Anyone who has a child studying abroad or one who hopes to someday probably shudders upon hearing about Amanda Knox. Sure, what happened was a freak series of events not likely to happen again, but it sheds light on the vulnerability of young Americans abroad. No bueno.
I didn't study abroad in college but did go to Paris for a week in high school. There were probably 40 students and five chaperones, who we were near us just about every minute of the trip. One evening (not even late at night), taking a scenic walk back to our hotel after dinner, me and two or three other girls were poking along a few blocks behind the main group of students and chaperones. We got chased for a couple of blocks by some French teenagers, trying to grab and pinch us, and attempting to string together profanities in English (with mixed, rather hilarious success). They were doing it for fun, fortunately, but it did make us a little nervous. We had a good laugh about it when we got back to our hotel safely. (Side note: We were nerdy, sober girls, in raincoats, jeans, and clogs -- not exactly your typical target for cat calls!)
The truth is, the famous 1951 photo called "American Girl in Italy," isn't far from reality today. Americans tend to stand out in a crowd when they're abroad (our fault? probably), and don't always get the kindest attention when we're in a different country.
And it's not just girls who are targeted. In 2002 and 2003, just after President Bush launched attacks on Afghanistan and Iraq (which many Americans, and students in particular, were hugely against), I knew a lot of fellow college students -- male and female -- who were harassed while studying abroad. Two friends of a friend of mine were beaten in the streets in small-town Ireland because a group of drunken Irishmen didn't like Americans. One guy lost vision in one eye. The other had several busted ribs. In sweet Ireland!
I'm not saying that all Americans are good and perfectly behaved (not nearly!), and that the people in the places they study abroad are bad or universally unwelcoming. I visited Ireland with my family and adored it and the people. I'm just saying, it seems like there's something quintessentially fun and entertaining for some foreigners who love to hate Americans. The tabloids abroad made that pretty clear in the Knox case.
I have many friends who had an amazing, enriching, trouble-free experience studying abroad. Hopefully following some of these safety tips will help ensure your child does, too:
- Study abroad safety tips for female students from IIEpassport.org, a study abroad directory and resource (the long and short of it is, stay in groups or at least pairs, and don't do anything that seems even remotely sketchy; local customs, justice systems, and hospitals are not the same as those in the U.S.)
- Country-specific information for Americans traveling abroad from the U.S. government, such as warnings from local U.S. embassies, and info for victims of crimes abroad or those in need of medical care
- Smart Traveler Enrollment Program (STEP) from the U.S. government