Massachusetts Daily Collegian

A free and responsible press serving the UMass community since 1890

A free and responsible press serving the UMass community since 1890

Massachusetts Daily Collegian

A free and responsible press serving the UMass community since 1890

Massachusetts Daily Collegian

For students going abroad, safety first


With students studying abroad this semester and countless others preparing for spring break trips, reviewing safety and travel information is essential to help ensure their trip is safe and enjoyable.

“The best place for students to go for travel abroad safety information is the U.S. State Department’s “student abroad” website,” University of Massachusetts Director of Education Abroad Dr. Erika Schluntz said via email. “There you will find lots of good, up-to-date information.”

At the State Department site, students can find out what travel documents they will need for departure and reentry into the country and what to do if their passport is lost or stolen. Traveling students can also find out who to contact in case of an emergency, how to find the nearest U.S. embassy and how to avoid causing a scene.

Students will also be able to find some advice from State Department public affairs officer John E. Echard Jr., and recommendations to all students traveling, studying or residing abroad.

According to the site, “One of the most important things students should know is that they should sign up online for our Smart Traveler Enrollment Program (STEP). STEP enrollment makes it possible for the State Department to contact the student traveler in the case of a family emergency in the United States or because of a crisis in a foreign country.”

The site also contains a section specifically for spring break travelers. Here, students will be able to access information which can help them prevent dangerous situations and avoid legal issues.  This includes advice on excessive alcohol and drug consumption, local laws and what suggestions for activities students may want to avoid.

And for those planning on traveling to Mexico for spring break, which pulls in over 100,000 visitors per year,, the Department of State has created a site which contains information about popular destinations, such as Cancun, U.S. Embassy and Consulate contacts and Mexican laws.

Students are advised to familiarize themselves with a website from the Department of Homeland Security,, which provides information on passport requirements, or, in the event a student has lost their passport, other approved documents needed to reenter the United States after traveling abroad. 

Schluntz said substance abuse is often an activity which leads to problems for students during spring break vacations.

“Looking through the sites, many will notice a recurring theme, alcohol and drug use,” said Schluntz.

According to a recent press release from the Department of State, each year, more than 2,500 American citizens are arrested abroad. Half of those arrests are on narcotics charges.

Drug charges, which encompass the importation, purchase, possession or use of drugs, can carry severe consequences in some parts of the world, including imprisonment.

Schluntz also said that binge drinking can be a latent cause of problems for students reveling abroad.

“The overwhelming majority of ‘safety incidents’ involve alcohol consumption,” she said.

According to the Department of Homeland Security, alcohol is a primary contributor in many arrests, accidents, violent crimes, rapes and deaths suffered by American students abroad.

Disturbing the peace, lewd behavior, littering, driving under the influence and drinking on the street or on public transportation may all be considered criminal activities by foreign authorities, as they are in the U.S., and can be punishable with fines and imprisonment.

“You don’t often hear the phrase, ‘Gee, I did something really smart last night when I was drunk,’.” added Schluntz

The Department of State also recommends that if a student is on prescription medication, to make sure it’s not considered an illegal narcotic, as well as carrying a letter from a doctor describing conditions and medications.

Students can also contact the International Programs Office on campus and the Department of State’s Bureau of Consular Affairs for additional information and questions regarding travel and safety abroad.

Charlie Curley can be reached at [email protected].

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    SherylOct 24, 2011 at 9:25 am

    There are no federal guidelines or oversight for abroad programs – $17billion – youth travel alone. The quality and ethics of abroad programs are all over the map, literally. No federally mandated report of the safety record of abroad programs exists. It’s hard to make an informed decision on the program a student is signing their future over to.

    Very much respect UMASS and it’s ‘One Strike You Are Out” policy.