Health and Safety Tips for Travel Abroad
I. General Health and Safety
Be aware of your surroundings at all times, even when in areas generally
considered safe. Be careful not to become overconfident after a few days or
weeks and assume you no longer need to be cautious.
Alcohol compromises one’s ability to fully be aware of their surroundings and
lowers inhibitions. Use caution and avoid overindulging. Establish a plan for
your return home before going out.
Read the US Consular Information Sheet regarding countries of travel and be
aware of the warnings entailed.
Be careful with valuables, baggage, cameras, purses etc., especially in known
tourist locations, airports, and near ATMs.
Use a “buddy system” to travel in groups of two or more, especially at night.
Be aware of your own mental and physical health. Recognize when you need
rest, when you might be getting sick, and know your own limits.
Pay close attention to the advice and information provided by local college staff.
If you have health or safety questions or concerns, please share them staff
immediately (do not be afraid, embarrassed, or shy when safety issues are
Culture shock, homesickness, and frustration are a normal part of people’s
education abroad experience. Be prepared for it and recognize when your
frustrations are affecting your perspective and know that culture shock may be
Keep records of all credit card numbers and a copy of your passport page with
someone at home and keep a spare copy with you during travel in case of loss or
Cary key phone numbers for emergency contact with you at all times in case you
are separated from the group.
Register your travel with the UW State Department for rapid notification in the
case of an emergency.
Develop a plan with trip leads of where to meet in the case of emergency. In the
case of catastrophic emergency, be aware of locations of US Consulates, Red
Cross, Police or Hospitals in the area where you could seek help.
II. Medical Health and Safety
Health Insurance is required for all MATC programs abroad. In addition to
coverage for general illness or hospitalization, coverage must also include
emergency evacuation and repatriation of remains in the result of death.
Use the college Emergency Information Form to declare any known illnesses,
disabilities, or mental health information. This information will be used only on
a need-to-know basis with program leads and college staff, and it is very
important that you provide the information needed for staff to help you stay
healthy and safe during travel.
Be sure to bring a sufficient supply of any medications you may need during
travel. Be aware that some countries have restrictions on what medications can
be brought into their country (check consulate website for details). Eyeglass and
contact wearers may wish to bring an extra pair in case of loss.
Food and water-borne bacteria are the most common cause of sickness during
travel. Take precautions to protect yourself by avoiding unwashed fruit or
vegetables, un-bottled water, or uncooked foods.
Jetlag and sleep disruption stress the bodies immune system and
emotional/mental health. Be aware of effects of sleep deprivation (especially
first days of travel). Avoid alcohol and pace activities appropriately.
Immunizations – Consult with a physician for travel immunizations and
medications. In addition to specific precautions related to the areas of travel, it
is important to make sure that you are up to date on booster shots for common
Swine Flu and international travel. Airports and crowded tourist locations are
places when contagious disease spreads fast. Be sure to wash your hands
frequently, and always before eating. Be aware of those coughing or sneezing
around you. If you develop signs of illness during travel or immediately after
return, seek medical attention promptly and share with the doctors your travel
The single greatest risk statistically for a person on a study abroad program is
not airline crashes, terrorism, crime, or illness – it is self-generated problems by
As a credit course you are expected to participate in all class activities and
program field trips. Don’t let evening alcohol consumption interfere with your
program participation. Alcohol consumption during program activities is
Be aware of cultural norms for alcohol consumption. Americans tend to drink
more and drink faster than most other cultures and have a higher threshold for
tolerance of public drunkenness.
If at any time your behavior during the program can be seen as placing yourself
or others in danger, you may be sent home at your expense and/or face other
If you have concerns about others on your group and their behavior related to
alcohol or any other issue, don’t ignore it – inform one of the faculty leads.
IV. Drug Use
Each year, 2,500 Americans are arrested overseas. One third of the arrests are
on drug-related charges. There is very little that anyone can do to help you if
you are caught with drugs. It is your responsibility to know what the drug laws
are in a foreign country before you go, because "I didn’t know it was illegal" or
“other people were doing it” will not get you out of jail.
Once you leave the United States, you are not covered by U.S. laws and
constitutional rights. The burden of proof in many countries is on the accused to
prove his/her innocence.
Never carry a package or luggage through customs for another individual.
V. Cultural Learning
Having the right learning mindset
o Approach the experience from a broad cross-cultural perspective. Be
prepared to adapt culturally.
o Understand the limits of our own culture and worldview. Be aware that you
will be in an international environment with peoples of many different
beliefs and practices.
o It is a natural reaction to think something is “bad” or “stupid” when it does
not conform to your expectations. Stop yourself and think about why you
are reacting to situations rather than letting first impressions or patterns of
habit override your perspectives.
o Develop curiosity and question your assumptions
o Reflective journaling is an important way to record your memories and
take personal control of your own learning.
Personal journals – Each day, during breaks or the evening, take
time to keep track of new experiences, challenges, and observations.
Use this writing as a way to remember what it was like in the moment,
and what it means to be there.
Learning journals– Use writing as a way to structure your thoughts
and experiences during your program. Use the journal to note lessons
learned about how things are done differently in your field of learning,
make notes of names, contacts and connections that you can use to
continue your connections abroad once you return home.
Being American Abroad
o Think of yourself in the role of cultural ambassador, representing USA to
o Avoid falling into the trap of interacting with only with other Americans
o Be aware that US foreign policy and the war in Iraq have generated a
great deal of anti-American sentiment in some communities of the
o Thoughtful dialogue and discussion on controversial issues can be an
important learning experience, but engaging in arguments rarely is. Be
aware of the context in which you engage in discussion of topics that
may be emotionally loaded such as (war, terrorism, religion, racism, etc.)
and avoid confrontation.
o Be aware of how you present yourself (through language, clothing,
loudness of voice, etc.). Recognize those habits and traits that make you
stick out as an American.
o See the World Citizens Guide for advice on intercultural learning and
Contact: Chris Miller, Professor, Heartland Community College
We hope that this program will provide you with lasting, if not life-changing,
experiences in cross cultural learning. Remember to pace yourself and have fun, and let
ProWorld or myself know how we can help make your experience as positive as
This form was created by Dr. Geoff Bradshaw, International Education Director Madison Area Technical College.
StudyAbroad@matcmadison.edu www.matcmadison.edu/international 608-246-6165