This video is available with captions on YouTube.
MS. MAXWELL: My name is Zerlina Maxwell and I’m going to be your moderator for today’s Google Hangout. This is sponsored by the State Department, and we’re going to be talking about safety while we’re on spring break, which is a really important topic. This has been put together by Esperanza Tilghman, an outreach lead for the State Department. We’re going to be speaking with social media folks as well as Vicky Bonasera, a speaker, and who works with the Office of Crime Victim Assistance.
Thank you, everybody, for joining us today. I guess, wave. Everybody wave –
MS. MAXWELL: -- so that we know you’re here. So thank you, everyone, for joining us this afternoon. As I said, I’m going to be moderating today’s conversation. So I wanted to start with Olga and to really just ask you a few just general questions to begin the conversation about your views on being safe while abroad. So if I’m a student, a college student, looking to travel with my friends during spring break, what are the top things that I need to be thinking about? Is there a prior registration that I need to be doing before with an embassy or consulate? And how should I go about beginning that process?
MS. TUNGA: Okay. Hi. Just to give a brief background, my name is Olga Tunga and I work in the American Citizen Services section at the consulate in Rio de Janeiro. So we work with Americans who are traveling here as well as Americans who are living in Rio de Janeiro.
So first things first, we always recommend that anybody who’s leaving in America enroll in the – it’s called the STEP program, which stands for Smart Travel Enrollment Program, and it’s run by the Department of State. And so any country that you’re traveling to, you can easily enroll your information. And that allows for the particular embassy or consulate in the area to send any information about – for example, if there are any warnings or any messages that are of concern to American citizens, so that you are aware of what is going on in that particular city that you’re in. So that’s something that we always recommend to any of the travelers.
We also recommend that if you have your itinerary of where you’re traveling to that you make sure that you let your friends and family members know where you will be, where you’ll be staying. If you have any phone numbers, make sure you update your email address, make sure that you take any copies of your travel document with you so that you don’t actually – you’re not carrying your physical document everywhere that you’re going, so you keep – you can keep it in a safe place. So those are some of the things that you can do prior to coming to any of the particular countries that you’re traveling to.
MS. MAXWELL: Absolutely. I think that that’s very, very important. And I think one of the keys here as we start is really just thinking of planning it, right? You’re planning your travel, and so you want to think about all the different things that are involved beforehand and also when you arrive on – in your destination city.
So I just want to go – let’s see, let’s go to – I guess we’re going to go in order. So we’re going to go – oh, so the screens are – keep switching. So going to Sydney for the next question, when you get to your destination city and something does happen – something, something, you get in trouble, or there’s something that happens while you’re in your destination city, will the embassy where you are – will that embassy contact your parents? What is the process when you’re in the destination city and something goes wrong?
MS. WILLIAMS: Hi. So, I’m Sydney Williams. I’m a senior at Spelman College and I’m currently studying international studies. And just to go on with Olga’s point, I was studying abroad in Spain actually last spring, and so we registered in all of the countries, specifically in Spain, where we were living, and then places that we knew we were going to spend a significant amount of time. And we were fortunate that we didn’t really have any issues while we were traveling. However, just knowing the contact information of the embassy and then also our specific study abroad program had emergency numbers that we could talk to in case of an emergency. And we would actually contact them directly in the event of an emergency. But just as you and Olga were saying, we did our planning beforehand, and we also made sure that we received alerts in all the countries we were going to in case there may have been some unrest or something that we should’ve been aware of before we got there. And that helped us make all of our plans.
MS. MAXWELL: Absolutely. I think that the key here, if there’s one takeaway, it’s plan. Plan beforehand, during, after. All of these things are important.
So continuing the conversation, I’m going to go to the State Department. Hello. So obviously, every country is different. Some countries are safer for Americans traveling there than others. So what kind of planning can you do beforehand if you’re looking to travel to Spain or maybe even to travel to the Middle East or a different part of Latin America? How can you tell – what are the types of things that you should be looking for in order to tell whether a country is going to be safe for you traveling abroad there?
MS. BONASERA: Sure, that’s a great question. What I would recommend to anyone traveling overseas is: Take the same precautions you would do here, but also go to our website, travel.state.gov. We have country-specific information for every country that talks about those specific issues. It lists the location of the embassies and the consulates. It also will tell you about other things to be aware of, such as crime and other issues that are happening overseas. I would also recommend travelers to be familiar with the country they’re going to, such as packing accordingly, knowing what the culture is there. Because what is appropriate for us in the United States may not be appropriate overseas, and it could get you in trouble.
MS. MAXWELL: Yeah, yeah. It’s very important.
MS. BONASERA: Yeah.
MS. MAXWELL: Continue.
MS. BONASERA: And also, figure out how you would move around and what are some of the hot spots for crime. Certain countries – they’re different in every country, so what might be safe in one is not safe in another. We – it really just depends what – look at that information and just know that we are available 24 hours a day if anything does happen.
MS. MAXWELL: And I think that – it’s a good segue to the next question. And I’m going to go back to Olga on this one. In terms of the services that an embassy might offer, do they offer translation services, exchange services when you’re trying to change your money into the local currency? What kinds of services does an embassy in the country you’re visiting provide for the young people traveling?
MS. TUNGA: Sure. In terms of services, we do offer a range of services. Primarily we offer victim assistance, we offer financial assistance if it does come to that. If you are in trouble, perhaps you need to contact the police, or maybe you would need for us to contact a family if you are signing a Privacy Act waiver. But for day-to-day information such as exchanging money or travel information, we don’t personally give that information. Again, as we were talking earlier in terms of planning, maybe you’re traveling through a study abroad program or traveling on your own, we encourage you to look at the resources either through the State Department website or other travel sites. So we really step in when it comes to, perhaps, if you lose your passport, whether it’s a lost or stolen passport, then we can help you get it another passport.
But all of our website information on local services such as lawyers or translators that can work with you one-on-one, because those are not services that we provide. But in each of the websites, the consulates or the embassy, they have the local numbers that you can contact if you need those – one of those services such as interpreters or lawyers.
MS. MAXWELL: Absolutely. I think that’s really important everybody should familiarize themselves with the travel.gov website so that they can find the country and the embassy and all of that information about the place that they’re traveling to so that when they arrive, they’re already educated about where the resources are when stuff comes up when they’re traveling.
And so just to go back to Sydney, what kind of tips would you have – as someone who’s traveled abroad and I also traveled abroad in Spain when I was an undergrad student at Tufts, what tips do you think that parents need or even students that are planning on traveling abroad in terms of just things that you should be aware of going into this kind of big trip?
MS. BONASERA: Actually, Sydney, before you start, Zerlina, I’ve been asked to recommend you mute your microphone because it’s switching the screens back and forth, so --
MS. MAXWELL: Oh, okay. Mute my microphone?
MS. BONASERA: Yeah.
MS. MAXWELL: Okay.
MS. WILLIAMS: That’s a really good question. And I think that for parents, the best thing they can do is just abreast but also not add any, like, additional anxiety to the student, because especially going to something like study abroad, you’re already going to be out of your comfort zone. So in some ways a hands-off approach is almost the best way to go in a lot of those types of things when it comes to the student actually going abroad.
And for the student themselves, I think just do to their homework on that country itself. I know my program did a really good job of preparing us of some of the things to expect in Spain, but before – I know we did a weekend trip to Morocco. And before we went to Morocco, there was a lot of research that we did going into that to make sure that we knew what to wear in that specific country and know areas where we should or shouldn’t go. And I really think by doing our homework that helped us as far as the planning goes.
But just – Olga made also a good point. I always carried a copy of my passport. I didn’t bring my actual document with me. That was really helpful. And as far as the money, although it’s easier to use cash, I used my credit card whenever if could. And if I had to use cash, I would just always carry small amounts of money on me, maybe not even necessarily in a handbag. Sometimes they have, like, those purses you can almost, like, stick inside of your clothes. Sometimes we would use that depending on where we were traveling to. And just to always just be aware and to be cautious.
MS. MAXWELL: Particularly when – oh, sorry. I have to unmute again. Let me start over. So particular – we made a really important point about researching while you’re abroad, right? So many students who travel to Europe or Latin America may travel to more than one country once they arrive. And so making sure to continue your research, say, if you’re going on a weekend trip to a different part of the country, that’s also an important point as well. I think that was a really good point. I just wanted to reiterate that.
And so just moving to the next question, what about safety? So I think that when we talk about safety, I always think about that in terms of precaution, taking precaution, because you can’t prevent every crime whether you’re here or abroad. But there are certain steps you can take to be vigilant. Can you talk a little bit about what those – what types of steps students should take before and during their trips in order to be the most aware, be the most cautious, and have really the highest level of vigilance?
MS. WILLIAMS: I think the first thing you can really do is just don’t spend too much time by yourself wandering. I know outside of the city I was really was staying in, I did not spend any time by myself. And even this winter break, I was traveling through Central America on an enrichment voyage. And we always stayed in groups of three or four just because of some of the areas that we were traveling to. And I think that makes a huge difference right there. And also just when you are – if you are by yourself, you never want to look lost, you don’t want to look as much as an outsider because that can kind of draw unnecessary attention to yourself.
And as far as being safe, I know a lot of times for spring break alcohol comes into play. And you have to be so mindful of that, not only when you’re here but especially when you’re somewhere else where the laws may be different as far as the age. And I know sometimes that can become a problem with students. So I think that you just have to be really responsible when you’re out with your friends and just make sure that you look out for each other, and just make sure that everyone else is safe in addition to yourself. But I think the biggest thing is just try not be by yourself as much as possible.
MS. MAXWELL: Absolutely. Just – this is for the State Department, sort of putting on the big picture hat. In terms of specific programs, right – so most students travel abroad and then there’s some sort of sponsoring program which brings them to that country. What do parents do in order to research these programs ahead of time, and then also sort of keep tabs on their children when they are abroad in this other country to make sure that the program is doing the right things to make sure that the students are safe and assimilating themselves in the country in the appropriate way? Because not every program is the best program, but how do parents go about this research beforehand and also during when the trip’s actually happening?
MS. BONASERA: Sure. We – well, I can’t speak to – for every study abroad program since there are 400 in the country. But the State Department does work with the program administrators closely. We do offer training for them. We know most of the programs, if not all, gather the same information that we post on our website. So that’s information from travel.state.gov and also studentsabroad.state.gov. Those are two excellent resources for parents, friends, family, whoever is interested in learning more information about traveling overseas or similar programs.
Then, like I said before and as I’ve heard from others on the panel, we are available so if parents are concerned about their child overseas, they can call us. We do have an evening emergency line that can be reached 24 hours a day.
MS. MAXWELL: Absolutely, yeah. That’s really helpful and I think that, like I said before, the planning and all of the thinking that goes in beforehand is really the key here. I think that’s the theme that I’m getting from everyone.
So going back to Olga, I think one of the questions that comes up time and again is whether or not the precaution that – measures that you take need to be different based on gender. So if you’re a woman traveling to the Middle East or a Latin American country, are there different things that you need to be thinking about than if you were a man traveling to those same places? Because obviously, gender and race are viewed differently depending upon where you’re going. Are there resources available to do that research beforehand so you can go in and be an informed traveler and know what to expect if I’m a black woman traveling to Europe, or if I’m a white man traveling to Latin America? Are there resources that can give students and parents that kind of information as well?
MS. TUNGA: Sure. One of the resources that was mentioned prior by Vicky was the travel.state.gov, which is the country-specific information, the CSI. And that really goes into detail about the specific country and city, because sometimes it really does depend on what city that you’re traveling to. So right now, I live in Rio de Janeiro. Rio do Janeiro has a very different culture than the rest of Brazil for example, or if you go to Salvador. And if you’re looking at the different regions of the world, the Middle East, cultural differences come into play.
So we were mentioning before how perhaps we would dress and walk in America, how we talk in America might be taken or seen differently than if you were to travel to another country. So it’s important to know how it is that women and men dress or how it is that women and men are addressed, or is there a significant population of black women or black men or Asians so that you know the information you’re receiving when you’re going. And aside from going to the travel.state.gov website, if you’re specifically going through your school, there they should also be resources. And just to get more information is – the more research that you do and the better prepared that you are, whether you’re reading blogs or you’re reading different travel sites, that is the highest recommendation I can give. Because you don’t want to come into a country and be completely surprised --
MS. MAXWELL: Right, right.
MS. TUNGA: -- when you see certain treatment, so --
MS. MAXWELL: Right. Information is power. I think that’s – in this context, in particularly, is very important.
So just to go to – back to Sydney, when you – were you or anyone you know, were they ever victims of a crime? And did you ever do any research in terms of – what are the things that you do? If you are in the destination country as a student traveling abroad and you’re in an unfamiliar place and you are unfortunate – by just fate, you are the victim of some – a crime or something that happens where you do need to seek out the help of law enforcement, what are the steps that students should be prepared to take if that were to happen? I know it’s different for every country, but is that something that you were thinking about as you were traveling?
MS. WILLIAMS: Always. I think even at the hotels or hostels we stayed at, we made sure that we made relationships with people at the front desk and just made sure that we had contact numbers just in case something were to happen. We – since we were there for such a long period of time, we did have, like, small phones that we could use – prepaid – that we could use throughout Spain and also in other countries in Europe for an additional fee. So having that really helped us with emergencies.
And I think while I was abroad, my iPhone did get stolen. That’s really common for a lot of students. And I just learned not to keep certain things in the public eye all the time.
MS. MAXWELL: Right, yeah.
MS. WILLIAMS: So that was something to think about. But I think even once you get to the country – like I said, how we made relationships with the front desk and they were able to give us contact numbers, just don’t leave your home or wherever you’re staying without knowing what to do or who to call in case something were to happen.
MS. MAXWELL: Absolutely. I think that that’s a really key point, and I know that when I traveled abroad – I mean, granted, it was over 10 years ago. When I was an undergrad, I did – we did have classmates that were the victim of pick-pocketing or some type of petty crime, and then what do you do then? So I think realizing that these types of things occur – I mean, they can occur anywhere, but I think that when you’re going into an unfamiliar place, sort of becoming comfortable with the front desk staff in the hostel where you’re staying to make sure that you know what to do in the event that something like a crime were to happen.
Just to ask the same question of the State Department, do you have any resources on the website that we keep referring back to that addresses this specific issue – what students should do when they are abroad and the victim of a crime?
MS. BONASERA: Yes. And Zerlina, I’ve been asked to remind you again to mute because it keeps going back and forth.
MS. MAXWELL: Oh, I’m sorry. Okay. Sorry.
MS. BONASERA: But like I said, the best resource is our website, travel.state.gov, and studentsabroad.state.gov. On each website, there is information if you are to become a victim of a crime. What I recommend is as you’re preparing for the trip, finding out where the nearest consulate or embassy is and having that contact information, because you can always call them and they can walk you through what the next steps are. Because in some countries, what may be a crime in the U.S. is not considered a crime in that country, and they can make you aware of that and let you know what your next steps are so you can make the best decision. But we do have a lot of information and resources on those websites, and we also have our staff that are knowledgeable about the resources that are available in-country as well as what’s available to you when you return to the United States.
MS. MAXWELL: Thank you. And Olga, is that – is it the same – I’m just going to ask you the same question. Because I think every country is different and every – the resources are different in every place. Is that the same case – is the case the same in Rio de Janeiro where you are stationed?
MS. TUNGA: Yes, I would agree. And just to also kind of piggy-back on what Sydney was saying, the importance of keeping those contacts information, but also making sure that you maintain contact with your family and friends in the U.S. and know that when you’re traveling abroad and you’re young and perhaps maybe that’s not – the last thing you want to do is sort of escape, but if you could also just remember that people are sending you away, and sending you away to a different country, to a foreign land. And so if you are able to even – wherever you’re going, wherever you’re staying, or if you change – if you change locations or if you change your phone number, just make sure that your family or your friends, whoever is closest to you, knows that information. Because for us, we’ve seen people who’ve been victims of crime, for example, and we are not able to get a hold of their family members, because they themselves didn’t keep numbers of their family members. So just make sure that when you’re passing that information back to your family, that you also maintain some sort of written information. Because nowadays, everything is on our cell phones or everything is on our Facebook, but we don’t tend to remember even our own parents phone numbers because we have to go to our cell phones and look up that information. So if you’re able to keep some sort of written handout of where you’re going, who your family members are back in the United States, key addresses, key telephone numbers, so that if you are – happen to be a victim of crime that, in terms of facilitation of communication with your family and friends, that can be made a lot easier for the embassies and consulates to assist you.
MS. MAXWELL: Yeah. So I think that that – that’s a really, really good point, making sure that all of your information about your contacts, phone numbers, emails, addresses, names of your family members, your – the sponsor of your school and your – the program you’re in, if that’s written down separate from your cell phone, that is like probably the most important tip, because the chances that – I mean, this is for – even when you’re here in the United States, making sure that you have some way to contact people beyond what’s saved on your phone. Because if that’s stolen, then how are you going to get that information back? I mean, maybe you saved it on your iPhone cloud, but maybe you didn’t, right?
So Sydney, just to go to you, I have a question about social media use while you were abroad. Did you perhaps check in on Foursquare? Did you give any information about sort of the traveling you were doing or where you were going and sort of keep – use social media as sort of a way to keep everybody else on the outside aware of where you were traveling and when? And I think that might be maybe an additional tip, and I wanted to know if you used that strategy.
MS. WILLIAMS: Definitely. So for long term, when I was abroad in Spain, I used Instagram and Facebook to kind of let people know what I was up to. But for short-term trips, if I was going to be away for a while, sometimes you don’t want to post on social media that you’re going to be gone, because that’s a way for people to know that, oh, your apartment may be empty, or things like that, or your home may be empty. But using Facebook was a really great way to – especially with family members, to keep in touch with them, kind of a little bit. And I also used email a lot, too. One email to grandma, grandpa can go a long way, even if it’s just once a week or a couple times a week, just so they feel like they know what I’m up to, so just so – to kind of lessen everyone’s anxiety who isn’t with me overseas.
But I think if you use social media the right way, it’s a great way to keep in touch with people. I know study abroad blogs or even spring break blogs are really popular with people who are traveling to really fun places. So that’s a way just for people to even kind of, like, write what they did that day so their family can really kind of feel involved with them in that experience.
MS. MAXWELL: I’m unmuting, muting and unmuting. (Laughter.) And just to go back to the State Department, in terms of safety – going back to safety overseas, what are some things that students can find in terms of resources while they are in the country that can – that they should be looking for once they arrive? So, obviously, they’re doing the research, like you said before, on the State Department’s website, before they go on their trip. But are there similar resources – I know Olga addressed some of this when talking about what the embassies and the consulates provide, but are there any additional resources that students can tap into when they are actually in the country?
MS. BONASERA: Yes, there are. Most of their schools will have that information available, but it’s just being familiar with what is available there. One thing I would recommend to students when they travel to keep in mind is it’s their house, their rules. So we are very good in the United States about educating our citizens about our rights and what is legal, what isn’t legal, and when we go overseas, we tend to forget that those rights and those crimes aren’t necessarily the same thing in other countries. So I just urge anyone traveling overseas, whether you’re a student or a seasoned traveler, just keep that in mind. And, like Sydney said, sending an email or calling home every now and then will do wonders. Because otherwise, those worried family members and friends, the mom and dads are calling us to say, “Hey, where’s my kid? Are they okay?” And then our staff members like Olga are going out trying to find them.
MS. MAXWELL: So this is a related question, and I want to go back to what – we talked about it a little bit earlier, but what happens if you are the one that gets arrested while you’re abroad? What are the steps that you should know to take if that were to happen, so you find yourself in custody in the country that you’re traveling to? I think I’ll start with Olga on that one, and then go to each one of you to get your takes on that question. So what do you do if you get arrested? If you’re not the victim of a crime, but you are suspected and arrested for something that’s a crime?
MS. TUNGA: Okay. So if you are arrested – and we truly hope, and I truly hope, that you’re not – (laughter) – but that you take – if you have – if you request to speak with the American Citizen Services, or just to say, “I would like to speak with the consulate,” “I would like to speak with the embassy,” and then, depending on your situation, we would either pay you a visit, which is one of the services that we offer is that we do visit people who have been arrested. And then if you can request to speak with a lawyer, which is something that we can also help students or anybody else who’s traveling. We usually have a list of local lawyers that are able to assist.
The embassies and consulates do not act as lawyers for Americans who are arrested, which is something that some people are surprised to learn about. But because you are traveling – and we’re also hosts – not hosts, but we are being received by the host government. And so we have to abide by the rules as well. And we strongly emphasize that if you are traveling that you know that you have to abide by the rules and regulations of that particular country. So we’re – we don’t act as us bailing out the Americans who have been arrested, but we do help to make sure that you’re receiving fair and equal treatment while you’re in jail. And we do make sure that we provide you with a list of lawyers while you’re in jail, and that if you do provide us with permission to contact your family, we can also facilitate that.
So one of the things that we strongly emphasize is that for people who have been arrested, if they want us to contact their friends and families, they actually have to give the permission to the U.S. State Department, whether the consulate or the embassy, in order for us to contact their family members. And through that, then the family members are able to contact the people who have been arrested.
So everything really is up to the person who’s been arrested as far as how much assistance that they’re going to receive. But just so that you know that if you do happen to end up in that situation, we are not responsible in terms of negotiating your release.
MS. MAXWELL: So the same question to Sydney, some – from the perspective of some – a student who was traveling abroad was – there’s plenty of stories in the news we’ve seen where a young person is taken into custody in another country. Was that something that you were thinking about or that you were preparing for? Because it’s not that – most students traveling abroad are not like, “I’m going to go a country and then commit a crime,” but like we’ve said before, certain things are not a crime in the country that you’re traveling to, and so researching that ahead of time is very important. But was perhaps being wrongly arrested or finding yourself in custody, was that something that you thought about and perhaps planned out strategies in advance just in case that were to happen to you?
MS. WILLIAMS: It’s interesting you say that. Fortunately, while I was in Europe, I didn’t have any issues with those types of things. But this past winter, when we were traveling through Central America, we were in countries like Guatemala and Colombia and Mexico, and we were traveling with students, so sometimes some of the guys may have been in situations where it was just like, “Oh, no, what would we do?” And the first thing that everyone would always tell us like Olga said, just reach out to the consulate or the embassy.
And another thing I think students should be aware of, depending on what countries they’re going to, sometimes people will target American students, and they’ll dress as police, and they’ll pretend to arrest you for something that you really didn’t even do that wrong and try to get money out of you and kind of bribe you to pay them in order to be okay.
So I think the biggest thing that was important to remember is that you’re not in your own home, right? So just you can’t play by your rules all the time. You’re in someone else’s house. And I think if you can keep that in mind, you should be able to stay away from those types of situations.
MS. MAXWELL: Yes, respect for your destination country is very – is absolutely paramount.
So as far as the State Department, is all of the information we’ve been talking about in terms of what happens if you get arrested, is that consistent with sort of the what the government says as well, the State Department says as well? Is that what they recommend?
MS. BONASERA: Absolutely. I agree with everything that Sydney and Olga have said. It’s right on the mark. It’s being respectful of the country you’re in, their rules, their culture. And if you do find yourself in a situation, let them know you’re a U.S. citizen, ask to speak to the embassy or consulate, and you’ll have someone come and visit you and provide as best assistance as they can.
Zerlina, I think you’re still muted.
MS. MAXWELL: So hard to remember to, like, remember to click back and forth. But I just wanted to check in and see if we had any questions submitted while we were beginning this conversation, via Twitter or Facebook. Do we know? I was just --
MS. BONASERA: We haven’t seen anything.
MS. MAXWELL: No? Okay. Okay, so – (laughter) – I guess I’ll just continue going sort of to continue down. So planning obviously is a theme throughout, finding out all of the information about your destination country, theme throughout all of your responses. Just to avoid trouble, what to do when you get into trouble.
Now obviously there’s a lot of different places in the world that are – have complicated political situations right now. If you’re – if you find yourself traveling to one of these places, and I’ll start with Olga, is the research the same or is there maybe additional things you need to do – maybe really, really stay connected to the current events in the news in that particular place that you’re traveling to? Because obviously, events are very fluid in different regions in the world. And so, depending upon where you’re traveling to, is that an additional set of things you need to research, right? So the political environment in the place that you’re going, because all of this is about respect for the place you’re traveling to but also awareness and vigilance and knowing the environment that you’re going to. So is that an additional thing that you might also have to take into consideration?
MS. TUNGA: Yes, it is absolutely critical that you learn what is the political situation in each country, as it can change from day to day, week to week. And that’s evidenced in what is the current situations in Ukraine, for example, or Thailand. And one of the key resources that we all keep going back to through the Department of State is the travel.state.gov, and they are Travel Alerts that go out, also Travel Warnings, for each particular country, and specifically which the Travel Warnings are to a heightened warning is that you also have to evaluate: Do you need to go to that particular country at the current time? Are you going because you’re studying? Are you going because you are visiting some of your friends? Are you going on leisure? And maybe that is not the safest time for you to go right then and there, maybe the trip can wait another time.
So you first have to evaluate that, and are you going with a safe group? Are you going with a school? Are you traveling alone? And if that’s the case, then you truly must be aware of everywhere that you’re going. And also within the country, there can be, let’s say, issues in the north side of the country but then the south side of the country can be much safer. And so aside from planning, it’s also feasibility. Does it really make sense that I go to this particular right now? And on the travel.state.gov website, it has a list of countries with Travel Warnings and a list of countries with Travel Alerts. And so again, evaluate, and is it necessary for you to go; and if it is, then you must definitely be aware of the situation.
MS. MAXWELL: I’m muted, sorry. So to go back to the State Department in terms of the community outreach, so when you’re going to this – your destination country as a student traveling abroad, are there different things that perhaps are available on the State Department’s website or that you are aware of in terms of engaging as a part of a community, and so that you are really, I guess, immersing and assimilating yourself in your destination country in a more intimate way and that actually can help prevent a lot of these other things that we’re talking about – arrests, cultural confusion – all of these things can be prevented if you’re involved in programs on the ground once you arrive? Are there also resources available on the State Department website or perhaps at each individual embassy that can give students information about how to get involved on the ground and become active in that local community? Because I think that prevents a lot of crime, arrests, like I think that if you’re assimilating in the best way possible, you’re getting – get the most positive experience.
MS. BONASERA: Absolutely. And I would also recommend that the students look – research the program they’re traveling with because they will set up trips and events and activities to help them get acclimated to the local community and the culture as well.
MS. MAXWELL: Absolutely, yeah. And just to go back to Sydney – I guess we’re almost at the end here, we’re at 40 minutes, and so I think we will be wrapping shortly. But do you agree with that as well? When you traveled to Spain, for example, or even during the summer when you traveled to Central America, were those the kinds of things that you were thinking about in terms of: How can I get engaged on the ground in the community that I’m going to become a part of temporarily in order to sort of learn the culture but also then avoid some of these pitfalls that we’ve been talking about for the chat today?
MS. WILLIAMS: Definitely. I mean, one of the greatest advantages I’ve had is that I’ve been studying Spanish since I was five, so having the language barrier out of the way made a huge difference and it really helped me kind of become more comfortable with my environment. And when you don’t have that barrier, you don’t seem as much of a foreigner or an outsider, and it’s – I feel like you just have less issues in that aspect. So just trying to learn as much as you can about the community and making a conscious effort to fit into your community will really change things a lot.
MS. MAXWELL: Absolutely. So I would just want to thank everybody for joining us. I think I’m going to wrap just because I was told it was 45 minutes, so I just want to make sure that we’re wrapping it up, and I get everybody’s title correct at the end here. So that thank you, everybody, for joining us today. Again, I’m Zerlina Maxwell. I’m a political analyst and writer. And I think that the takeaways, I think everybody would agree, is planning, planning ahead of time and also planning for any of these scenarios, whether it be you’re a student who finds yourself in custody or the victim of a crime in the country that you’re traveling to, the best thing that you can do is plan for all of these different scenarios so that when they do come up when you’re abroad, you know you have a plan in place and you know what to do, because all of these resources are available to you on the State Department’s website.
So thank you, Olga Tunga, the Vice Consul of American Citizen Services in Rio de Janeiro in the Consulate in Rio del Janeiro. I also want to thank Sydney Williams, a senior at Spelman College and she’s an international studies major. I was also an international relations major, so high five on that. And also Vicky Bonasera representing the Crime Victims Assistance Program within the State Department. I want to thank everybody for joining me this afternoon, and I hope that everybody that was tuned in got some valuable information about planning and making sure they have all of the information that they need before they are traveling to other countries and studying abroad. So thank you very much for joining us today.