Critical Language Scholarship Program | Health and Safety

Health and Safety

Daily Considerations

Physical Health

Prior to departure, CLS staff will provide information regarding COVID-19 testing and quarantine protocols, as well as requirements and recommendations developed in response to the pandemic. In addition to these considerations, you should seek to 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 due to the stress of living in a new place and 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. In addition to any monitoring and reporting of symptoms associated with the COVID-19 virus, please alert your Resident Director to discuss medical care if you have severe vomiting or diarrhea, or if you experience a health problem that continues for 48 hours or more.

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” or “normal” and “abnormal”. Values, patterns of behavior, and understandings of everyday occurrences in your host community 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 everyday 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 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.

CLS Turkish participants in Baku, Azerbaijan.

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. During a quarantine period, this might include reaching out to others online, hosting a virtual tea or coffee chat, or inviting others to join in an online activity.
  • 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 community 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, 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.

CLS Korean participants in Busan, South Korea.

Important Safety Information

Countries where the CLS Program operates may experience economic, political, or social uncertainty. In this context, your status as a foreigner can attract unwanted attention and 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-program and on-site orientations.

Personal Safety

  • Observe interactions between members of your host community and talk with your Resident Director, host family, or language partner about culturally appropriate behavior that may help to lower your profile as a foreigner.
  • Dress appropriately for the local culture and avoid clothing that may be interpreted as provocative or makes you stand out as a foreigner. Although foreigners are often considered “exempt” from local societal norms of dress, it is important to communicate respect by abiding by the local dress culture, which will also help you lower your profile.

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 take licensed taxis.
  • 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. It is best to ask a family group or an individual of the same gender as you for directions. Please note that in some cultures, it is not considered appropriate for a man to approach a single woman for directions. Program staff will talk about culturally appropriate interactions during the pre-program orientations if this is the case.
  • 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 you are not sure how much time remains to cross the street, wait for the next light cycle.

    CLS Persian participants pose by a statue of Persian poet Rudaki on a walking tour visiting Rudaki Park in Dushanbe, Tajikistan.

    Avoiding Theft and Petty Crime

    • Be aware of bag-snatching, pick-pocketing, and other theft, 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 see 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, laptops and smart phones. 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 debit/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 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 receipts and keep them 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. Calculate the exchange rate and be sure you received the right amount of money.
    • If you are traveling, withdraw any money you expect to need for your trip 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. Inspect the ATM for skimmer devices, which can look like pieces of tape or plastic attached to the machine.

    CLS Hindi participants in Jaipur, India visit a local store.

    Water Safety

    While on the CLS Program there may be opportunities for you to swim, go boating, or participate in other water-based activities. Any activity involving water carries risks, including drowning, injury, and water-borne illness. The safety precautions that you may be used to in the United States, for example, the presence of lifeguards, will likely not be present at your host site. Students are strongly encouraged to carefully consider the risks before participating in water-based activities and follow common sense and water safety guidelines to minimize water-related health issues or injuries.


    Keep in mind that drowning is a significant risk. To reduce the risk of drowning, we expect students to adhere to the following safety measures:

    • Assess your own comfort with water and your ability to swim.
    • Approach all water with an abundance of caution.
    • Only swim in designated areas.
    • Never swim or go boating alone, always go with at least one other person.
    • Do not swim or go boating at night.
    • Do not consume alcohol before or during swimming or boating.
    • Do not dive into unfamiliar or shallow water as the depth may not be obvious or marked and dangerous objects, such as rocks, may be present.
    • If you have an opportunity to ride on a boat, use proper safety equipment such as life jackets.
    • Beware of invisible dangers such as riptides and strong currents.
    • Adhere to posted signs, including those that prohibit swimming in a specific area, or note the absence of lifeguards.

    Water Quality and Water-Borne Illness

    In addition to drowning, partaking in water-based activities can also expose you to germs which may cause water-borne illness. Information outlining water quality may not be readily available.

    Before participating in any water-based activity, students should review the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) host country page for health notices and any specific information related to staying safe around water. Students should also exercise caution and follow the general tips below to avoid germs in the water:

    • Make sure you are aware of potential infections that may result from swimming or wading in the waters in your host community. For example, consider whether schistosomiasis and leptospirosis are common in your region.
    • Do not swallow water.
    • Do not engage in water-based activities with open cuts or wounds.
    • Consider potential pollutants that may be present in the water but may not be visible.

    Other Water-Related Risks

    In addition to the risk of drowning and illness, there are other risks associated with being in and near water. Please keep the following in mind:

    • Be aware of aquatic animals that may pose a risk in your area such as sharks, jellyfish, water snakes, etc.
    • Consider the risk of hypothermia, particularly if swimming or boating in mountainous areas or other areas where the water temperature may be significantly colder than the air.
    • Think about your footwear when going to a beach. Consider wearing shoes with sturdy soles as you walk on a beach, as hazards such as broken glass, sea urchins, animal feces, and parasites, may be present.

    Heat-Related Concerns

    Many CLS sites experience prolonged periods of intense heat and/or humidity in the summer. CLS-provided housing may or may not have air conditioning, and it will likely take some time for you to adjust to the local climate upon arrival. It is important to keep in mind that heat and exposure to the sun can carry risks such as heat exhaustion and heat stroke. Participants should be aware of the following suggestions whenever they plan to spend a significant amount of time outside in their host community, whether visiting a beach, hiking, walking, or doing anything else outdoors:

    • Wear lightweight clothing that provides coverage and apply sunscreen to exposed areas regularly to reduce the risk of sunburn.
    • Consider wearing a hat and sunglasses for further protection from the sun.
    • Stay in the shade and avoid being outside during the hottest part of the day as much as possible.
    • Stay hydrated. Even if you are not thirsty, drink plenty of water and replenish electrolytes frequently.