Tulane Home Tulane Shield logo linking to site home page

What If? Health, Safety, Risk and Study Abroad

The purpose of this module is to have you start thinking of the ways that your host university and/or host culture may approach health, safety, and security differently than in the United States. Although its hard to predict, we will go through practices that can help you anticipate potential differences.

We will also go through general health and safety tips you should consider before and during your time abroad. Based on feedback from study abroad alumni, it doesn’t matter if you’re a seasoned traveler or it’s your first time abroad, the reality is that something can happen to anyone during study abroad and so it's important to be prepared. 

Influence of Culture on Health and Security

Culture plays an important part in determining how every country views health, safety, and security. By culture, I mean the norms and values associated with the concepts of health, safety and risk, along with the practices, the morals, and what is considered right and wrong. This definition stresses that culture is not limited to national, racial, ethnic or religious affiliation – it is comprised of overt beliefs and practices as well as the subtle and taken-for-granted conventions that frame our sense of reality, define what is normal and abnormal.

Culture specific and general knowledge are two things we can use to analyze to help us better understand how a country may view health issues. 

Culture Specific knowledge refers to particular characteristics that belong generally to members of a certain culture (though not necessarily to every individual within that culture!) For example, compare the various ways human beings greet one another – a handshake, a wave, a hug, a bow, a kiss on the cheek, or both cheeks – many of these are characteristic of specific cultures. If we understand, for example, the appropriate way of greeting someone from a different cultural group, this is "culture specific knowledge" of that group.

Culture General knowledge is concerned with dimensions or frameworks that can be used to describe and compare all cultures – a few identifiable dimensions are how cultures communicate, or show emotion, or relate to time. For example, for some cultures it is very important that schedules are followed closely, for others time is quite flexible, and schedules are not very important; understanding that different groups may relate to time differently is cultural general knowledge.

Health, Safety, and Security in the United States

  • To start us thinking about how culture influences health, let's first look at our experiences here at Tulane. 
  • Students with disabilities...Tulane wants you to feel accommodated and wants to meet your needs through the Goldman Center, golf carts, curb cuts, note takers, etc.
  • If you have a mental health diagnosis or may have one... Tulane recognizes that it is a valid concern and provides resources to help students navigate those challenges in the classroom and on campus.
  • Tulane wants students to be proactive about their health and take preventative measure. (The Well, the Stall Street Journal, focus on on-campus activities without alcohol, emotional support puppies). 
  • Tulane has 5 full-time staff at the Well, 5 full-time staff at the Goldman Center, 22 full-time staff at CAPS and then 26 full-time staff at the Student Health Center.

Overall, these few examples show how the emphasis at Tulane is on physical and mental health. The support services here want students to use them. The staff in these roles want to assist students in receiving the care that they need in order to succeed. These services at Tulane also reveal the general attitude towards health in the United States. 

The United States recognizes that mental and physical health issues are valid concerns and so Tulane provides services that support students. The American with Disabilities Act (ADA) is an example of how services and protections may change in other countries. Australia has the Disability Discrimination Act while Canada integrated policies into their general Human Rights Act. Ultimately, these variances show how the protections and rights the United States provides us is not universal.

Health, Safety, and Security in your Host Country

It’s important to consider the way health and safety is treated at Tulane so you can prepare to enter your host institutions and plan for the potentially different approaches to health and safety that you might encounter. An awareness of cultural contexts allows us to think about the values we often assume to be universal. In examining them we challenge ourselves to assess what we take for granted, and to rethink our assumptions of health in other countries. 

Students on our programs are studying in many different locations and each individual's experiences with the local culture will vary based on their own identity and needs, as well as the individuals that they may encounter.

While we can’t necessarily go into the specifics about each and every host culture that students enter into, we can get some general ideas about how notions of health and safety may vary across cultures by understanding culture general frameworks for approaching health. It is important to think about both these culture general approaches to health and safety as well as the variants and dimensions of culture-specific understandings of health within the complex cultures of your host country.

Hofestede's 6 dimensions of culture are useful for us to consider some of the value systems that operate at a national level and that also vary on an individual level. These will also influence approaches to health and safety.

It is important that we take into consideration how our understandings of the practices and protocols around health and safety are culturally relative.

Mental Health

"Homesickness was something I was worried before abroad especially around the bigger holidays in the United States. I was especially nervous when Thanksgiving was coming around because I knew I would be missing out on my family's traditions. On the day of, my American friends in my program all came together to cook a large Thanksgiving meal. It was difficult to find all the ingredients but it really helped my homesickness and was one of my favorite memories from the semester." - study abroad student to Senegal, Fall 2019

Studying abroad is a time of huge excitement. You are embarking on an adventure, no doubt. But with it comes a large amount of responsibility. You will be making a significant investment, moving across the world, meeting new people, adjusting to a new culture and to new academic norms. All of these “new” experiences can cause anxiety or stress as you adjust. If you are feeling anxious or stressed out right now, a lot of that anxiety may be stemming from the unknown aspects of your upcoming experience.

You're probably wondering...

  • What will class be like?
  • Will you be able to understand the accents?
  • Will you make friends and have fun?
  • Will you miss your life back home?

There are a lot of questions connected to study abroad and a lot of these questions will not be answerable until you are on site. They may feel like a large cloud just hovering over you but one of the most fruitful and productive ways to deal with anxiety is to identify what you can’t control and recognize it as such. Then, create a strategy for dealing with those things when they occur.

For example, if you are concerned about academic success and understanding the accents of your professors, surely you will not be able to know what the exact issues are until you are on site. So, acknowledging that, what can you do to prepare for this worst in this situation?

  • Think about what you would do at Tulane if you had a professor you didn’t understand.
  • Research the norms of the student professor relationship in your host country.
  • Research the add-drop period so that you can drop a class if you don’t understand the accent.
  • Identify the academic resources that will be available to you on the program prior to departure.
  • Bring your accommodations letter from Goldman and share it with program staff immediately.

As the anecdote at the start of this section mentioned, homesickness and periods where you're feeling lonely are also common during study abroad. It is helpful to understand that happens to everyone and to think of potential ways to respond this. It's ok to have bad days and figuring out ways to help get yourself out of these periods will be incredibly helpful during your time abroad. 

We realize that this semester or year may be a particularly challenging one as you navigate cultural shock, differences in academic expectations, or the stress of an internship or research position abroad. Your provider or host university may provide mental health resources to you as part of your program fee. Program staff can also assist you in locating mental healthcare providers within your host country if needed. While students do typically have access to such resources on site through their provider or host university, keep in mind these resources may differ from what you may encounter in the U.S. depending on your program as well as the host country’s culture respective to mental health. Before you depart, reach out to your program contact directly to ask about counseling and other services which may be available to you on-site.  

All students studying on Tulane-approved programs are required to maintain both a domestic and international health insurance policy while abroad. If you have opted to remain enrolled in T-SHIP as your domestic policy, UnitedHealthcare StudentResources and HealthiestYou have partnered together to provide access to doctors and mental healthcare from anywhere you are, even while traveling internationally. All services are free for students covered under the UHCSR insurance plan; services are available for all other students for a fee. Students who are not enrolled in T-SHIP should research remote mental health resources available through their domestic provider.

Additional mental health resources, resources for students with disabilities, and resources for neurodiverse students can be found on our Identity-Based Resources page

Physical and Sexual Assault *Trigger Warning

This page will discuss physical and sexual assault. Because this can be distressing, we are including this notice to give students a warning of what the next page contains. The second half of the next page discusses resources for devising a plan, should something happen. You can skip straight there if you need to.

No one wants to prepare for physical or sexual assault while abroad. It is something that we hope never happens but is a tragic reality at home and abroad. Being away from home and in a foreign country can exacerbate some of the emotions that victims may feel. If you find yourself in this position, know that it is not your fault and that we are here to support you in whatever way possible. The second half of this document will provide guidance for you and we encourage you to skip straight there. So we can take a two-pronged approach to thinking about it. The first component is to think about ways to limit the risk of physical or sexual assault while you are abroad. The second component is to devise a plan for handling it if it occurs to you or someone you know.

Although New Orleans may be a relatively unsafe city, your familiarity with the community around Tulane means that you are safe in your day to day routines and can navigate your surroundings to avoid locations with a high prevalence of violence or criminal activity. Beyond that, let’s think about how you travel around the city. If you’re planning a night out with friends, maybe starting at a restaurant on Magazine street, bopping over to Frenchmen for some live music and then ended up in the French Quarter for some beignets. How many of you will take the bus or the streetcar to go on that night out? What about biking?

Commonly, you would be most likely to either take an Uber/Lyft or drive. In your host countries, it may be much more likely to take public transport or walk. Keep in mind that certain activities or behaviors can make you a target, no matter where you are.

  • Walking/taking transport alone
  • Stopping on the street to consult a map or phone to look for directions
  • Being very loud
  • Being obviously inebriated
  • Acting outside of the local norms

Again, regardless of how you are behaving, no individual has a right to take away your autonomy. If someone violates your safety, it is no one’s fault but theirs.

We encourage you to travel in small groups, or pairs. Do not leave one another alone. It is always better to be too cautious, than to look back and wish you had done more in that moment. Figure out the directions before you go from point A to point B. Make sure you are able to navigate at all points throughout the day and night. For all genders, observe the behaviors of your peers – how do they dress, how to they speak to one another, act on the street, drink, etc. Try to emulate their behaviors and act according to the acceptable behaviors of your host city.

On the flip side, how to handle something once it’s happened:

First, victims may be feeling a variety of things, including shame and fear. The first thing to know is that this instance is not the victim’s fault. You will get your power back. The victim was not asking for it and is in no way responsible for this act of violence. 

Understanding the culture of your host city will be helpful in determining how locals may view you or someone you know being sexually assaulted. 

Here are steps to take:

  1. Let someone know. Whether that person is a friend, professor, or the Tulane Title IX office– it is vital that you do not struggle alone. 
  2. If you feel comfortable, call the local equivalent of 911 and file a report. Please be aware that in many countries, the judicial process can be difficult surrounding these issues. We don’t want to discourage you from taking legal action, as you have every right to do so, but consider reaching out to someone before to understand the standard regarding these cases. In countries where the 911 equivalent is not the answer, ask the program advisors in your host country.
  3. Seek medical care.
  4. Check in with the program or host university staff.
  5. Check in with your parents/family, if you feel comfortable. 
  6. Check in with Tulane – fill out a report.
  7. Reach out to program staff or Tulane’s Title IX office to explore options for therapy and counseling after the event. You may not think you need it and you may be scared to go, but we encourage you to look into this option. 

Reporting to Tulane:

We are here for you.

When a person experiences sexual or physical violence, it can feel as though your power--your choices--have been taken away from you. When you disclose to Tulane, we want you to get your power back. That's why reporting to Tulane means that you have choices to make about what the next steps look like. For some people, reporting is to ensure that your experience is recognized; for others, reporting is a means to get the support you need to feel safe and healthy; or, reporting can be a way to initiate our conduct process because you want to hold whomever harmed you accountable for their behavior. It could be all three. This is what you can expect when you disclose to Tulane:

The report is sent to Case Management and Victim Support Services (504-314-2160), who will reach out to you to offer support. They will explain the Tulane conduct process to you and will connect you to our Office of Student Conduct (504-865-5516) and can connect you to the police. If you decide to report, you can choose to proceed forward with a conduct case or a criminal case.

There are some instances, though, where the information you share is so serious that the university needs to move forward without your participation because there is a threat to the community. You will be told about this decision, and you can make choices about what you want to share or not.

You can make an anonymous report using this form provided by the University.

The report also goes to the Title IX Coordinator (504-314-2160), who is responsible for ensuring that every report receives a response and then collects data on incidents of violence so that we can track where, when, and who these incidents impact.

Title IX Get Help Now page

Substances

"I knew that while I was abroad the potential risks from drinking and doing drugs was higher than at Tulane. Although I knew other students were partaking in this and that it was also common in my host country, I stayed true to myself. I also stuck to a friend group that had the same mindset as me. Whenever we would go out, we would watch out for each other and make sure we all stayed together. It was the same habits I used with my Tulane friends but I also found it helpful abroad." - study abroad student to Spain, Fall 2019

Depending on where you are going, drinking and drugs may be more or less readily available and culturally acceptable to use than in New Orleans. Using may have different legal implications. No matter what the relationship of your host country to alcohol and drugs, the use of substances in almost every instance will make you more susceptible, not less, to becoming a victim of some type of crime.

What is legal in your host country may not be culturally acceptable. It may be legal for you to get really drunk and loud but that doesn’t mean that the host culture will accept it. If you go to the Boot around happy hour, the culture in this area means that a certain type of behavior will be acceptable. Just keep in mind that certain types of behavior may not be acceptable in your host country. It's important to realize that American college party culture does not compute abroad. If you are sent to jail, Tulane cannot bail you out. 

Romance Abroad

Part of a healthy life abroad may mean exploring romantic opportunities in your host culture and that is perfectly fine. But do learn about romantic norms in your host country before you begin dating. In some cultures, it’s inappropriate to show affection in public whereas in others it’s totally normal to see young people kissing in public. Other cultures may have different expectations when it comes to dating – what is considered a date, who pays for things, how long to date before taking things to the “next level”, what appropriate follow-up is…so try to identify where you feel comfortable, even if it’s different from the host country norms. Feel free to draw the line even if it creates a cultural gaff or misunderstanding. Your boundaries are your boundaries and they don’t need to be modified just because of the norms of your host culture. 

Understanding what you're comfortable with is also incredibly important when using dating apps in other countries. Your host country may use the same dating apps as in the United States but that does not mean that the customs and norms are the same. Again, think of your host country's culture when trying to determine potential differences and be safe if you choose to meet up with anyone you meet online. 

Here is some student advice about using dating apps: "I think dating apps can be a great way to meet local, if used correctly. One recommendation I'd suggest is to only meet up with people during the day in public spaces, preferably with a group of friends! Most people I talked to were super open to bring a group of their own friends too, and this way you can meet a lot of new people who can show you the ins and outs of their city. For example, I used Tinder during Carnaval in Brazil to meet up with a group of people during a parade. I brought some of my American friends with me and we all had a great afternoon." - Tulane study abroad student to Brazil, Spring 2020

Secondly, try to pay attention to the availability of certain things like condoms, birth control, and STI medications. You may not be able to find these things in your host country so consider this before you go and be responsible during your time abroad. 

COVID-19

Given the COVID-19 pandemic, it is important that you take extra precautions before and during your time abroad. You must also sign Tulane's COVID social contract. Below is a list of necessary actions to take...

Before Leaving

Health Monitoring:

Students will be asked to monitor their health for the 14 days prior to departure and Tulane recommends that Covid-19 testing within the week prior to departure. If test results are acquired, it is highly recommended to bring test results with to the airport. Be aware some U.S. laboratories are showing delays in processing Covid-19 test results as of July 2020.

Packing List:

Students should bring a thermometer for daily temperature monitoring, hand sanitizing gel, and their own supply of masks to use for the during of the program.

Mobile Phones:

Students must have a functional smart phone with an international data plan. Not only is it needed for emergency alerts, but countries may require students to download an application to monitor exposure to the virus for contract-tracing.

While Abroad

Independent Travel:

Independent travel in the spring semester will be strongly discouraged, is optional, and the student will assume all associated risk. Students will be requested to limit travel to within the country of study to minimize exposure brought about by travel as well as travel disruptions.

Preventative Measures:

Every country and study abroad has a different policy for Covid-19, so it is important to familiarize yourself with local laws and procedures before you leave. In general though, you should follow these preventative measures:

  • Stay at least 6 feet away from other people whenever possible and avoid mass gatherings where people are in close proximity
  • Follow local regulations related to social distancing, group gatherings, and the use of face masks
  • If you are feeling Covid-19 symptoms, self-isolate yourself and contact your program. 
  • Wash your hands frequently with warm water and soap for 20 seconds
  • Avoid all unnecessary travel outside of your host country

If you have COVID-19 symptoms:

If you are feeling symptomatic you must self-isolate and notify staff immediately. They will be able to assist you in securing medical attention. 

Check out this COVID Resource for information on COVID restrictions in your country/region.