Statistics show little crime on campuses abroad, but injuries have been a problem.
Denise Connerty, the assistant vice president of international affairs, warns Temple students who study abroad to be careful and avoid dangerous situations at all costs, but students don’t always take note of her advice.
While the university’s study abroad program is known for promoting safety, students have been known to face occasional issues with crime and injuries while abroad, Connerty said.
“We heard stories of pickpockets and such on buses, but it never happened to me or any of my friends,” said Heather Wehr, a senior Spanish and Latin American studies major who spent time in Latin America.
According to Campus Safety Services’ annual crime statistics for 2007-2009, crime on Temple’s international campuses is nearly nonexistent. In 2009, at Temple’s Japan Campus, only one theft, one count of vandalism and one case of forgery were reported – the first reported crimes since 2007, according the CSS report. No crimes were reported at Temple Rome in the last three years.
Tina Wiltsie, a senior art major and study abroad ambassador, said she felt safe studying abroad in Japan, until she had to visit a hospital after she injured her leg.
“I felt fear when I had to go to a Japanese hospital,” Wiltsie said. “I wasn’t scared for myself or for my safety, but I felt helpless for the first day or so because of the language barrier.”
Wiltsie, who spent 10 days in the hospital, later learned she fractured her knee and tore her meniscus.
Connerty said Temple prepares for emergencies like Wiltsie’s.
“When a student in one of our programs does become ill or is injured abroad, we have trained staff on site to assist, and all students traveling abroad for credit have access, through Temple, to the services provided by International SOS, an organization that provides emergency medical and travel assistance,” Connerty said.
“The Office of Student Services at Temple University Japan were a huge help, as was International SOS, who were able to translate. But it was certainly a scary experience not being able to understand what was going on and what was wrong,” Wiltsie said.
Despite her injury, Wiltsie said the opportunity to study abroad was worthwhile.
“It was definitely one of the best experiences of my life,” she said.
The Office of International Affairs urges students to be as cautious abroad as they would be on Main Campus.
“We expect all students to exercise the same common-sense precautions they would here in Philadelphia,” Connerty said.
Wehr said Temple prepared her for possible dangers before her trip.
“There were orientations both before we left and after we arrived, both of which were very thorough and informative,” Wehr said. “Temple is very good about providing its study abroad students with the support network and resources that they need before they leave, while they are abroad and after they return.”
During the 2009-10 academic year, 1,004 Temple students studied abroad.
“For all programs, students receive both pre-departure and on-site orientations with site-specific information and advice about health and safety abroad,” Connerty said, adding that site-specific information can be very important, as crime and violence rates differ by location.
“Japan, for example, is an incredibly safe country, while there is petty crime, theft and pick-pocketing in Italy,” Connerty said.
According to the U.S. Department of State, Italy is known for petty crime and demonstrations that may have an anti-American character.
“Even demonstrations intended to be peaceful have the potential to turn confrontational and possibly escalate into violence,” according to the State Department’s website.
The website states that Japan is a safe country with a crime rate well below the U.S. national average. The United Kingdom and Spain have the most warnings for visitors. Spain has a moderate crime rate, and the State Department urges travelers to “use caution.” The website adds that most American visitors enjoy trouble-free visits.
According to the State Department, in many of London’s boroughs, the crime rate has increased during the last 12 months. But Wiltsie said she felt safe during her trips to London, as well as Japan.
“I didn’t hear of anyone getting harmed or being victims of crime. Japan is a very safe country and the U.K. is as well, as long as you are smart,” said Wiltsie, encouraging visitors to play it safe.
Aside from crime, the unpredictable possibility of natural disasters does exist. Wehr recalled being involved in a major storm while in Guatemala.
“A volcano erupted, and then Hurricane Agatha brought torrential rains, which flooded the highways,” Wehr said. “I was traveling home from far away while the highways started collapsing, and at that point, I was scared.”
Wehr also encouraged students to use precaution and common sense in the countries they visit.
“I never questioned my safety while I was there. People think a lot of negative things about Latin America,” Wehr said. “But if you act smart, just as you should in North Philadelphia, there is really nothing to fear.”
Matt Finn can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org.