Staying Safe and Secure
- Resources for Crisis Response
- Be Prepared for Emergencies
- Emergency Contacts
- Sexual and Physical Assault Checklist
- Lesbian, Gay, Bisexual and Transgender Individuals
Overview: Safety and Security for U.S. Fulbright Student Grantees
The U.S. Department of State regards exchange participant safety and security as a top priority. Through the Bureau of Educational and Cultural Affairs and U.S. Embassies abroad, and in cooperation with binational Fulbright Commissions and the Institute for International Education, the Department makes every effort to ensure that Fulbright grantees are provided necessary support in case of emergencies.
- Fulbright Partner Organizations: The Institute of International Education (IIE), which administers the Fulbright Program under a cooperative agreement with the U.S. Department of State, plays a key initial role in preparing new Fulbright grantees for their experience abroad. While in country, Fulbright grantees are supported by binational Fulbright Commissions (49 worldwide who take the lead in administering Fulbright programs in-country) and by Public Affairs Sections at U.S. Embassies abroad (who administer Fulbright when there is no binational commission).
- State Department Travel Information: The U.S. Department of State maintains an extensive library of current resources on its Bureau of Consular Affairs website. You are able to access detailed information on individual country pages found in the International Travel section and covering entry/exit requirements, local laws and customs, safety and security, health conditions, transportation, and other relevant topics. Before you go, review all travel alerts and advisories for your country. Some U.S. citizens with special considerations – such as students, women, and LGBT travelers – may face additional challenges when abroad. If you do decide to travel, make a plan for what to do if something goes wrong overseas.
Arrival Information and On-Going Services and Support
- Oversight of Fulbrighters: Fulbright Commissions or U.S. Embassies are charged with welcoming as well as monitoring the progress of Fulbrighters during their grant to anticipate issues and trouble-shoot before emergencies arise. Commission or Embassy staff members may visit grantees in the field and also organize gatherings for discussions on cultural adjustment, academic workload, emotional well-being, safety and other issues. In countries with a Fulbright Commission, the U.S. Embassy is represented on the local Fulbright Commission Board.
- Comprehensive Information: Fulbright Commissions and Embassies generally provide materials to advise Fulbright grantees assigned to the country. These materials contain advice on emergency protocols in case of urgent medical issues, incidents of sexual violence and other crimes such as terrorism, and natural disasters. Commissions and Embassies provide Fulbright grantees with lists of emergency contact numbers, often put on a wallet-sized card and laminated - that should be carried by a grantee at all times. Grantees also are advised on protocols to follow in various types of emergencies, from getting to a safe place in the case of natural disaster or other incident, to visiting the nearest hospital or clinic for urgent medical needs. Phone numbers are provided for 24/7 emergency contact with ASPE ASSIST and for the U.S. Embassy and Commission. When an emergency occurs, grantees should immediately contact their country’s Fulbright program contacts for local support.
- In-Country Orientations: Commissions and U.S. Embassies often jointly brief all newly arrived Fulbright participants. These orientations generally include a special overview on safety and security by an Embassy, Fulbright alumni in country and/or local professionals who offer informative assessments of the current political situation and issues related to life in the country. Fulbright grantees also may participate in mid-year and/or final review sessions where they have the opportunity to share their experiences as a group and raise questions.
- Preparing for Emergencies: Fulbrighters are advised to enroll in the global Smart Traveler Enrollment Program (STEP) to receive security messages and make it easier for an Embassy to locate them in an emergency. Fulbright grantees should inquire with the Commission or Embassy about enrollment in the U.S. Embassy’s Consular Section Warden System, an in-country network that alerts Americans regarding crisis situations such as a disaster or threats. Fulbright grantees experiencing an emergency should immediately contact the Embassy and/or Commission in their host country. Fulbrighters also may contact the after-hours emergency duty officer at U.S. embassies located in the country who is able to provide advice on emergencies. The American Citizen Services Sections at U.S. Embassies publish directories of English-speaking local doctors and lawyers to assist Americans in crisis. Look for these directories on the Embassy website.
- ASPE Assist Support Hotline: This 24-hour hotline is a resource for U.S. Fulbrighters overseas, providing immediate, professional help with virtually any type of personal concern or problem they may experience. ASPE Assist can be reached any time at +1-833-963-1269 and offers confidential counselling and support service designed for American grantees experiencing crisis, such as health issues (including mental health), stress, cultural adjustment challenges, and advice regarding sexual harassment, assault and other crimes.
- Resources for Family Members: Family members can contact the U.S. Department of State’s Overseas Citizens Services at any time regarding their Fulbright grantee abroad.
- From within the United States: 1-888-407-4747
- From outside the United States: 1-202-501-4444
- Accident and Sickness Program for Exchanges (ASPE): Grantees needing assistance with emergency (as well as routine) medical and dental services are advised to contact Seven Corners, the ASPE administrator for ECA’s health benefits program, which can be reached around the clock worldwide for emergency needs. Contact information is provided to all Fulbrighters.
Resources: Emergencies, Crime and Sexual Violence
The U.S. Department of State’s travel.state.gov website provides a number of resources, including advice on crime overseas and details regarding countries. Once in the host country, your Fulbright Commission and/or Embassy will brief you and provide materials on emergency contacts and what to do if you find yourself in a crisis situation. The following information is provided as an introduction and to stimulate safe thinking about your new Fulbright experience overseas.
Be Prepared for Emergencies
Natural disasters, crime and terrorism happen without warning: your best strategy is to be prepared for all. Upon arrival, take the time to locate your nearest police station, hospital and medical centers. Know your Fulbright Program contact points in-country. Keep emergency numbers at home in an easy to find place. Carry some key phone numbers at all times and don’t rely on your cell phone directory, as cell phones can freeze, become overloaded, run out of battery power, or are stolen. Don’t wait until you are in a crisis to get prepared.
Be sure you register with the State Department’s Smart Traveler Enrollment Program (STEP) as the U.S. Embassy will contact U.S. Citizens registered with STEP in an emergency. As a Fulbrighter, you are sponsored by the U.S. government as an exchange participant. You are, however, a private citizen abroad who is not under official Embassy authority. Nevertheless, if it is not provided as part of an orientation on arrival, you may request a security briefing through the Commission or Embassy and ask if there is an Emergency Action Plan for Fulbrighters. Be aware of what is expected of you in an emergency.
Crime is a problem worldwide; one can be a victim of crimes such as muggings, robberies, pickpocketing, burglaries, sexual assaults and beatings both in the United States and abroad. There is no way to protect oneself completely from crime. However, the following commonsense actions may be helpful:
General Tips for Safety: Find out what is appropriate for your host country.
- Take control of your personal safety. Plan ahead. Think about what you will do if caught in a bad situation. Envision the scenarios and your reactions. Trust your instincts and stay close to your friends.
- Be mindful of applicable laws, protocol and customs in your host country, especially those that may be different from the United States. As a visitor in your host country, you are subject to local laws and regulations.
- Know how to use the phone system in the country to which you are traveling. Do not wait until an emergency to figure this out.
- Inform yourself about parts of towns that local residents consider risky; if you are out alone at night, avoid secluded, poorly lighted areas.
- Be discreet when out and about. As an American visitor, you will stand out. While that might be positive, it can also draw unwanted attention.
- You may encounter varying levels of xenophobic distrust of foreigners in your host country. While urbanites in the capital may be cosmopolitan and outward looking, your placement may be in a provincial town with less routine contact with foreigners. Take the opportunity to represent our country but be mindful that some people you meet may be unfamiliar with the diversity that is a hallmark of America’s population.
- Look out for your friends who may be in harm’s way – and they should do the same for you.
- As a good practice, keep valuables and your passport out of sight.
- Know your limits for alcohol consumption and be aware that the drinking culture may differ from the United States. Don’t accept drinks from strangers! Keep your beverage with you at all times.
- Do not take valuable items with you. In the event that someone demands your wallet/purse or any other valuable, do not resist. Try to get a good description of the assailant(s).
- If driving, keep your car doors locked and suitcases out of sight. Be aware that “grab and go” robberies, where a door is flung open and a purse is taken, happen in many countries abroad.
- Do not walk to your car alone at night. If you see someone loitering near your car, walk away from the vehicle.
- Separate your car keys from other keys to reduce the possibility that a household burglary will follow a carjacking. Do not leave your vehicle registration, driver’s licenses, or other documents with names and addresses in your car.
- When approaching a red light, leave space between your car and the vehicle in front of you so you can pull away if needed.
- Be aware that pickpockets in crowds can be men, women, or children, operating alone or in groups.
- Don’t give out personal information on-line and be careful about what you are posting on social media.
It is important to be able to confirm your safety in emergency situations. Please make sure your contacts in the United States have telephone numbers and emails for the Fulbright program in the United States and your host country.
Keep a contact list for local assistance in your cell phone, and a hard copy in your wallet and at home, including the phone number of your point of contact at the Fulbright Commission or the Public Affairs Section at the U.S. Embassy, colleagues at your host institution, and fellow Fulbrighters in-country. As noted, when preparing for your Fulbright grant, enroll in the Smart Traveler Enrollment Program (STEP), so the U.S. Department of State can better assist you in an emergency.
The primary emergency contact for Fulbrighters abroad will be the Fulbright Commission or the U.S. Embassy in the host country. Your IIE Fulbright Advisor should also be notified in an emergency situation.
Fulbrighters can also contact the American Citizens Services “duty officer” at the nearest U.S. Embassy or Consulate, including during non-business hours. Fulbright grantees are reminded that English-speaking counselors are available at all hours at ASPE ASSIST. As ASPE ASSIST is a confidential service, you may also want to advise your point of contact at the Commission or Embassy about your situation at the same time. They will direct you to further resources that can help.
Family members can contact the U.S. Department of State’s Overseas Citizens Services:
- From within the United States: 1-888-407-4747
- From outside the United States: 1-202-501-4444
- ASPE Assist Information
Harassment is defined as behavior that is persistent and is intended to disturb and upset. There are different types of harassment, including psychological, racial, religious, police and sexual harassment. A target can be verbally, physically and psychologically harassed and stalked; tormented, intimidated, degraded and discriminated against.
Sexual harassment is defined as unwanted sexual advances or visual, verbal or physical conduct of a sexual nature. Although sexual harassment may not involve physical assault, it can be used by potential perpetrators to test the boundaries of potential victims. Therefore, it is important for grantees to stay aware of the prevalence of sexual harassment and how best to respond.
Sexual harassment and sexual assault are a concern worldwide. Fulbrighters should be vigilant and cautious in the host country and try to reduce risks as much as possible. Ask questions during security briefings and orientations with the Commission/Embassy that are specific to the host location.
It can be challenging to mitigate harassment while overseas due to language barriers, new surroundings and lack of familiar cultural signals and cues. Here are some tips for Fulbrighters:
- Find an ally in supervisors and/or neighbors.
- Take cues from locals, including co-workers and peers.
- Exercise caution when meeting new people, arranging meetings in public places and/or with others when possible.
- Be vigilant and aware of your surroundings at all times.
- Set your limits for acceptable behavior and (try to) be consistent. If you feel uncomfortable or question an unsettling situation, talk to fellow Fulbrighters, friends and colleagues whom you trust, or your point of contact at the Commission or Embassy.
If you are the victim of harassment, please contact your Fulbright contacts at the Commission or Embassy in your host country immediately. These professionals are there to support you and can be a safe haven for you when experiencing difficulties. Harassment is often best handled by staff in the host country who are familiar with the cultural nuances and norms exhibited in a particular region or country, and Commission/Embassy staff can guide you to resources and provide support.
You may also reach out to ASPE ASSIST counselors who are able to provide on-the-spot advice and support to Fulbrighters in urgent and non-urgent situations. The counselors responding to Fulbrighters’ calls are trained to handle serious situations, such as sexual assaults and mental health crises. They can also provide medical advice.
As ASPE ASSIST is a confidential service, you may also want to advise your point of contact at the Commission or Embassy about your situation. They will direct you to further resources.
Sexual and Physical Assault
The Fulbright Program will provide a compassionate and supportive response to all Fulbright grantees in crisis and makes the following commitment to all Fulbrighters who are victims of sexual or physical assault.
- COMPASSION - We will treat you with dignity and respect. No one deserves to be a victim of a sexual assault.
- SAFETY - We will take appropriate steps to help ensure your ongoing safety.
- SUPPORT - We will provide you with the support you need to aid in your recovery, including access to a 24/7 ASPE ASSIST helpline, direct you to appropriate medical care, and provide you with emotional support.
- CONTINUATION OF AWARD - We will work closely with you to make decisions regarding the continuation of your award.
PRIVACY - We will respect your privacy and will not, without your consent, disclose your identity or share the details of the incident with anyone who does not have a legitimate need to know.
Fulbright staff worldwide will demonstrate this commitment to you through their words and actions. In the event of rape or sexual assault, Fulbright grantees should call designated contacts at either Embassy or Fulbright Commission or reach out to the Embassy’s duty officer for help outside of normal business hours. They will guide you through the procedures needed to ensure your safety and advise you about your legal rights and how best to preserve the option to prosecute.
What To Do: A General Checklist for Victims of Assault
Sexual assault can happen to anyone, any time and any place. Recognizing that cultural norms and laws differ from country to country, it is critical that grantees seek advice from their Commission or Embassy about how best to proceed in the aftermath of any kind of assault. Grantees should also avail themselves of counseling and medical assistance provided by the Fulbright Program. The checklist below is typical of the kind of actions a grantee should consider in cases of assault.
- Make sure you have reached a safe place and you are out of danger. Call a friend to take you home or go to their place.
- Contact your Fulbright Commission or Embassy point of contact. These phone numbers will be provided to you on your arrival.
- If it is after business hours, call the Embassy Duty Officer, the emergency 24-hour hotline for U.S. citizens at the U.S. Embassy to report an incident. This and other emergency phone numbers will be provided to you on your arrival.
- Consider discussing your situation with the Commission or Embassy point of contact before contacting a local hospital or the local police. As laws differ from country to country, grantees should seek advice from the Commission or Embassy about how best to proceed. The Embassy or Fulbright Commission will help determine the best option for getting medical attention at your location.
- If your Commission/Embassy has recommended that it is in your best interest, go accompanied to the police station and proceed with a police report. Ask to be provided with a copy of the police report and make sure you have the name and contacts of your case officer.
- Contact ASPE ASSIST, which offers counseling services. A physical or sexual assault can be an extremely traumatic experience which can result in emotional, psychological, physical and financial after-effects. The Embassy or the Fulbright Commission will direct you to further resources to help you address your concerns and recover as soon as possible from this experience.
Lesbian, Gay, Bisexual and Transgender Individuals
Attitudes and laws towards lesbian, gay, bisexual and transgender individuals differ around the world. While tolerance is increasing in many countries, some countries still criminalize homosexuality. Fulbrighters should research the host country prior to their departure from the U.S., particularly if they intend to be accompanied by their same-sex partner during the Fulbright grant. Fulbrighters should also review the following resources:
- The U.S. Department of State issues annual Human Rights Reports for each country, which include information on abuses, discrimination and acts of violence based on sexual orientation and gender identity.
- The Ithaca College Office of International Programs compiled the resource LGBT Students and Study Abroad.
- NAFSA is a professional organization for international educators. NAFSA’s Rainbow Special Interest Group (Rainbow SIG) is composed of diverse members of NAFSA whose goals are to support and counsel international students and study abroad students who are lesbian, gay, bisexual or transgender.
- The International Lesbian, Gay, Bisexual, Trans and Intersex Association and OutRight Action International both include country-specific information on laws affecting the LGBT community and other general LGBT concerns.
If you encounter any problems or if you are harassed or threatened due to your sexual orientation or gender identity, contact the Fulbright Commission and/or Embassy in your host country.