Is study abroad safe? As the entire world grapples with the impact of COVID-19, thousands of students from around the world have had their international study or internship abroad plans disrupted. First, it was students being sent home from China, then Italy and now most spring abroad programs have been shut down. While this is frustrating and without question having an academic and financial impact on students, ultimately universities made the decision to cancel programs to keep their students healthy and safe as we all navigate this challenging global pandemic. But, what if you’re planning to go abroad in the future? Is it still safe to go abroad? If you - or ehemm, your parents - are feeling a little hesitant about studying abroad given the current state of world affairs (e.g., COVID-19, natural disaster, political unrest) that’s completely understandable and you’re not alone. Ultimately, the decision to study or intern abroad is a personal decision. But how do you know if study abroad is still safe? Here are four things to consider when making the decision to study abroad:
Risk Exists Everywhere
It should go without saying that there is risk everywhere. Unfortunately, COVID-19 is a perfect example of this. While it originated in China, it is now in hundreds of countries around the world. There’s nowhere you can live, including in your hometown, that is 100% risk free. It’ll be up to you and your family to determine if there is more, less or the same amount of risk in your study abroad destination as there is at home. This isn’t specific to global pandemics, but any possible risk.
It’s also important to assess the difference between real and perceived risk. At times things that are ‘foreign’ are considered to be a greater risk because it comes from places unknown or far away. Don’t fall into this trap. Not only does it create environments where racism and xenophobia flourish, it also prevents you from having a life changing experience abroad based on unwarranted fear of the other. Take time to research your study abroad destination and whether you decide to go abroad or not depending on the safety of the location, make an informed decision.
Consider How Your Identity Can Impact Your Safety Abroad
Depending on how you identify, you may experience study abroad differently from your peers of other identities. This doesn’t necessarily mean that you’ll have negative experiences, but based on feedback from abroad alumni over the years we know students from certain identity backgrounds, particularly students of color, women, LGBTQIA+ students and those of certain religious backgrounds, are more prone to face incidents related to their identity abroad. Does this mean you shouldn’t go abroad? We’re definitely not saying that! But, it’s important to know what the experience is like in-country for people who share your identity and make sure it’s safe. If your institution subscribes to Abroad360°, you can access country specific identity guides. If you don’t have access to Abroad360°, you can search other articles and guides on our site to learn more about the diversity & inclusion climate in your abroad destination.
Know the Risk of Your Abroad Destination
Natural disasters, political unrest and violence are challenges we grapple with worldwide. However, if there is civil unrest in Venezuela does that mean you shouldn't study abroad in Argentina? There’s currently an Ebola outbreak in the Demoratic Republic of the Congo. Should you avoid interning abroad in South Africa? Just like there are likely some parts of your city that are safer than others, there will be some destinations around the world that are riskier than others. So what can you do? Research the local situation where you’re planning to study abroad. Remember, you’ll have to decide what level of risk you’re okay with. Also it’s important to be familiar with the health and safety resources provided by your home university and the local university or program operator. Yes, we know sometimes the pre-departure meetings can be long and not the most engaging and those thick study abroad manuals - we won’t even. Point being, it’s important to be aware of the resources available to support you. No one can completely guarantee a risk free study abroad experience - same way no one can do that at your home university - but the more informed you are the better prepared you’ll be just in case.
Explore Global Opportunities at Home
After evaluating safety and potential risk of study abroad, you may decide that a program abroad just isn’t for you right now. There’s nothing wrong with that. While we’re huge proponents of immersive international education experiences, we also appreciate that you can be globally engaged at home. Do you live in a city with an immigrant community? Explore ways of learning more about and engaging with the global community in your backyard. Most likely there are international students on your campus. Are you playing a part and building a campus climate of belonging and inclusion for international students? Taking advantage of opportunities to engage with international students isn’t just a way to help foster a globally inclusive campus, it’s also a way for you to learn about new cultures, languages, and perspectives.
So, Is it Safe to Study Abroad?
Studying or interning abroad are phenomenal opportunities to diversify your academic experience and help you gain the skills that will prepare you for career success no matter what you’re studying. Whether it’s learning a language, holistically engaging with different cultures or challenging yourself in ways that are only available when you’re fully immersed in an unfamiliar environment, you’ll benefit from study abroad. Still, going abroad it comes with some potential risk. Take time to think about what level of risk you’re okay with, research your location and consider how your identity may impact your experience. We can’t say if study abroad is safe specifically for you. That’s a decision you have to make, but we’re here to support you. Be sure to leverage Diversity Abroad’s articles and guides to make your research easier and use our programs abroad directory to find global opportunities from our trusted partners.
Author: Andrew Gordon, CEO & Founder of Diversity Abroad
Andrew Gordon is a social entrepreneur and CEO & Founder of Diversity Abroad. With a passion for student success, global education and social entrepreneurship, he founded Diversity Abroad in 2006. He’s fluent in Spanish and Portuguese and proficient in French and has studied, worked and traveled in 56 countries.