The number of students studying abroad is at an all-time high, which also means that more people are susceptible to the risks associated with living in a foreign country. Whilst being abroad in a strange land can be a deep and enriching experience, it can also be frightening and slightly disorientating, especially if this is your first time out of your comfort zone.
However, in reality, the five risks listed below are just as present if you study at a college three miles from home, or at a university on the other side of the world. It is how you choose to deal with them that is important, not where they arise.
Here are five risks associated with studying abroad.
Like taxes and death, crime is an unavoidable part of life and can be found anywhere and everywhere. Being abroad makes you no more, or less, susceptible to crime unless you happen to be staying in a country or region that is known for having a particular problem.
Instead, you are most likely to succumb to the type of crime you might find in your local city, such as having your pocket picked or your phone stolen. In most cases, the best way to avoid crime, or at least to minimize the impact of it, is to take precautions. Don’t leave your wallet or phone in a backpack where it is easy for somebody to access it without you knowing, keep your passport and other valuables that you do not need day to day safely locked away, and do not go flashing your money around in public places.
Find out from local fellow students which areas to avoid, especially at night, and, if you are walking home after a party or a night out, stick to brightly lit streets or, better still, take a cab. If you are a lone female, never walk home alone, and, if you are going to take a taxi, choose a registered company with licensed drivers, and not some cheap minicab company. In other words, take exactly the same precautions to avoid crime, as you would at home.
The world is inherently a less safe place than it used to be, and terrorism is a bigger threat than ever. London, Manchester, Paris, Brussels, Mumbai, Istanbul, Melbourne and, most recently, Christchurch, are just some of the cities that have witnessed major terrorist attacks in the past few years. Nor is the United States immune, as residents of New York and Boston can testify.
Yet, despite the lurid headlines, the chances of being struck by lightning are actually far greater than the likelihood of being involved in a terrorist attack. And as the odds of being struck by lightning are ten million to one, those are pretty long odds indeed.
Far more likely is that you will feel paranoid and nervous, especially if you are living in a big city after a global terrorist attack has occurred. But, if you give into that paranoia and fear, you are giving the terrorists exactly what they want. By all means, be vigilant and remain alert, but that should not stop you going out and enjoying yourself.
One of the unexpected risks of moving abroad is that you could be subject to discrimination. Whilst many associates this with the color of your skin, it can go much wider than that – religious views, sexual orientation, political views, or accent. All can count against you with the local population, especially if you come from a liberal democracy where nearly everything goes and is permitted, and are studying in a country where there are more rigid codes of conduct or societal norms.
Again, whilst it may be very unpleasant to experience discrimination – as anybody who has to encounter it every day can testify – try not to react, or get into arguments with locals. Calmly walk away from the situation and try not to dwell on it.
And since you will be mixing most of the time with fellow students from an international background, there is a good chance that you can meet people with similar outlooks and backgrounds to your own, even if their country of origin is thousands of miles from your own.
One of the biggest fears that people have about traveling abroad in general, let alone moving somewhere to study, is that they will get really sick, and the standard of local health care will not be up to the standard of what they are used to back home. In most cases, these fears are greatly exaggerated, and whilst outbreaks like the Zika virus or Bird Flu might catch the headlines, the chances of you getting anything more serious than an upset stomach or diarrhea are quite slim.
Make sure you have adequate health insurance before you travel – some countries insist on this anyway before they will grant a student visa. And, if you know that you are traveling to a developing region where health care standards are not as high as you might like, consider paying a bit extra on your health insurance to cover the cost of emergency evacuation in the worst case scenario.
Again the advice though is to act as if you were at home. Research has indicated that those studying abroad are likely to drink more than they would at home, and also to exercise fewer precautions when it comes to safe sex than they would in a domestic situation.
Mental Illness and Depression
Moving to a new country can be a tough experience, especially if you are leaving behind your family, friends and usual support networks. Whilst you hope to make new friends, this can take time and does not happen straight away. In the meantime, you can find yourself isolated and alone, and this can deteriorate into depression.
This is especially prevalent in young men, where the rate of suicide has become of grave concern to campaigners in developed countries. If this begins to happen to you, recognize the symptoms and do not be afraid to ask for help, or to call home to talk to a familiar voice. And try and join local clubs or societies so that you are forced into social situations – even if you do not always feel like it.