NSEP – Midwest convocation 2004 Health and Safety Abroad

David Comp The University of Chicago

I would like to welcome all of you to campus today. If you have time after the convocation I invite you to walk through campus. There are several locations that may be of interest to you including the Frank Lloyd Wright Robbie House, Rockefeller Chappell, or the Nuclear Energy sculpture by Henry Moore dedicating the site where on December 2, 1942, man achieved the first self-sustaining chain reaction and thereby initiated the controlled release of nuclear energy. I also want to congratulate each and everyone of you on your success in the 2004-2005 David L. Boren National Security Education Program Undergraduate Scholarship competition. Both you and your families should be proud of your accomplishment and of your desire to expand your horizons by studying and researching abroad. How many parents are here with their students today? Congratulations to you for supporting your daughter or son’s desire to have an international educational experience and for raising the leaders of tomorrow. I also commend the students here today for choosing an educational experience abroad in a non-Western country where we see the highest number of U.S. students heading. For how many of you, will your NSEP scholarship be the first time you have traveled or studied outside of the United States? How many of you have traveled to a non-Western country before? How many of you have been to the country of your award before? The main reason I’m here today is not to tout the wonders of this campus or to shower you with praise. I’m here to discuss the various health and safety issues you may encounter abroad and what you can do to minimize your risk. How many of you have concerns about health or safety issues while you’ll be abroad? I hope to allow some time for questions and discussion before we break for lunch but please feel free to ask a question at any time. In this day in age you can’t go very long without hearing news about war and terrorism. The United States has deployed a significant numbers of troops abroad and we are actively engaged in war in two Middle Eastern countries. Combat operations in Afghanistan and Iraq have lead to strong anti-American sentiment around the world. The United States is also actively engaged in a war on terror. I’m not an expert on terrorism but I do know that it cannot be avoided. In the United States, we have been targeted and victimized by both foreign and domestic terrorists. Foreign governments who are active in the war on terror are working hard to eradicate terrorists and prevent acts of terrorism but it cannot be avoided. It’s important to understand that it is generally no more dangerous abroad than it is here in Chicago or in Lincoln, Nebraska, New York, Santa Fe or any other U.S. city. The question is, how do you identify and avoid risk abroad when you are in an unfamiliar country and everything is so new? The first thing you should do is to research the country you’re going to. Develop a good understanding of the country from reliable resources beyond the guide books. Talk to faculty

and staff who have knowledge and experiences in your host country. Talk to international students about their home country and ask for their perspective about any health and safety issues you may have. Study the Consular Information Sheet for your country on the U.S. Department of State, Bureau of Consular Affairs website. The Consular Information Sheets provide general information on health and safety issues of every country in the world. The Bureau of Consular Affairs also produces Public Announcements that provide information on short term situations of a particular country as in the case of SARS last year. I’ll talk more about SARS a little later in the program. Finally, the Bureau of Consular Affairs issues Travel Warnings when the State Department decides to recommend that U.S. citizens avoid travel to certain contries. As a Boren Scholar you are required to register with the U.S. Embassy in your host country. It’s critical that you safeguard your important documents such as your passport or any health related papers. It’s a good idea to keep a photo copy of these documents back home with family and, while you’re abroad, in a separate location from the originals in case of loss or theft. If you have access to the technology, you can scan the photo page of your passport and other important documents and send the PDF or JPG documents to your personal and family e-mail accounts as attachments. This will serve as a virtual safe, so to speak, should you need to access them. Your behavior abroad feeds the perception others have of America. It’s important to remember that you are representing the United States in an ambassadorial role and it’s important to respect the ways of the people you will encounter. It’s critical that you learn about and be aware of the cultural norms of your host country and remember that you are a guest in the country. You should dress appropriately and according to the customs of the local community. Not only will this show respect towards the people of your host country but you will also blend in with the locals and you’ll have less of a chance being identified as an “American.” Clothing that you may be accustomed to wearing to class or going out for an evening with friends here in the United States, such as shorts and a low-cut tank-top, will most likely been viewed as offensive and disrespectful in many countries of the world. This issue is especially important for females to think about as you pack for your experience abroad. Dressing conservatively with long pants or skirt and a shirt that covers your shoulders and arms will greatly reduce the number of unwanted attention and advances. In certain countries it may be appropriate for women to cover their heads with a scarf. You should be cautious with how you display your valuables. Does it look like you are flaunting your wealth? Leave your expensive jewelry at home and keep your money in a safe place such as a neck pouch or a money belt. Always understand and be aware of your surroundings. Pay attention to what people around you are saying. Find out what areas of your city or town are less safe than others. Avoid being alone in unfamiliar neighborhoods. Know where to get help, such as a police station, in times of need. Do not touch suspicious items or open unexpected letters or packages. Report to authorities any suspicious people loitering around residences, instructional facilities or following you. Keep your doors locked when you are home. Use common sense when

divulging to strangers what you are doing in the county and where you live. Avoid political demonstrations. No doubt you’ll find these gatherings fascinating and very educational. However, you should be mindful that these demonstrations can turn violent at a moments notice and you don’t want to be in the middle of chaos during an anti-U.S. protest. Again, it’s important to know your host country and the local laws. In many countries, attending a political demonstration can lead to your deportation. It’s imperative that you abide by the laws and regulations of your host county. You are not protected by U.S. laws while abroad! If you are gay, lesbian, bisexual, transgender, or questioning, learn about the local culture and scene and whether homosexuality is accepted in your host country. I touch on this briefly before, there are several specific safety issues for women to consider while you are abroad.
- Think about your beliefs and your own cultural background and how these may compare to the majority viewpoints of the country in which you’ll be studying - Learn about basic safety and self-defense techniques, from what to pack to what to do in worst-case scenarios - Consider your beliefs about issues which affect women, and be able to articulate them if you choose to engage in discussion with local people - Think about ways to deal with intercultural frustrations relating to gender and/or being a woman overseas, including your response to people’s possible stereotypes of you as an American woman abroad

Investigate if there are any health issues which require vaccinations before departure. In addition to contacting your physician for advise and any necessary preparatory medical treatment you should consult the website for the Centers for Disease Control. The CDC is an excellent resource where you can search by world region and find very comprehensive information on any current health issues you may encounter as well as a list of recommended vaccines you should have before departure. The World Health Organization website is also an excellent resource for you consult. Sanitary and health conditions vary greatly around the world. It’s important to be aware that you body may not be accustomed to the different bacteria found in certain foods. By all means, try the local dishes but you should live by a few simple rules when indulging in these new foods. It’s important to avoid uncooked food such as meats and fruits you can’t peel. If you are unsure of the sanitation of the local water you should by bottled or canned water. In sum, boil it, cook it, peel it, or forget it! Many countries have a very high rate of HIV/AIDS and STD’s which are mostly passed heterosexually. Everything you have learned about contracting these diseases in the U.S.

applies while you are abroad. It’s very important to apply what you’ve learned to your sexual behavior abroad. What’s going on with SARS. As of April 22nd 2004, there have been nine confirmed cases of SARS in China. This is on par with the number of Monkey Pox cases we had in the U.S. in June 2003. You remember Monkey Pox don’t you? The rare viral disease that several people contracted from contact with pet prairie dogs which can also be spread between humans. SARS was first reported in Asia in February 2003. Over the next few months, the illness spread to more than two dozen countries in North America, South America, Europe, and Asia before the SARS outbreak of 2003 was contained. According to the World Health Organization, a total of 8,098 people worldwide became sick with SARS during the 2003 outbreak. Of these, 774 died. According to the Centers for Disease Control, in 2003, the United States had 9,858 reported cases of the West Nile Virus with 262 confirmed deaths. I provide the information on Monkey Pox and West Nile Virus as a comparison to SARS and to put these viruses in perspective. The most dangerous situations that students abroad usually encounter do not have to do with the significant events we hear on the news such as embassy bombings or political terrorism but rather they have to do with the realities of every day life. All of the information I’ve provided here today is important to think about while you’re studying and researching abroad. However, all of this information is just as relevant while you’re here in the U.S. as when you’ll be abroad. Identify your instincts, and learn to pay attention to them and trust them. Take responsibility for your own health and safety as this will be one of the best educational experiences of your life. The goal of this session has not been to scare you or to make you nervous about going abroad. Instead, it’s intended for you to develop an awareness of the issues you may encounter while abroad. Thank you and I wish you the safest of travels!

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