By Kelly Sampson
Arizona Summer Wildcat
Members of the Russian underworld chased him through the dark and dirty streets of Moscow until he finally escaped, scurrying over an alley wall.
This University of Arizona student got more than he bargained for on his study-abroad trip to Moscow last year.
What Lynn Stevens, an assistant coordinator at UA's study-abroad office, pointed out when she recounted this tale of terror was that the student was careless, wandering the unfamiliar streets of Moscow alone at 2:00 a.m.
According to Wayne Decker, director of the study-abroad office, last year, about 400 students participated in the more than 45 study-abroad programs offered by the university. About 98 percent of those were undergraduates, he said.
But age seems to make little difference when students go abroad. It is impossible to predict who might get into trouble once abroad, Stevens said.
Most of the time when students get in trouble, it's because they were not thinking, which is what happened in Russia, she said.
The program in Moscow, one of the most popular at the UA, usually runs smoothly. Last year, about 70 students took part in the Moscow study program. Stevens said there have been no other problems with that program.
Most of the time when students return from studying abroad, on any of the programs, they rave about the experience, she said.
But one grave mistake students make, she said, is assuming that if they can do something at home, it is OK in another country.
"American students tend to offend other cultures," she said. "If you always assume that other cultures are more conservative, you'll probably be right."
Her advice to students who travel abroad: "Keep your mind open and your mouth closed." That way, she said, students can learn about the culture and stay out of trouble.
To help students assimilate to a foreign culture, they receive an orientation before the program begins, usually when they reach their destination. Also included as part of the study-abroad program are travel arrangements and, usually, room and board.
Decker said that about 600 UA students study at foreign institutions each year apart from those who take part in programs at his office. These students usually make travel and accommodation arrangements themselves and are on their own once abroad.
It is impossible, however, to estimate the number of UA students who travel abroad on their own for vacations, Stevens said.
A representative at First Class Travel, a travel agency in Phoenix, said that the most popular destinations for college students on vacation are western Europe and Mexico.
Most students prefer to travel on their own, purchasing just plane or train tickets. Vacationers also have the option of taking an escorted tour, in which all arrangements are made ahead of time and a tour guide accompanies travellers on every leg of a trip, or an independent tour, in which all hotels and travel arrangements are completed before the trip begins but travellers are on their own otherwise.
The agent recommends that anyone leery of travelling abroad purchase a tour package. Most students, however, travel on a small budget and cannot afford a structured tour.
Students who plan to travel independently in unfamiliar countries are advised to read up on their destinations. Travel books are available for just about any location. "Let's Go Europe!" is one of the most popular among students, because it is aimed at travellers on a tight budget. It is available at the ASUA Bookstore for about $20.
For other travel information, the U.S. State Department issues travel advisories for risky locations. Travel agents have quick access to these advisories through their computer systems.
Those making travel arrangements without an agent can call the State Department's travel advisory line at 202-647-5225. The advisories are also available on the World Wide Web at http://www,stolat.edu/network/travel-advisories,html/ or through an Internet search on the university's UAInfo computer system.
The representative at First Class Travel said if travellers do not invest in a travel book before embarking on their trip, they should, at the very least, check for a travel advisory if they believe they will be in a dangerous area.
The best way students can protect themselves abroad is to be knowledgeable, be careful and be aware.
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