so she often carries her Italian passport with in case she is in a situation where it is better to not be an American. In countries where being an American is not looked upon favorably Tabin said it is helpful to have a local friend or relative who can be both a tour guide and a problem solver in case of language barriers.
Tabin said other basic safety procedures such as never going somewhere alone late at night and always being aware of your surroundings can make all the difference.
Cone took out travel insurance for her trip in case of emergency and said she kept a small wallet with her at all times, but left her more important documents, like her passport, in her luggage.
"I would tell other travelers to always know where your passport is and keep it safe, as well as having some extra money in case unexpected things come up," she said. "Also to explore and enjoy the local culture."
Title: Tips for Travelling Abroad
Information courtesy of the U.S. Department of State Website
- The U.S. State Department has a list of travel alerts and warnings available at https://travel.state.gov/content/passports/en/alertswarnings.html. Check the list before planning a trip to make sure the country you are visiting is safe.
- Make copies of all of your important documents such as your passport, visa and flight information. Leave one copy at home with a trusted friend or relative and keep another copy with you in a safe location
- Know your emergency contact numbers. Make sure to find out the phone number of the U.S. Embassy in a foreign country as well as the numbers for emergency services.
- Know Before you go: Research your trip. That same government website also has fact sheets where you can learn about the culture, government and history of a country.
- The United States offers a emergency services program called the Smart Traveler Enrollment Program (STEP) where they inform members about travel and security updates for countries they are visiting and can contact you in case of an emergency.
Find more information about safe travel at https://travel.state.gov/content/passports/en/go/checklist.html
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