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European Study Abroad Safety Essentials

Assimilating to a new culture and way of life across the pond for an entire semester can be daunting and nerve-racking. That being said, there are certain precautions travelers in a foreign country can take. When traveling across Europe, here are a few tips to keep in mind.

For Haley Carey, MCAS ’18, who studied abroad in France this past fall, the biggest surprise was how French men interact with women.

“In general they are very persistent in that they will try to follow you home in a car or on foot. Some of my friends have had guys try to force their way into their buildings or have had to do laps in order to lose guys in cars that were following them,” Carey explains. “I think this is a French cultural thing…here, making eye contact with a man is code for wanting him to approach you, not just in bars but on the street, in restaurants, stores, etc.”

Carey found that as long as she “played it safe” in these situations, she was fine. She learned that male behavior in France is mainly a part of French culture and its own understanding of gender roles.

While parents and students alike may worry about safety in Europe in light of recent terror attacks, it’s important to remember that similar attacks have also occurred on American soil; we generally don’t walk around every street corner of Boston fearing for our lives.

In terms of worrying about terror attacks in large cities, there isn't much that can be controlled by the individual traveler besides his or her own attitude toward the situation.

One tangible piece of advice for those worried about terrorist attacks abroad is signing up for city or country specific embassy alerts. Peter Tramontozzi, MCAS ’18, explains that travelers can sign up with the US embassy in their respective countries of travel to receive alerts for anything that one may need to know, including earthquakes, employee strikes, and heightened threats to the EU.

“I think especially with Paris and France in general there's a fear from the outside about whether or not people living here are safe,” says Ellie Schaeffer, MCAS ’18. “From people I've met and my homestay, it doesn't seem to be a daily worry. If I worry about it at all, it's when the metro closes for suspicious activity or something of that sort, but that's rare.”

Jackie Mandella, CSOM ’18, adds, “In airport and train stations in all the different cities I've been to there's always been guards patrolling with huge guns, which was weird at first, but now something I've gotten used to.”

In terms of day-to-day safety, in the most simplistic way, it’s important to be aware of what’s going on in your immediate surroundings and where your important belongings are.

“On Halloween in Italy, five people I know got their phones stolen from them at the club and in Barcelona I've heard a lot of people who have been pickpocketed in clubs or on the metro,” explains Mandella. “I think as long as you're aware of your surroundings and just always have in your mind, ‘OK where's my stuff, let me check that I have everything,’ you should be fine.”

Tramontozzi recommends being extra careful in major cities. “Major cities are filled with people trying to sell you things, talk to you and get your attention, or even beg for money. They can work together to have one person distract you while someone else is trying to pickpocket you.”

George Chunias, CSOM ’18, adds with a bit of humor, “Never be alone unless you're proficient in hand-to-hand combat or can adequately handle a switchblade. When you're walking through a crowd or down a busy street keep your hands in your pockets holding onto your phone/wallet.”

“All in all, I feel confident and safe while abroad. BC does a good job with coordinators making sure everyone is accounted for and with advice on safety,” concludes Tramontozzi.

In terms of night life abroad, Chunias recommends not getting too chummy with anyone you just met. “Don't try to be a local and interact with randos at the bar. Just assume everyone outside the US is trying to murder you,” half-jokes Chunias. However, his joke does ring a rattling truth. “Odds are they aren't, but I would rather be standoffish and isolated than outgoing and scattered in pieces throughout the Atlantic.”

It’s also always a good rule of thumb to not flaunt that you’re a tourist, especially an American tourist. While you might not be wearing an American flag fanny pack when you roll up to the clubs, Merritt Peck, LSOE ’18, explains that it’s a good idea to avoid wearing “BC clothes or super obviously American outfits because a lot of cities really aren't big fans of us.”

Chunias sums up safety for an expedition abroad quite succinctly as he says, “My only advice is just to travel in packs like cavernous animals and just be conscious of your belongings and your surroundings.”

When traveling on the weekends, not only is it important to be careful during the days, but also where you choose to rest your head at night. While hotels are likely not in the budget of a college student, hostels and Airbnb rentals are the best option for a Euro traveler on a budget.

It appears that the favored option for weekend trips is staying in houses and apartments booked through Airbnb over hostels. Airbnbs can be fabulous because they are generally owned by locals who will have a multitude of recommendations for travelers, and who know the lowdown on the safe and unsafe parts of town.

Mandella preferred Airbnbs because, as she says, “You were free to move at your own leisure and had your own space, and didn't have to worry about locking up your stuff. I never felt unsafe, but I felt safest in an Airbnb because it was someone else's home, which was comforting.”

However, hostels can also be a great option if you get a private room and you stay with friends. If you want the cheapest housing option, booking a bed in a dorm-style room will be best. Oftentimes, there are many lock boxes available to store your valuables.

There are sites like Hostelworld where you can input the city you’re traveling to and how many people you want to book for, and it shows you all the hostels available to accommodate the group.

The most important tip while traveling abroad is to have the right mindset, finding a balance between staying confident and optimistic in your travels while not being naïve toward your new surroundings.

“I generally try to keep in mind that Boston, a place that I constantly associate with feelings of home and safety, also had one of the most major terrorist attacks on American soil,” says Anne Bigler, MCAS ’18. “Really, anything could happen anywhere. And, I'm not prepared to commit myself to the life of a hermit to avoid something that will be so unlikely in my future.”

The excitement of exploration should trump the fear of safety, and the few months abroad can be made into some incredible lasting memories. Staying aware, remembering safe traveler tips, and embracing the local cultures will aid in a pleasurable time abroad.

Peck explains that when she got to Europe she felt a lot safer than she initially thought. “I think what helps for me when I'm in a new city and feeling kind of nervous is that I just remind myself that all this is where a lot of people really live. That sounds dumb, but if I'm worried something is going happen, I just tell myself that people spend every day of their lives here feeling totally comfortable and normal, so it can't be all that bad.”

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