Introduction to International Program Safety
In 1979, the Semester in London Program piloted JMU's approach to international education followed by the JMU Studies Abroad Programs encompassing Paris, Florence, Salamanca, Martinique, and Antwerp.
Generally, for your safety, a money/passport pouch to wear around your neck and under your shirt is strongly recommended, especially for when you're traveling. Do not take expensive watches or jewelry with you. Pick pocketing is an art in England and all across Europe. Do not take or carry lots of cash. The best and safest way to bring money is in the form of Travelers' Checks, or to rely on an ATM/debit card, with a Visa charge card as an emergency backup.
Normal Everyday Security
You may be concerned about the safety of Americans in Europe. As far as the British Isles, the truth is that if you remember when you cross the street that cars drive on the left, you will be safer in London than in any town in America, even a town like Harrisonburg. Nevertheless, some care should be taken.
For London, like all Londoners who have learned to live with the threat of IRA violence, you should be observant. The escalation in the potential for threats and harm for Americans in Europe as well as the rest of the world is apparent. As much for decorum as for safety, do not draw unnecessary attention to yourself in public by being a loud "ugly American" (you'll soon know what the phrase means). For further information related to safety and security in the borough of Camden, go to the Camden main page http://www.camden.gov.uk and links http://www.camden.gov.uk/living/cr_fr.htm or http://www.camden.gov.uk/living/street_repair/street_repair_fr.htm for further information related to safety and security in the borough of Camden. For the "Statistics/demographic profile 2001" of the borough of Camden last updated July 13, 2001 see: http://www.camden.gov.uk/camdentemplates/search2000/websearch.cfm?mainpage=/yourcouncil/camdenbynumbers/camden_by_numbers.htm.
As for Paris, Paris is not Harrisonburg, nor is it New York City. It is a big city with many of the social woes that make life at moments dangerous. Paris has panhandlers and pickpockets, gigolos and some rapists, and only a very few murderers. Paris also experiences terrorist bombings and bomb scares with lamentable regularity. But, if you take some sensible precautions, your stay will be enjoyable and relatively safe.
Most important, never give out your semester abroad address to people you do not know well. You will be advised on the security procedures related to keys, guests, and fire regulations. Please observe the same common sense about travel and strangers that you would at home. Also:
- The number one rule is to have confidence! Act like you belong in London, Paris, Florence, Salamanca, Martinique, or Antwerp. You live there, so do not be mistaken for a tourist. Ask questions if you're lost, but don't stand on a street corner with your map out and a confused look on your face. Dress and act like a native. Be confident, be comfortable, keep your shoulders back, and dress up to the occasion or the area. You'll fit right in.
- Know the phrases that will help you get around. Ask directions of merchants, waiters, policemen, bus drivers and so on. If someone offers advice, thank them but do not accept an offer to be led to your destination.
- It's safer to travel in groups. It is especially important to stick together after dark. However, in London it is okay to travel alone during the day, if you know the area. Always know your route, and in Paris consider taking a taxi rather than the metro if the hour is late.
- London, Paris, Florence, Salamanca, Martinique and Antwerp are NOT Harrisonburg! Again, know where you are going. Do not leave things unattended. Do not be obvious with money, cameras, expensive walkmans, etc. Do not use ATMs in lonely and poorly lighted areas after dark. The main places where people can be robbed are in metro or tube stations, crowded streets, and open markets. Generally, bums and gypsies are harmless, but be on guard. Muggings are very, very rare, but again, pick pocketing and purse-lifting have been honed to and fine art and commonplace since time immemorial. So, keep track of purses and wallets. Never leave them on a cafe table or bench, and hang on to them while on public transport. A pouch worn beneath blouse or shirt is recommended. Use it for extra money, traveler's checks, passport, and Visa card. When traveling, you can wear this at night.
- When traveling:
- Do not go into a train compartment alone.
- Sleep in public only with your money, passport, etc. in your inside pockets.
- Use locks on suitcases, purses whenever possible.
- Protect your valuables in the hostel as well.
- Safe places to meet friends: restaurants, pubs and other public places (during peak hours).
- Never appear drunk in public. Pickpockets and pick-up artists will take you as easy prey. Most natives regard drunkenness as deliberate stupidity and are therefore likely to be unsympathetic with someone who has made himself or herself vulnerable and dull-witted. Stay sharp.
- Avoid the neighborhoods known for prostitution.
- Finally, don't carry your passport unless needed.
In the handbooks for Florence, London and Paris passages pertaining to health, safety and security issues are highlighted in yellow.
Special Security Issues During Times of International Crisis
Since the tragic events of September 11, 2001, a set of special security measures and general precautions have been put in place for students attending the programs. These measures are discussed in detail at the orientation meetings on campus, then reviewed as conditions warrant throughout the semester abroad.