The advice given to Brazilian students is to avoid relaxing into a feeling of security during our experience in the United States, because we will still need to be on alert once we return to our country.
During my pre-departure preparation for the exchange program, I heard a lecture about safety and was told things here would be different, but in a good way. In my experience, that couldn’t have been more accurate.
I hear students complain about safety all the time, which frustrates me – there are the Philadelphia Police, Temple Police, AlliedBarton Security Services personnel and the blue campus emergency stations at every corner. Even with those measures, if anything goes wrong, students will get a message on their cellphones telling them where dangerous activity happened and to “avoid the area.”
I can’t speak for all universities in Brazil, but at the one I attended, there were only a few security guards and cameras on campus. We don’t live on campus there, so the situation is different, but the prevention here is much more serious.
It is also true that the reasons for safety can be different. It seems that in Philadelphia, the police presence and other safety services are for the student security. In Brazil, the safety services are generally to ensure security of the university and students’ belongings. It would be highly unlikely that a person would enter the Brazilian university I attended to rob a professor at knifepoint, but the safety measures to address that situation don’t exist in Brazil.
This is because those types of security issues are not common at Brazilian universities. The safety problem there is much more about people stealing property of students and the university, and not just cellphones – in Brazil, it is common for cars to be stolen from university parking lots.
That’s why in my preparation lecture they told us not to change our behavior. Many exchange students come to the United States and they become accustomed to leaving their belongings temporarily unattended. Then, when they return to Brazil, they have lost the alert mindset – until the moment that someone steals something from them. Then they remember, “Oh, I am not in America anymore.”
The only place I would have to show my ID in the Brazilian university was at the library, which makes me think that they were just afraid people would steal the books. In the other buildings, anyone could enter. Although the rule to show ID seems somewhat random at Temple since I’ve gotten into buildings without showing my ID several times, I at least feel that the rule exists for my own safety instead of the computers’ safety.
Another realm of safety precautions are the weather alerts. Students get upset if the university waits until the last second to announce a decision. Then, if classes are not canceled, everyone goes crazy on Twitter and Facebook about how Temple is not concerned about students’ safety.
Snow is something new for me, but we do have some similar situations in Brazil. Instead of the weather, we have a problem with strikes and protests. When the subway workers decide they will have a strike or the entire country decides to make a protest, we can’t arrive at the university because the highway is blocked. Then, the entire day students freak out on social media, just as Temple students do during snowstorms, asking if the university will cancel classes.
In every country, people love to be dramatic – they just have different issues to complain about.
In a large city, I expected Philadelphia to have crime. Compared with where I come from, though, Temple seems to take safety seriously. If students didn’t stop to complain so much and actually use all these services the university offers, maybe they’d see that it isn’t so bad. When I needed to be escorted home because it was late and I was alone, the Temple officers were very nice. They replied to me using Twitter with their official profile.
In America, students have access to a large support network for safety features that are foreign concepts to many exchange students. They should make use of it.
Monique Roos can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org.