Skip to Content

Why Plan?

Once again, congratulations on choosing to study abroad. We have no doubt that your international experience will be one that not only changes you, but stays with you forever. During your time abroad you will be faced with new academic and personal challenges; ones that we have no doubt you will find rewarding. In order to have a rewarding experience, it is absolutely imperative that you engage in comprehensive planning and preparation. The more prepared you are before you depart, the more successful you journey and experience abroad will be. Please note that planning entails more than just figuring out whether or not you need a student visa and what your flight arrangements should be. The following pages will assist you as you prepare for your journey abroad.

Having the Proper Perspective
As you develop your plans for studying and living abroad, it should be noted that sometimes it is relatively easy to "lose sight of the forest through the trees." With that in mind, the following essay is worth reading. It was written by Mike Reddin, Former Senior Tutor to the General Course at the London School of Economic. It is a tongue-in-cheek piece that was written a number of years ago but is still fresh today. 

Danger Abroad! -- Our concerns Are Often Another Display of Our Xenophobia
Written by the late Mike Reddin, Former Senior tutor to the General Course at the London School of Economics (Reprinted with permission of the author)

The headline "Small Earthquake in Peru: Not Many Dead," written by bored sub-editors on a London paper, suggests in its understatement something that is nonetheless true; to those of us so unused to them, earthquakes sound horrendous, while those born and brought up along the San Bernadino Fault are positively blasé about them.  Millions of tourists flock each year to what Dave Barry describes as "the most heavily armed place on earth" -- Miami.  Most return alive.

It is reasonable to be concerned about danger--but not to over-anticipate its occurrence.  It is unreasonable to assume that it's more dangerous "over there" than it is "here" (wherever your here is). New Yorkers who are murdered mainly get murdered in New York, most within or near their own homes and mostly by acquaintances.  The same is true for Londoners in London: it's just that the odds for the Londoner are substantially less.  In short, concern about the danger of foreign travel, study or work, is all too often little more than another display of our xenophobia--a sure sign that we need to get out and about.

Unfamiliar places are commonly assumed to be inherently dangerous.  Some of this distorted perception may have to do with home-trained media (including those, like CNN, which look international but are better described as "national media abroad") which reports ordinary events (political disputes, strikes, grief) as if they were universally significant.

Truth is, the overwhelming majority of travelers will encounter nothing more dangerous than a burger that has passed it sell-by date.  It depends on whom you are, where you are, and what you're doing. Northern Ireland, after 25 years of civil unrest, has chalked up fewer violent deaths than most major U.S. cities in one year.

Moreover, some dangers (like blizzards) are indiscriminate, most dangers are reserved for particular groups--women, whites, blacks, the elderly, BMW drivers, or the small and frightened.  In going abroad, you may be moving away from your regular persecutors and into a world where you're not on the regular list of victims.  The bizarre truth is that almost anything is less dangerous than staying at home.  The act of travel itself is relatively safe.  Few of us will disappear in transit between Amherst and Wimbledon.

Further, it may also be worthwhile to think of yourself as potential danger.  Space travelers are cocooned in sterile suits not just for atmospheric convenience, but to protect the new environment with which they will be in contact.  When you go to country X you may risk disease Y, but you may be bringing your hosts disease Z.  Sometimes the deal is a bad one for all parties.  Indeed, in the new sensitivities of eco-tourism being there at all may be a guilt-laden experience: you and your lifestyle may be the environmental hazard.

So, it's worth putting danger in context and looking at it from more than one perspective.  In what capacity to you plan to visit--student, tourist, imperialist, job seeker, a bearer of gifts, or a predator?  In what capacity did your predecessors visit--friends or foes, allies or enemies?  Did last year's trip by your college choir result in friends for life or the local bar being razed to the ground?

It takes the advice of friends or experience to learn that most communities have a right and a wrong side of the tracks.  But even a fully funded USIA is not going to put out sufficient advisories to cover all eventualities.  Again, the visitor is less likely than the resident to experience danger.  In many places it is a matter of local and national pride that you as a stranger are better served, and better protected, than the natives.  So, what gratuitous advice would I offer to the prospective traveler seeking to minimize danger?

Well, avoid major wars and countries where the airport is entirely staffed by armed men wearing Ray-Bans.  Don't go to Bangladesh in the rainy season unless your program is above flood level; get malaria shots if malaria is prevalent--but if it isn't, don't.

Finally, remembering that it was one of Britain's great naval heroes, Admiral Lord Nelson, who, when faced with the overwhelming might of the French navy, raised his telescope to his blind eye and asked, "Ships?  I see no ships."  And he was certainly victorious.  I do not suggest we close our eyes to danger, but it might be worth recognizing that not everybody else in the world is gunning for us (literally or metaphorically) and that there are usually considerably fewer threats to our health beyond the horizon than just around the corner.  So passports ready, go for it. And think, what am I getting away from? 

One would be in less danger
From the wiles of a stranger
If one's own kin and kith
Were more fun to be with. (Ogden Nash, 1902-71)