Travelling overseas can be a life-changing experience, especially when you're an undergrad in college on a study abroad program. Students are encouraged to step outside their comfort zone and explore, but at a time when safety is a major concern worldwide, they also need to take precautions.

Laurie Black, dean of external relations and strategic enrollment management at The School of International Training (SIT) shared some best practices for students travelling abroad today.

Before you pack your bags, consider these essential tips for navigating your upcoming journey.

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Be aware
Although you may not necessarily need to carry around pepper spray, it is important to be aware of your surroundings. The good old-fashioned buddy system that you learned back in kindergarten may not be the worst idea, whether you pair up with a local or a fellow study abroad student.

According to Black, most study abroad programs are required to provide basic pre-departure information, local emergency contacts and health and evacuation insurance. And just in case you feel a little lost when you first arrive, your study abroad organization should provide you with experienced and trained program leaders who can offer their guidance.  

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Stay informed
Wherever you decide to study, educate yourself on the country’s political and social background. Grab a newspaper, speak to locals or attend a class (you probably will anyway as part of your program.)

But proceed with caution: Not everyone you meet will be open to discussing sensitive political situations. “When we would mention to our host family politics, it wasn’t really something people spoke a lot about, or as freely with us. I don’t know if that’s a general thing, or they didn’t want to get into it with us,” says Fordham University student and study abraod alumnus Maya Castillo.   

Staying informed also includes staying on top of any specific recommendations your program might have, says Black. Students participating in study abroad programs should read carefully all predeparture materials, take seriously orientation activities in country, follow program health and safety guidelines, remain aware of [their] surroundings at all times and and alert program staff to any perceived unsafe situations.”

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Be prepared 
Despite having SIT program locations near certain danger zones around the world, students are still determined to go abroad, says Black. “Many students have planned well in advance for study abroad as part of their undergraduate degree, and are really excited about the opportunity to experience other parts of the world. They want to go and learn about the day-to-day life and what is really happening in local communities. While some students and parents may reconsider a particular location, most students will continue with their plans.”

So do your research. Know the danger zones in your adopted city. Don’t let anything deter you from your adventure, but stay informed at all times.