The health, safety and security of the SMU community while abroad are of campus-wide priority. A Response Team is in place should any issues occur that involve students, faculty or staff traveling overseas.
SMU Abroad programs are located in areas in the world that are deemed safe by the University, thanks to current information from the U.S. State Department, the Overseas Security Advisory Council and HTH Worldwide Health Insurance regularly reviewed by the SMU Office of Risk Management and the SMU International Center. Be aware that the risk of challenging safety and security events involving U.S. citizens and property is everywhere, including Paris, Perth and San José as well as Dallas, Texas.
All SMU Abroad programs have contingency plans for possible emergency and crisis situations, including health-related matters, natural disasters, criminal acts, civil unrest and terrorist activity. The plans consider both on-site actions and SMU in Dallas support. The on-site component includes the assistance of overseas U.S. Embassies and the local authorities. Program directors and staff know to keep in constant contact regarding health, safety and security matters with the authorities and to notify students immediately should any action be necessary.
Local Laws and Customs
Most participants in university programs have a safe and enjoyable time abroad, but the trip for some becomes a nightmare. Drugs, alcohol and disorderly behavior have ruined time abroad. Such reckless behavior can do more than ruin your stay; it can land you in a foreign jail. Every year, more than 2,500 U.S. citizens are arrested abroad, more than a third on narcotics charges. Some countries do not distinguish between possessing and trafficking. Alcohol can also get you into trouble. U.S. students have been arrested for being intoxicated in public areas, and for drunk driving. Regardless of the country you are in, you are subject to its laws and are under its jurisdiction. If outside of the U.S., you are NOT under the protection of the U.S. constitution nor are you immune from prosecution if you violate local laws.
Before you go, learn as much as you can about the local laws and customs of the countries where you plan to visit. Good resources are web resources, books, movies, tourist bureaus and U.S. embassies around the world through their consular services. You can find Consular Information Sheets, Travel Warnings and Public Announcements for every country of the world at http://www.state.gov/travel.
Leave copies of your travel itinerary, passport info page and entry visa, HTH information, program contact information with family or friends at home. This is so that you can be contacted should there be a need.
Tips on Safety when Participating in an SMU Abroad Program
The following tips apply while you are abroad and when you are at home. Be especially conscious of them when you are out and about in crowded areas, such as train and bus stations, airports, tourist sites, city plazas and malls, as well as walking to events or waiting for your friends.
· Use the same common sense overseas as you would at home. Avoid sketchy parts of town.
· Carry a note with emergency contact information: your name and local address, phone numbers of emergency program contact, local 911, local police and SMU Police Department.
· Know how to make local phone calls. If you do not have your own cell phone, make sure you know how to use the public phone and always have the proper change on hand.
· Learn a few phrases so you can communicate as needed. A sheet of phrases or a host country phrasebook is a good idea.
· Try to blend in with the local surroundings and not be a target. Keep a low profile and avoid loud conversations or arguments
· Appear purposeful when you move about. Even if lost, act as if you know where you are going. If necessary, ask questions only from an individual in authority.
· Remain alert; look around and report any suspicious activity to the authorities.
· Avoid clearly visible luggage tags, dress and stereotypical behavior that may identify you as a U.S. citizen. It some places of the world, this is not looked upon favorably.
· Be cautious when you meet new people. Unless you have developed a high level of confidence, do NOT discuss travel plans or personal matters. Avoid giving information about your friends, colleagues or even planned events.
· Always hang onto you own purse, wallet, backpack and other luggage. Do NOT leave it unattended, even for a few seconds.
· Beware of pickpockets. They often have an accomplice who will distract you. A child or even a woman carrying a baby can be a pickpocket. Beware of groups of vagrant children.
· Wear the shoulder strap of your bag across your chest and walk with your arm over the bag. Drive-by purse-snatchers are not a myth.
· Carry a copy of your passport info and visa pages and keep the original booklet in a safe place in your home or hotel safe. However, when you change money from anyplace other than an ATM, purchase tickets for travel or travel internationally, you will need to have your original passport.
· Change money at banks, authorized agents or ATMs. It is easy to use you ATM card to change money. In most places in the world, this is the least expensive way to get local currency.
· Use cash or credit cards to make purchases. You can always dispute a credit card charge, but a crook with your debit card can empty your bank account.
· Carry only the cash you need, NOT large amounts.
· Keep track of your ATM and credit cards. Make sure your card is returned after each transaction.
· Avoid the appearance of affluence. Do NOT wear conspicuous clothes or expensive jewelry.
· Do NOT travel alone at night. Only take taxies clearly identified with official markings.
· Do NOT accept, carry, look after or store any package, parcel or suitcase for anyone. Make sure nobody puts anything in your luggage.
· Do NOT accept food or drink from strangers.
· Do NOT get distracted by people asking you random questions. Go quickly to your train or the lounges beyond the passport controls. Beware of what you discuss with strangers.
· Avoid political demonstrations where anti-American sentiments may be expressed. Spend as little time as possible in target areas for terrorist activity, especially in places frequented by U.S. expats or tourists.
· If confronted for any reason, don't fight back. Give up your valuables. Your money, passport and other stuff can be replaced, but you cannot.