Students going abroad need to be cognizant of foreign countries’ laws, GW says

About 600 to 650 GW students plan to spend next semester studying abroad and GW officials said it’s integral that they are aware of the laws of foreign countries before visiting.

Amy Mireku, executive coordinator of GW’s Study Abroad Office, said students need to be aware of their surroundings and the norms of the area while abroad. She said the University tries to make students aware that they need to become familiar with the laws of their host countries before they arrive.

“Students must understand that they are subject to the penalties and punishments of their host countries, and there’s little we can do once they are taken in,” she said. “Offenses that might not be an issue here could be a serious offense in another country. Students need to know the laws and respect them.”

While she would not comment on specific incidents of students getting arrested while abroad, she said that it is not something that happens often.

“Students are more likely to get pick-pocketed then run into trouble with the law,” Mireku said.

Donna Scarboro, assistant vice president for Special and International Programs, said that in the past students studying abroad have generally been very responsible.

“The vast majority of students from GW practice good sense and courtesy,” she said. “It’s been extremely rare for GW students to get in trouble.”

Also, the University tries to ensure that students overseas remain safe, Scarboro said.

“We collect a lot of contact information so we can keep in touch,” she said. “We ask students to check in at the embassy of their host countries upon arrival.”

Scarboro added that the common safety problems students face while abroad are similar to those they would face in Washington, such as petty theft and larceny. She said other problems students have encountered while abroad have been political problems of the region that did not personally affect them.

“Obviously there have been things that have affected students indirectly,” she said. “We had students in Madrid when the train was bombed in 2004. Although they had to stay in place for a while, the situation was well-handled because everyone had good contacts and followed the procedure we had in place.”

University Police Chief Dolores Stafford said UPD works closely with the Study Abroad Office to keep members of the GW community, even those studying in another country, notified of any serious problems.

However, Stafford said she also strongly recommends that students traveling abroad educate themselves about safety and security measures before departing. She encouraged students to read up on the country’s culture, history, geography, economy, government and current political situation on the State Department’s Web site (http://www.state.gov) before traveling.

Despite the preparatory measures GW officials urge students studying abroad to take, most students said they aren’t concerned with safety issues while in other countries. Jefferson Nelson, a sophomore who will be studying in Madrid this spring, said he’s not too worried.

“Obviously the terrorist attacks two years ago are in the back of my head but overall it’s a pretty safe city and I’m not too worried,” he said. “I’m actually really excited go abroad.”

Scott Laughery, a junior who will be studying at the University of Buenos Aires next semester, said he cannot wait to go to Argentina.

“I’m nervous my Spanish won’t be enough to get by in my classes and I’m nervous about how well I will adjust to a different way of doing things,” he said. “But I am much more excited than I am nervous.”

Other than the threat of being robbed, Laughery said his only other fear while abroad will be political instability in the region.

“I am going to register with the U.S. embassy there, and I will of course keep myself informed of current events, but that is all I will worry about it,” he said.

Mireku, from the Study Abroad Office, said there are slightly less students studying abroad this spring than there were in the fall. She said about 670 students studied in foreign countries this past semester, compared to the 600 to 650 planning to go in the spring. GW is offering incentives such as priority registration and grants to students who study abroad in the fall, in an effort to relax the housing and classroom space pressures it faces.

-Katie Rooney contributed to this report.

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