In this section, you will find information on how to better cope during a crisis. Being able to deal well with a crisis situation includes understanding your emotions, keeping yourself as safe as possible, and communicating with your emergency contacts by creating and using your personal Emergency Action Plan (EAP). Please refer to the Emergency Card, and EAP Steps provided for more resources on crisis management and emergency planning.
Most students returning from study abroad say that it was one of the most valuable parts of their college or university experience. However, similar to the realities on a U.S. campus, there may be a few students who encounter a minor or major emergency while abroad in the country of your choice. Many study abroad programs have developed comprehensive support strategies. The first place to start getting information about your program's support strategies is in your study abroad advisor's office in the United States and your program director's office in the country of your choice. We have also provided the following resources: Emergency Card, Personal Emergency Action Plan, Emergency Action Plan Steps, to assist you in being prepared before going and after arriving in the country of your choice.
1. Minor and Major Emergencies
While most students experience a safe and healthy time abroad, some are forced to deal with minor emergencies. However, what students consider a minor emergency here at home can turn into a more difficult to handle situation abroad in the country of your choice. Small emergencies abroad can seem like larger ones due to language and communication barriers, and a lack of familiarity with foreign surroundings. Some of the minor emergencies students have faced abroad in the country of your choice included illnesses like diarrhea and heatstroke, and crimes like petty theft and mugging.
In addition to minor emergencies, some students may also face larger emergencies while in the country of your choice. Frequently, these major emergencies tend to be events out of a student's control. Some unpredictable, major emergencies that could occur abroad include: natural disasters like earthquakes and hurricanes, acts of terrorism, and serious medical problems.
2. Things To Do Before a Crisis Occurs
- Emergency Action Plan: The first step in crisis management is being prepared before a crisis occurs. Consider adopting a personal Emergency Action Plan (EAP) for yourself. Essentially, this document describes what actions to take in the event of an emergency. Your EAP could be as simple as a list of people to call in case you are hurt, along with copies of your insurance papers, passport, and names of any medications to which you are allergic. Please see the Emergency Planning section for how to create a personal EAP, and steps to take during an emergency.
Why Create an EAP?
The more support networks you have during an emergency or crisis, the more likely someone will be available to help you. Also, the better prepared you are ahead of time, the better chance you have of responding effectively to a crisis in the country of your choice. Therefore, it is important to set–up support networks, and an EAP, before an emergency occurs–before you actually need assistance. Creating an EAP is a good first step towards keeping yourself healthy and safe in the event of an emergency or crisis while in the country of your choice.
Who Needs a Copy of Your EAP?
We remind you to give copies of your EAP to your contacts in the country of your choice, and leave copies with appropriate contacts at home, which may include several family members and friends. Make sure to always keep a copy on hand for yourself as well. You should consider giving your EAP to the following contacts:
In the United States:
- Your primary home emergency contact
- Power of Attorney
- Family members/relatives/guardian
- Your home campus/institution's department(s), which maintains emergency contact information for study abroad students (for instance, the study abroad office, student affairs, registrar, etc.)
- Your study abroad program provider, whether it is or is not located on your home campus
In the country of your choice:
- Your primary abroad emergency contact
- Housing coordinator abroad/home–stay family member(s)
- Friends or family abroad (both in the country of your choice and in other neighboring countries you may visit)
- Your abroad campus/institution's department(s), which maintains emergency contact information for study abroad students, where applicable
- Your study abroad program resident director/coordinator in the country of your choice, where applicable
- Attach your EAP to your embassy or consulate registration form (if they accept it)
How to Create an EAP
- Getting to You: Ideally, try to develop detailed written directions so that someone would be able to locate you at your study abroad location in the country of your choice, or travel location(s), in the event of an emergency. You may want to draw visual aids or maps in addition to writing out instructions.
- Getting Yourself Out: Then, try to develop detailed instructions for yourself, showing possible routes from your place of residence, hotel/hostel, work/internship and/or university/program in the country of your choice to a safe place. You may also want to include other places that you frequent, including shops, restaurants, subway stations, nightclubs, etc. You may want to draw visual aids or include a copy of a map in addition to writing out instructions.
- Things to Consider: Remember, elevators may not function, and electric doors may not open in the event of an emergency; make sure to map out escape routes in which you take the stairs (or wheelchair ramps) rather than elevators. Consider carrying a small flashlight with you at all times in case the lights go out and you need to find your way through dark hallways or stairwells. Phone lines may also go down, so don't rely on calling someone to come pick you up. Have your Emergency/First Aid Kit available to take with you.
- Programs and Groups: Check to see what kind of emergency plan your program/group has (if any). Even though you are with a program/group, you may have to rely on your own EAP to help you cope with a crisis. It is important to create a balance between what your program/group can do for you in an emergency, what your embassy/consulate can do, what your personal contacts can do, and what you will need to do for yourself.
- On Your Own: If you are not studying/traveling with a program or group, it becomes even more crucial for you to create a detailed EAP; you might find yourself alone and entirely responsible for your own safety, your own evacuation, and your own well–being. If you are traveling independently, provide an itinerary for your trip. Check in with your emergency contacts by e–mail or phone from your various travel locations; this will help give them a general idea of where you are and where you are going. Remember to carry your Emergency Card with you at all times so you can get in touch with your contacts for assistance. Try to balance what your embassy/consulate can do for you in an emergency, how your contacts might be able to help you, and what you will need to accomplish on your own.
- Registration with the Embassy: When you arrive in the country of your choice, register with the U.S. Consulate or Embassy (if you are not a U.S. citizen, register with the embassy/consulate of your home country). Registering with the Consulate or Embassy officials will make it easier for them to contact you in case of an emergency and to assist you in case you lose your passport, etc. To better enable them to assist you, it is suggested that you sign the privacy release form when you register. Ask for a briefing from the consular officer on safety issues in the country of your choice.
- Injury: Prior to departure or immediately upon arrival in the country of your choice, you should identify appropriate medical facilities in case of injury abroad. It is important to know whether your travel insurance will pay in advance for care, or whether you will need to apply for reimbursement. In the case of injury, the U.S. Bureau of Consular Affairs can assist your family in sending you the necessary funds to pay for your medical care. In some instances they can help arrange for your transport and accompaniment back home, although they won't pay for this.
- Serious Emergencies: Natural disasters, political upheaval, and terrorism are some of the events the U.S. State Department considers to be serious emergencies or crises. When they occur, a task force is set up in Washington D.C. to deal with the situation and provide assistance to U.S. citizens abroad.
- Charter Out of a Country: If political crisis disturbs regular departures from the country of your choice or the other countries in which you are traveling, and it is unsafe for Americans to remain abroad, your program provider and/or the U.S. State Department may be able to arrange for special charter travel out of a country.
- Death: In the event of your death abroad, the Bureau of Consular Affairs will locate and inform your next of kin and relay special instructions for the disposition or burial of your remains, although they will not pay for this. A representative from the Bureau can also help to settle your estate on behalf of your relatives by preparing an official Foreign Service Report of Death that can be used in U.S. courts.
3. Who Can Help You?
- What Program Sponsors Should Do: A task force of study abroad administrators developed a set of guidelines, which include fourteen points of responsibilities for program administrators. (To see the fourteen points, go to Good Practices for Health and Safety.)
- Participant Responsibilities and What Program Sponsors Cannot Do: Even after evaluating your program's ability to perform in the event of a crisis, certain things remain beyond the control of all program sponsors. Good Practices for Health and Safety lists six points about what program sponsors cannot do and lists twelve responsibilities of program participants.
- What Your University/Institution Abroad Can Do: This differs from institution to institution. The staff and administrators of your university/institution abroad can only do so much to ensure your safety. Ultimately, it is your responsibility to keep college or university staff well informed of your whereabouts, travel plans, needs, health problems, safety concerns, etc. By telling college or university staff about your needs and activities, you can greatly reduce possible risks to your safety. While you can, and should, always ask your college or university staff for assistance, they might not always be able to help you.
- Keeping Yourself Safe: Program sponsors can only do so much to ensure your safety. The student participants themselves can have a major impact on their own health and safety abroad through the decisions they make before and during the program, and by their day–to–day choices and behaviors. Check the U.S. State Department's Tips for Students website for what you can do to help keep yourself safe while abroad in the country of your choice. (As noted in the previous section, Good Practices for Health and Safety website also lists twelve responsibilities of program participants.)
- Parents, Guardians and Families: Parents, guardians, and families can also play an important role in the health and safety of study abroad program participants. They are often the major lifeline to home and can help participants make decisions, or encourage appropriate behavior while abroad in the country of your choice. Even though study abroad is a time of great independence for students, the student's parents, guardians and family members should not be left in the dark about their student's activities abroad. Good Practices for Health and Safety lists six suggestions for parents and guardians. Parents may also want to read the SAFETI Newsletter article "Advice for Parents: Frequently Asked Questions".
4. During and After a Crisis
Understanding Your Emotions: In response to a crisis, you may experience the following range of emotions. These feelings are normal responses to a difficult situation:
Making Yourself Feel Safer: There are some things you can do to calm your emotions and make yourself feel safer in an emergency/crisis situation.
The following list gives some tips on how to maintain your physical safety and mental health during a crisis:
- Realize your feelings are normal
- Find/make a safe environment
- Maintain a basic self–care regimen (shower, shave, get dresses, exercise, etc.)
- Avoid confrontation, both physical and verbal
- Take one step at a time
- Assess what you can and cannot control
- Ask for help
- Create a support network
For more information on the Phases of Crisis, please see the SAFETI Adaptation of Peace Corps Resources on Crisis Management.
5. Relevant Questions
- What is your program's Emergency Action Plan (EAP) and what is your personal EAP?
- Is your EAP up–to–date, and do all of your U.S. and abroad emergency contacts have a copy of your EAP?
- Can you identify what causes you the most stress about your plans to study abroad and why?
- What steps can you take to reduce your stress/concerns about study abroad?
- What are the three main phases of crisis, and what physical and emotional symptoms may result from each phase?
- What are some emotions you may experience during a crisis?
- What are some of the active steps you can take to make yourself feel calmer and safer in a crisis?
- I am familiar with my program's Emergency Action Plan.
- I have updated my EAP and given copies of it to all of my U.S. and abroad emergency contacts.
- In the event of serious injury or death, I have made my wishes clear to family in the U.S., and to my program director abroad.
- I am aware of what my program, the Embassy and the Consulate can and cannot do to assist me in the event of a crisis.
- I have been provided with comprehensive information from my program, and I have shared this information with parents/guardians/family members.
- I have more than one way to keep in touch with home while abroad (i.e. through e–mail, calling card, fax, etc...)
- I can identify the three phases of crisis, as well as the physical and emotional symptoms that may affect me during each phase.
- I know which active steps I will take in a crisis in order to make myself feel calmer and safer.
- I recognize the fact that I may experience emotional side–affects from crisis, and that my emotional responses to crisis are normal.
- Crisis Awareness and Preparedness Tips on how to keep informed during a crisis, including information on disaster victims and disaster relief.
SAFETI Adaptation of Peace Corps Resources The following resources were adapted from Peace Corps documents about responding to crises, developing an emergency action plan, personal safety and awareness, and risk management.
- GlobalScholar.us: Go to Course 1, Module 9, Task 9 – "Be Prepared for Emergencies" to learn about being prepared for a crisis in a foreign country.
- U.S. State Department
- Crisis Abroad A summary of what the State Department's Bureau of Consular Affairs can and cannot do for Americans caught in a disaster or a crisis abroad.
- Crisis Preparedness The following information may be helpful to you in preparing for a crisis abroad. While some of the material was designed by other U.S. Government agencies for a crisis occuring in the United States, the guidance about preparedness may be useful to Americans traveling abroad.
- GlobalScholar.us: Go to Course 1, Module 9, Task 9 "Be Prepared for Emergencies" to learn about being prepared for a crisis in a foreign country.
- U.S. State Department: Arrest Furnishes advice on all legal issues, domestic and international.
- U.S. State Department: Judicial Advice and Assistance Helps American abroad who are in need of judicial assistance or advice on procedure.