Calvin’s Off-Campus Programs (OCP) Office takes its responsibility seriously to do its utmost to provide a secure environment in which you can live and learn. Although no one can guarantee or assure the safety of participants or eliminate all risks from an off-campus study experience, our goal is to minimize risks and keep you and your parents aware of special situations as you make decisions about studying off-campus. While the OCP office and the program director will do everything possible to assure your safety while studying abroad, you must also recognize your responsibility for your security while studying off-campus.
Experience tells us that students who make themselves a "hard" target rather than a "easy" mark are much more likely to be safe while studying abroad. This means that you need to be constantly aware of your surrounding and make good decisions related to your behaviors. What follows are a number of personal checklists or tips that you can use to minimize the risks of travel wherever you find yourself.
- Emergency contacts: Get emergency contact information from your Calvin instructor/director (check the contact info at the end of this handbook) to share with family and friends. Make sure the Calvin director and the Off-Campus Programs office has all your emergency family contacts.
- Key travel documents: Photocopy key travel documents (passport, drivers license, itineraries, etc). Take one copy with you and leave one copy with your family or friends.
- Health insurance: Learn how to access your health insurance coverage while abroad (know what your plan covers & how payments are made). Remember Calvin provides SUPPLEMENTAL travel insurance. This insurance includes: medical and political evacuation insurance and supplemental health insurance that will offer additional coverage when you have exhausted your primary insurance.
- Practice language: Learning the language is important; start before you go. At the very least learn a number of survival phrases that will be useful in the places you will be traveling.
- Local knowledge: Learn a bit about the culture in your host country. Review the US State Department Consular Information Sheets. In addition, inform yourself about local laws and customs in the country you are visiting before you leave.
- Air travel: In airports be attentive to your luggage and possessions. Keep possessions in your sight. Take care and look out for each other. While traveling on airplanes, keep yourself hydrated.
Situational awareness: Be constantly aware of your surroundings. Be alert for people or events that distract you from being attentive to your surroundings. Learn to trust "your gut" -- if something makes you uncomfortable get out of the situation into a more safe and secure location as quickly as possible. Whenever something unusual is happening, pay attention.
- Keep a low profile: Remember that your accent, clothing, and mannerisms will indicate to others that you are not a local. There will be times that, for reasons of personal safety, you do not want to be marked as a tourist or otherwise be identified as an easy target for theft or assault. Learn how to do this at your site. Learn how the locals keep themselves safe and discuss with your program director and fellow students how to keep each other safe during your off-campus experience.
- Presence: Develop a sense of confidence as you navigate new surroundings. When you walk as if you have no idea of where you are or what you are going to do next you are sending an immediate signal that you are a soft target to scam artists. Make use of maps to orient yourself prior to a trip.
- Local knowledge: Understand where your resources within you host country are and how to get to these resources if needed. Where is the hospital? Police station? U.S. consulate or embassy? Program director’s home and office? What are the telephone contact numbers you need to carry? This should be addressed with your group upon arrival.
- In case of a robbery: Carry a throw away wallet that you can give immediately if someone attempts to rob you. Carry a second wallet in a money belt or around your neck (under clothes, not in your back packet), which has an ID, some cash, credit card(s), a copy of your passport & a list of emergency phone numbers).
- Key travel documents: Don’t carry your passport UNLESS you absolutely need it - a photocopy will do just fine for every day use
- Emergency action plan: Understand the emergency action plan and discuss it with the director and fellow students in case of a natural disaster or traumatic world events;
- Communication: Carry a cell phone with minutes for local calls (provided on most Calvin semester programs).
- Money management: Think about how you will manage your money flow – banks, ATM machines, credit cards, etc. are all options depending where you are. Avoid carrying large amounts of cash, do not flash your cash. Have at least two sources of money (ATM card, credit card, debit card) in addition to cash, and keep them separately. If you lose or are robbed of one source, you will still have a way to get money.
- Safety on the streets:
o Avoid known high crime areas;
o Don’t use short cuts, narrow alleys or poorly lit streets;
o Try not to travel alone at night, and walk on well-lit and heavily travelled areas;
o Avoid public demonstrations;
o Beware of pickpockets and groups of vagrant children who could create a distraction to pick your pocket;
o Wear the shoulder strap of any bags across your chest and walk with the bag away from the curb. Don’t dangle purses or cameras from your wrist;
o Avoid typically American establishments like McDonalds and Starbucks;
o Use only reputable transportation companies (taxis, etc.). Get the numbers of a company you trust that you can call to pick you up or cultivate 5 or 6 specific drivers you can call when you need a ride. Make sure to have these numbers available when you are out and about in the city; and
o If an incident happens, no matter how small, during an off-campus experience make sure to report it to the Calvin instructor/director. You are also encouraged to report it directly to the OCP office using the incident form found on the OCP website. You can fill this form in on-line and it will be sent directly to the OCP office.
- Independent travel: When traveling independently, don’t stay in dives or couch surf or hitchhike. While this may be inexpensive, you are risking your personal well being by traveling or staying in housing with persons you do not know.
- Stay informed: Stay informed about developments in your host city and country and in the world. U.S. foreign policy does affect how people overseas will treat you.