Oct. 3, 2010 -- A new travel alert issued today by the State Department amid concerns over potential terror attacks overseas is advising American citizens throughout Europe, including U.S. students studying abroad, to take precautions.
The U.S. Department of Education estimates that more than 80,000 Americans study abroad each year. In fact, for dangerous times such as these, the U.S. study abroad office advises parents on what to do to keep their child calm if and when an alert has been issued in their host country.
Travel alerts, which are issued by the State Department, advise citizens of short-term conditions within a particular country that may pose a risk to their safety, especially with regards to terrorist attacks.
Travel warnings, which are more severe, are issued when the government strongly recommends that American citizens avoid traveling abroad because of long-term conditions that make a country dangerous or unstable.
Most universities and colleges receive routine emergency postings from the State Department, and in turn provide links on their websites so that the information is disseminated to their students.
Suggestions for Students and Parents
The Office of Overseas Services lists the following suggestions to help students and parents remain prepared and calm in the event of an emergency while studying abroad:
Register with the nearest U.S. embassy or consulate through the State Department's travel registration website . Registration will make your presence and whereabouts known in case it is necessary to contact you in an emergency.
Know How the Privacy Act Affects You and Your Child. In accordance with the Privacy Act, information on your welfare and whereabouts may not be released without your express authorization. Remember to leave a detailed itinerary and the numbers or copies of your passport or other citizenship documents with a friend or relative in the United States. (U.S. embassy and consulate locations can be found under the Country Specific Information section.)
What You Can Do to Stay Safe
Have a plan for reaching your child. If your family needs to reach you because of an emergency, they can pass a message to you through the Office of Overseas Citizens Services at 202-647-5225. This office will contact the embassy or consulate in the country where you are traveling and pass a message from your family to you. Remember consular officers cannot cash checks, lend money or serve as your attorney. They can, however, if the need arises, assist you in obtaining emergency funds from your family, help you find an attorney, help you find medical assistance, and replace your lost or stolen passport.
Also, be aware of your school's health insurance policy. For instance, all University of Wisconsin students traveling abroad under a school-sponsored program must enroll in health insurance through the university's Cultural Insurance Services International. Yet, such a policy has an exclusion for acts of war, whether officially declared or not.
Contact school. Find out what information your school offers. Find out whether your school offers additional information for students who are planning to study, travel, or work abroad. Many student advisors can provide you with information about studying or working abroad. They may also be able to provide you with information on any travel benefits for students (e.g. how to save money on transportation and accommodations, and other resources.)
Purdue University is one such school that has already created an emergency preparedness and crisis response plan for its academic programs overseas.
According to the school's website, "Decisions about sending or withdrawing students from areas with 'travel alerts' will be made in the context of current world situations and after consulting with responsible officials of foreign host universities or overseas providers, the U.S. Department of State, Purdue University administrators, and other experts who are well-informed on issues related to the region in question."
Aside from Europe, travel alerts are currently in place in Bolivia, India and Kenya, with the latter's set to expire within the next few weeks. Nevertheless, the State Department recommends that those who are traveling avoid public demonstrations; stay away from unattended packages; and ask that you don't talk about your travel plans publicly.
For specific questions regarding an emergency involving an American citizen overseas, contact the Office of Overseas Citizens Services at (202) 647-5225. By Telephone: dial (888) 407-4747 from within the U.S., or, from overseas, (202) 501-4444. These numbers are available from 8:00 a.m. to 8:00 p.m. Eastern Time, Monday through Friday (except U.S. federal holidays).