Safety is extremely important and it cannot be stressed enough. Although there are always things you can do to make your experience traveling more safe, there are also things out of your control.
I had the very unfortunate experience of one of the horrible potential realities of study abroad, or of any travel. One of my fellow foreign exchange students went swimming at a beach, and never returned. Luckily, his body was discovered a few days ago, which will bring some peace to his family and friends at home. My peers and I were shocked and did not know how to handle the situation. It is one of those things that rarely happens to people you know, especially when you are off adventuring together. At first, us study abroad students were the first and only people to know (besides our program leaders). I had a class with Deon and his partner for our project asked me where he was or if I had talked to him recently. I knew I was not allowed to say anything except to speak with a program leader, but it was such an uncomfortable and upsetting conversation to be having. And now that there is are news articles published, it will be interesting to see how class continues without him.
I wanted to share this story because it is a part of my abroad experience now, and I think it is important to read and to hear about. In our group meeting discussing the situation before Deon was found, our program leaders kept reminding us that we are all a family, and that we have any support that we could need with us. This even really reinforced to me how supportive of a program IFSA-Butler provides its students. Anything you could possibly need as an IFSA-Butler student, Tracy and Maureen and Paula will do whatever they can to take care of it. Te cuidas (take care of yourself) has never meant more to me, and tranquila (calm) has never been such a more soothing word.
I certainly do not want this to frighten anyone or make them reconsider traveling, just be reminded about the extra cautions you need to take as an extranjero (foreigner). Always ask if you are unsure. If it doesn’t feel right, stop, or don’t do it. Go out of your comfort zone, but don’t push yourself beyond your limits. And make sure to have fun but always stay in control. Nothing should stop you from doing what you want and following your dreams, just make sure to te cuidas and remember: tranquila.