Moving Beyond the Generic "Be Safe"

Authored by:
Bill Bull

Bill Bull

“Oh, you are going to study abroad?  Well, be safe.” 

“If you're going to South America, be careful. It’s dangerous out there.” 

These are the types of warnings that people give students as they are about to head off on their study abroad adventures.  But at the end of the day, how much can that really help? “Be safe” from what?  “Be careful” about what?

CIEE’s incident database currently houses data on all reported major and minor health and safety incidents that have occurred over the past three years. Knowing the details of incidents, including where, when, and how often they occur, along with any contributing factors, is extremely valuable in designing mitigations and improving student preparedness. This information has allowed us to direct student safety conversations beyond the generic “be safe” and into the specific, such as “There were six pickpocketing incidents by the train station last semester.” 

Contextualizing Actual Risk
Data allows CIEE to look at the actual risks to our students in context. As a result of our three-year data analysis we have seen that over 84 percent of students do not experience a health, safety, or security incident that warrants reporting during their entire time abroad and the vast majority of reported incidents are minor health-related events, such as a doctor’s appointment or getting a prescription refilled. 

Fewer than four percent of our more than 14,000 students/participants per year experience any type of crime, with most of the crime related to petty theft or pickpocketing. Less than 1% of the incidents relate to violent crime.

Improving Student Preparedness
A challenge in student risk management is providing students with information that makes them aware of actual risks without overwhelming them with details that do little to enhance their actual safety. Detailed, site-specific incident information allows us to inform pre-departure and arrival orientations, advise of appropriate mitigation measures, advise on areas of a city or establishments to avoid, and most importantly, avoid a focus on risks that are perceived as common but are actually unlikely in a particular location.

Does it work? 
We’re three years into sharing this information with students and the results have been promising.  We have seen a 30 percent increase in reporting overall, indicating that students are willing to report and perhaps that our staff are better prepared to receive reports. However, despite the increase in reporting, we have seen a drop in reports of crime, particularly a reduction in reports of victimization due to violent crimes.

Our data also revealed that “walking alone” was a contributing factor in nearly 50 percent of crimes. As a result, we have improved our messaging and training around this issue and most recently noted that walking alone at night is now a factor in only 37 percent of crime reports. 

Collaborating on Student Safety
Because sharing detailed safety information between providers and universities is crucial to improving student safety, CIEE is now creating individualized safety reports for its partner institutions. These reports allow universities to better inform their internal pre-departure orientations and enable them to determine study abroad locations that fit within their institution’s risk-tolerance.  These reports can be shared with you and your institution at your request.

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