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Effective Management of Crises and Emergencies While Abroad

Most students returning from study abroad can talk freely about the many valuable aspects of their time abroad and can definitely say that it was one of the most valuable parts of their college or university. While most students experience a safe and healthy time abroad, some are forced to deal with minor crises like losing their passport, being victim to minor robbery or pick-pockets, a minor illness or injury. In an unfamiliar environment with communication, cultural barriers and, in some cases, language barriers, a minor crisis may be more difficult to handle.  Small emergencies abroad can seem like larger ones due to language and communication barriers, and a lack of familiarity with foreign surroundings or an understanding of the customs and laws of your host country. There may also be a few students who encounter a major emergency while abroad, such as a serious illness or injury, traffic accident, natural disaster, or violent crime. Being able to deal with a crisis situation includes understanding your emotions, keeping yourself safe, and having coping mechanisms.  Creating and maintaining a “personal emergency action plan” is a good start:

Documents that should be included as part of your “personal emergency action plan:”

    • Multiple copies of Passport and Visa (where applicable)
    • Copy of Emergency Card (with general contact numbers at Linfield and onsite information which are destination-specific) issued by Linfield’s International Programs Office.
    • Copy of Insurance Card/Information
    • Copy of Area Maps of your destination  (should be purchased on your own)
    • Multiple copies of your Electronic Air Ticket, with confirmation and ticket numbers highlighted
    • Special Medical Needs Treatment, if applicable (a medical bracelet is recommended)
    • Power of Attorney (if you are out of the country for a long time)
    • Copy of your home state  drivers license

Other Items

  • Cell phone (with a chip applicable to your destination), a loaded Calling Card. Texting function on your cell phone may still work even though your phone service may not operate in certain circumstances such as an earthquake, flooding or political upheaval.
  • ATM/Credit Card, US currency, currency of your host country
  • Sample Emergency/First Aid Kit
    A small flashlight, a whistle, a small pocket knife and scissors (not on plane, but in your checked luggage), adhesive bandages, elastic bandage (ace-type), antibiotic ointment, gauze pads, first aid tape, sun block (if applicable), lip ointment, burn cream, aspirin, Benadryl/pain reliever, insect repellent, ample supply of prescription medication (if any), travel size tissue packets and a few “energy bars.” Some of these items can and should be carried with you when you are out and about. (items will vary by location and personal needs)

Steps to help you stay calm and use your “personal emergency action plan” more effectively in an emergency:


Remain calm. Take a deep breath. You will need a clear head in order to focus on your next move.


Assess the situation/Get Advice from Program Staff/faculty at the destination. Identify in what kind of emergency situation you find yourself. Contact program staff for advice. An emergency/crisis can be:

  1. Personal: Accident/Injury, Death, Illness, Family Problem, Sexual Assault, Potential Kidnapping, Arrest, etc.
  2. Regional: Natural/Environmental Disaster, Civil Unrest, Political Uprising, Terrorist Activity, etc.


Take Action. Exercise good judgment. Follow the advice/instruction of program staff or faculty on site. If you are alone at the time, try to safely remove yourself from the “danger zone” to a safer environment.  In extreme cases, the US Consulate or Embassy may be a good option. In most cases, returning to your homestay family’s house may be the best bet. Those on short term programs should try to return to their hotel, hostel, B&B, etc. Remember to think of alternate transportation options you have available to you in that city.


Get in touch. Now that you are in a safer and more stable location, update others about your situation. Using a method of communication at your disposal, get in touch with your emergency contacts so they can help you. Have them assist you in finding what you need (medical care, transport, a lawyer, etc.)

  1. Take care of yourself. While you are waiting for your contacts to assist you, or in case you cannot reach anyone to assist you, use your emergency kit. Take out the supplies you need to keep yourself healthy (bandages, food, etc). You may need additional/continuing medical care and/or personal/psychological counseling.
  2. Keep Trying. If you cannot get a hold of anyone to help you (because phone lines are down, you are trapped, etc) don't give up. Try alternate methods of communication and transportation until you are able to reach someone. If you need to move to another location, let others know and leave a written description of where you are going.


Move to a more permanent location. After you have removed yourself from any immediate threat, regrouped at a safer location, and gotten in touch with your emergency contacts, you may need to move to a more permanent location for treatment/assistance. Consider your transportation options and get yourself to the appropriate location (hospital, police station, embassy/consulate, contact's home, counseling center, university student center or their international office, etc.)


Stay in touch. Maintain contact and update your emergency contacts on your condition. It would be useful to have a "communication tree" (with others in your program) whereby your emergency contacts can collaborate to help you through the emergency situation


Evaluate and revise your “personal emergency action plan.” After the emergency is over, and once your condition has stabilized, evaluate your plan and use what you've learned to revise it in case of future emergencies (Please provide feedback to Linfield’s IPO about how other students might learn from your experience).

We are grateful to Center for Global Education at the UCLA Graduate School of Education and Information Studies, Gary Rhodes, Director, for allowing us to use part of their material on our web pages.