No matter where you are, even at home, there are safety risks. But when traveling abroad, away from all things familiar, it is even more essential to be vigilant and proactive in order to minimize the risks.
There are many ways to travel the world! You could do a bit of solo travel by taking a backpacking trip, or participate in a study abroad through your school, or you could volunteer with an organization like International Language Programs. No matter which way you choose to travel, your personal safety is very important! While your safety can never be 100% guaranteed, there are certain things you need to do to reduce the chance of negative and dangerous occurrences that could impact your time abroad.
How does volunteering with ILP compare to other travel options?
Check out how our program works right
If you do decide to travel through ILP, know that the safety of our volunteers is a major focus for us! In fact, it's such a big priority that we have been labeled as a pretty strict program. But honestly? We're okay with that.
ILP is a unique program in many ways, but keep reading to learn about those things that are specifically related to safety. We've also included some important tips to keep in mind whether or not you're traveling with another organization or on your own.
- Code of Conduct
BYU Study Abroad and Other University Programs
General Safety Tips
Code of Conduct
All ILP volunteers agree to abide by the ILP Code of Conduct and Safety Rules when they apply and are reminded of these rules multiple times before even departing for their volunteer destination. ILP spends a lot of energy on helping our volunteers know how they can be cautious travelers, and this process begins by selecting applicants who we believe can display good judgment and agree to abide by the Code of Conduct and Safety Rules.
But even with these rules, all of our volunteers know that they play a key role in their own safety by the choices they make when living abroad. Each one of our volunteers has returned home safely since we started our program in 1992 and we are eager to keep that record going!
ILP is not a solo program! All of our volunteers are placed into groups that range from about 4-30 volunteers, depending on which country and city they are going to. This is their group that they live with (unless they are living with a host family instead), teach with, explore with, and travel with throughout their semester. And often, they all become really good friends!
One rule that is unique to ILP, is that when going around the city they are currently living in, volunteers must be with at least one other person from their group. And when traveling outside of their city at all, they have to be with at least two other people from their group. And in some locations we may ask that your group increases that number by 1 extra person just to be even more cautious. There is definitely safety in numbers!
ILP Head Teachers are peer-age leaders who have previously taught for at least one semester with ILP. They are individuals who stood out as exemplary teachers, plus demonstrated good social, leadership, and team skills. They act as “coaches” to their group of volunteers, help with on-site teacher training, lesson plans, program finances, excursions, and moral support.
They are not there to guarantee the other volunteers' safety, but they've traveled before and are a helpful resource because of their experience in foreign countries. Here's some more info about what ILP expects from our head teachers.
Local Coordinators are typically a generation older than the volunteers and help ILP to run the program locally. They are often native to the country and even city where our volunteers are teaching, but if not they at least speak the language there and are a great help to the volunteers as they understand the cultural norms and specifics of the cities volunteers are living in.
They may enforce curfews if needed, forbid teachers to go to certain parts of the city, advise about political holidays, suggest safe areas to travel, etc. They also assist with host family situations, visa support, language and culture classes, and homesickness. We love our Local Coordinators!
Vacations are a huge part of the semester experience for volunteers! And these getaways are planned entirely by them. Here's some information about that process. But since safety is so important to ILP, we insist on always knowing exactly where our volunteers are. Even if it's just a little weekend trip, volunteers are required to send in their vacation details (through their head teacher) which includes who is going, where they're going and staying, and what activities they plan to do. The ILP office then looks them over and lets volunteers know if the vacation is approved or if adjustments need to be made to the initial plans. Here's a bit more about how these vacations work.
Prior to departure, all volunteers register with the nearest American (or Canadian) embassy or consulate. This is an important thing to do for any travelers, and essentially lets the embassy know that visitors plan to be in that country for a period of time. They will also send registries an email to let them know about current events in that country.
We have a walk through on how to do this in a set of documents you complete before departure (but you can look into the steps required by doing a quick Google search if you're just dying to know right now).
BYU Study Abroad and Other University Programs
ILP may exchange information with other relevant contacts such as study abroad programs that have students in the same locations as we do, government officials, etc. We inquire about political or travel advisories as well as disease epidemics or outbreaks. While we are an independent entity and make decisions based on what is best for our organization, we value our relationships with other programs.
General Safety Tips
Now for some basic tips to make sure you follow no matter when, where, or how you're traveling!
Keep your bag in front of you as much as possible! Crossbody bags are better than backpacks, because you can keep your hand on it while walking. At restaurants, if you need to set your bag on the floor, make sure it is in front of you with your leg resting on it. Never put it behind your chair.
On buses, hold your bag on your lap or put it at your feet, but keep your hand on it. Pickpocketing is very common in many of our volunteer destinations, and especially in the popular tourist spots. We've even had some proactive volunteers who kept a lock on the zipper of their bag while traveling in areas that are more known for pickpocketing, and that might be something you consider as well. Either way, when traveling with a group, just keep an eye on each other's bags, phones, wallet, etc.
In many parts of the world cash is still the most used currency, which means you'll likely be using the ATM more than you're ever used to doing at home. While volunteers usually pull out quite a bit of local currency from ATM's during their semester, we definitely recommend not carrying all of that cash around. Keep some in your apartment in a safe place, only carry what you'll need with you, and check for your wallet regularly.
There are also times where you'll use a debit or credit card while you travel, especially if you're going to Europe. Be cautious with your card just like you would back home. A couple tips for cards — make sure you have your bank's app downloaded on your phone. Most major banks have a feature on their app where you can quickly "freeze" your card to prevent fraud. I like the security of knowing that if I ever lose my card, I can jump on my phone and pause my card right away. This is what my Discover app looks like when I tap into my card's services —
I also always take a photo of the front and back of my card, so that I have the full card information if I lose my physical card. And I like to bring more than one card, so that if I ever do have to deactivate my card for any reason, I have a backup to use in the meantime. You'll also need to make sure your bank knows that you're going to be traveling (again, usually you can submit this information on your app).
This is another thing to check for multiple times a day! You don't have to carry it with you while teaching every day if you have a safe place to keep it back in your apartment, but you need to ALWAYS know where this is. If it gets lost for some reason, it is a long and difficult process to help you get another one. We've had volunteers miss out on vacations because they lost their passport and couldn't leave the country with their group while they waited for their replacement. Don't let that be you.
Pedestrians wearing headphones are a common target. Make sure that when you're walking around a city at any time of day or night, you are fully alert and aware of your surroundings and everyone else near you.
Check in with friends and family often, both those with you and those back at home, so they know your travel plans and when they can expect to hear from you again.
Do you use services like Find My Friends? If your mom is following your location at home, just know that she can keep doing that while you're abroad! That feature can bring some peace of mind, and the best part is that it's free.
Asking For Directions
Hopefully you have these apps downloaded and can navigate on your own, but if for some reason you need to get directions, always look for either an elderly person or a mother with young children.
Want to talk more in depth about any concerns?
Traveling safely is an essential part of having a successful experience while you live abroad. Your safety while you participate with ILP is our highest priority! If you'd like to speak directly with a representative who has volunteered with ILP before, click below to get in contact with one of them so you can hear firsthand about their experience and whether they felt safe while traveling.
Also check out our @ilptakeovers account on Instagram. ILP volunteers take a few days to post about their experience from their point of view, and also answer your questions. A big question that we see them getting is, "Did you feel safe?" In the highlight bubbles on the profile page you can find their answers to that question (as well as the rest of their takeover stories).
We can also get you in touch with one of the Directors of ILP if you'd like. Not only have they volunteered themselves (they opened the program after their first study abroad in 1992), but they've also had their own kids volunteer with ILP multiple times. They understand what it's like to be a parent of a volunteer and would love to give you a call if you have more questions.