Health and Safety

Daily Considerations

Physical Health

You should maintain a healthy diet and regular sleep habits as much as possible. Even if you are normally very healthy, you may get sick while abroad because of the stress of living in a new place and the exposure to new germs. Stomach ailments and the flu are the most common illnesses, so it is wise to bring some basic over-the-counter medications with you, such as pain or fever-reducers, antacids, and antidiarrheal medications. Make sure these medications are in their original packaging. You should also be sure to have all the prescription medicines you need. If you have severe vomiting or diarrhea, or if the problem continues for 48 hours or more, you should seek medical help with the assistance of your Resident Director.

Adjusting to Life Abroad

When you travel to a new place, you bring with you your values, patterns of behavior, and understandings about what is good and bad, normal and abnormal. Values, patterns of behavior, and understandings of everyday occurrences in your host country will be different from what you are used to. Some differences are easy to observe, such as traffic patterns or the way buildings or stores look. Others will be harder to observe and may pop up at unexpected times in every day interactions.

Culture shock is the discomfort people feel as they adjust to life in a new setting with different values, patterns of behavior, and expectations. It is a natural part of learning a new culture and adjusting to a different place, and nearly everyone experiences it.

Feelings often associated with culture shock can include extreme homesickness, physical complaints and sleep disturbances, frustration or annoyance, depression or anxiety, loss of sense of humor, boredom or fatigue, difficulty with coursework and concentration, the feeling that your language skills have grown worse on the program, or hostility toward the host culture.

Talk with your Resident Director, teachers, institute staff, language partner, CLS peers, and host family or roommate about things you do not understand or find frustrating. People who have experience living in both the United States and abroad are also excellent resources, as is the Alumni Support Network.

Here are some other useful strategies that will help with your adjustment to a new culture:

  • Set reasonable goals and expectations, particularly at the beginning.
  • Plan small tasks each day that will help you meet people and accomplish something, like preparing a new food or exploring a new part of the city.
  • Don’t isolate yourself – try to be social, even when you don’t feel like it.
  • Find a friend from the host community who can help “translate” the culture for you.
  • Pay attention to your body: eat properly, exercise, and get plenty of rest. The CLS program is tiring, and a good night's sleep will help to recharge your body and mind.
  • If there is something you do regularly at home, try doing it in the host country if appropriate.
  • Remember that it is normal to feel overwhelmed, but also that the feeling of being overwhelmed will go away.

If you are feeling depressed or the feelings of homesickness do not go away no matter how much you try to do other things, please talk with your Resident Director.

Safety and Security

The CLS Program takes participant safety very seriously and works closely with the U.S. Department of State and U.S. Embassies and Consulates to evaluate our program sites and review safety considerations before and during the program. All CLS Program participants are registered with the U.S. Embassy or Consulate overseas in advance of departure through the U.S. Department of State’s Smart Traveler Enrollment Program (STEP). In addition, local and U.S.-based staff are committed to providing a safe environment. All reasonable precautions are taken to ensure that participants are in safe living conditions and have access to medical care.

Important Safety Information

Countries where the CLS Program operates may experience economic, political, or social uncertainty. In this context, your “otherness” as a foreigner can attract unwanted attention and can have potential consequences for your personal safety. Our intention is not to frighten you but to make sure you have basic information to decrease the likelihood of experiencing crime. Some considerations for your own safety are listed below, and more information will be provided during your pre-departure and on-site orientations.

Personal Safety

  • Avoid American mannerisms that may draw attention to you, such as smiling at strangers, speaking loudly in public, or making eye contact. In many parts of the world, men consider eye contact from a woman as an invitation for more interaction. Sunglasses can be very useful to avoid this problem.
  • Dress appropriately for the local culture and avoid clothing that may be interpreted as provocative or makes you stand out as a foreigner.

Transportation Safety

  • Walking or traveling with a friend or in a small group is better than traveling alone or with a large group. Walking with someone else helps deflect approaches by people who might bother you.
  • Never walk alone at night. If you visit friends in the evening, ask them to escort you home or remain with you until you are in a taxi.
  • Always tell someone, such as friends or your host family, where you are going and when you expect to return.
  • If you want to visit a new neighborhood, make your first visit during the day. Look at a map and note the nearest sources of public transportation and routes. Discuss the safety of the neighborhood or area with CLS institute staff and other members of the host community, such as your language partner or host family.
  • When asking for directions, use common sense and approach people who seem non-threatening. A woman should not ask a single man for directions; ask another woman or a family. Likewise, a man should generally not ask a single woman for directions.
  • Traffic accidents are a significant risk to study abroad participants. Always stay alert as a pedestrian and look both ways before crossing the street. In many parts of the world, pedestrians do not have the right-of-way, so never assume a car will stop for you or steer out of the way. Stay on sidewalks away from the curb and walk facing oncoming traffic whenever possible. Be aware that traffic lights may change the instant a pedestrian walk light changes, and there may not be lag time to allow the pedestrian to finish crossing the street. If in doubt of how much time remains, wait for the next light cycle.

Avoiding Theft and Petty Crime

  • Be aware of purse-snatching, pick-pocketing, and other thefts, even in broad daylight and especially in busy marketplaces and tourist areas. Wallets in the back pocket of your pants or backpack are an attractive target. Keep your bags zipped and close to your person, either under your arm or in front of you.
  • Backpacks are not recommended for use on crowded public transportation. If you do carry a backpack, hold it in front of you or over one shoulder to ensure that you can watch it at all times.
  • A concealed money belt is a good option in crowded situations. Be sure to take out money you might need ahead of time.
  • Avoid carrying large bags during travel, when possible, as it could draw attention and attract pickpockets.
  • Be vigilant in restaurants, hotel lobbies, train compartments, airports, and train stations. Be wary of con artists, distractions, and diversions.
  • Talk to your host family about safety. Your safety is one of their priorities, and they will be able to give you more detailed information about areas you may want to avoid.
  • Practice situational awareness. Be aware of what is going on around you, and don’t think twice about moving or crossing the street to avoid unwanted attention.

Money Safety

  • Do not handle or display large quantities of money on the street. Only take out the amount of money that you need for a given transaction.
  • Be discreet with credit cards, jewelry, and electronic devices. Once you have obtained local currency, you probably won’t need to carry your credit/debit card every day. Be smart about what you carry with you when out and about in your host community.
  • Never carry more money than you immediately need. If you need to carry substantial amounts of money, consider wearing it under your clothes in a concealed money belt or pouch.
  • At home, lock your money and credit cards in a suitcase in your room, and be discreet with money around your host family. Even if you trust them, you may not be able to trust visitors or workers they may have over while you are out. Bring a luggage lock so you will be able to secure your valuables or very private belongings.

Exchanging Money and Withdrawing Money from an ATM

There are many safe locations where you can legally exchange money. When you do this, you should receive a receipt. Keep your receipts until you are back in the United States. Here are some tips for avoiding problems:

  • Go with a friend when you exchange money or use an ATM.
  • Avoid exchanging or withdrawing money when it is dark.
  • Do not call attention to yourself by speaking loudly when dealing with money. Count your money before stepping away from the exchange counter. Use your cell phone calculator to figure the exchange rate and be sure you received the right amount of money.
  • If you are traveling, get your trip money from an ATM before leaving so you won’t run the risk of losing your card in a defective ATM far from your host city.
  • Do not rely entirely on your ATM card for retrieving money. Bring some cash from the United States that you can exchange if your ATM card is not working.
  • Do not use an ATM if you see that there are many scratch marks near the card insertion slot, or if the card insertion slot is loose or looks like it has been detached. Find a different ATM to use.