The story was compiled by Shraddha Joshi who participated in the Jordan summer program in 2017. Shraddha is from Round Rock, Texas.
After submitting an application for what might potentially be a life-changing experience abroad, participating in NSLI-Y starts to feel increasingly real. The seemingly endless wait for finalist notifications makes time for daydreaming about what life in another country might look like. With the excitement, there are also concerns, the biggest of which is almost undoubtedly safety. With NSLI-Y host countries spread across diverse regions throughout the world, questions about safety are inevitable. As a 2017 Arabic Summer alumna, my experience living in Amman, Jordan was incredibly positive and safe. In this compilation of NSLI-Y student testimonies, I was hoping to share the perspectives of students who lived in the various NSLI-Y countries during the 2017-2018 cycle and shed light on student security and safety procedures in the different programs.
(Note: NSLI-Y 2017 programs for Turkish and Bahasa Indonesia did not take place, so no testimonials are present for those locations. Also, this compilation attempts to capture opinions from the majority of NSLI-Y locations; however, some country testimonials may not be present since not all alumni responded to the survey. Furthermore, it is important to remember that there is inherent risk in travel and study abroad. NSLI-Y considers safety and security of paramount importance and makes effort to mitigate risk. Please remember to review the NSLI-Y Terms & Conditions carefully.)
Shraddha (Texas): Living in Amman, I always felt safe and comfortable. Prior to our program, we were given a lot of information about how to dress and act in Jordan, and how to generally avoid unwanted attention by blending in. As a girl in Jordan, I encountered no safety issues. As an Indian American, I did not stand out as much as some of my peers, who were sometimes subject to catcalling, honking, or an emphatic “Welcome to Jordan”. Generally, people were just surprised or excited to see a group of foreign students and while these encounters were not malicious in any way, we were told to simply ignore and keep on walking, instead of engaging with strangers. Procedurally, our Resident Director and Local Coordinator were always accessible by our local phones, and we notified them of our whereabouts at all times. Although Amman is generally a safe city, we always traveled in groups or with host family members. Our program also made sure to revise activity schedules in case of any safety concerns.
Orion (Maine): I felt more than welcome in Jordanian society. Of course, sometimes people would stare because they could tell I was a foreigner, but that is to be expected [when traveling abroad.] The level of hospitality was unprecedented and I felt welcomed by my new neighbors and host family. My NSLI-Y peers and I maintained a buddy system which kept us in groups when we were not directly supervised and we had phones that we could use for contact in emergencies. NSLI-Y staff did a good job keeping us in safe areas when regional tensions took problematic turns. Overall, I could not have felt safer while studying in Jordan.
Jack (Wisconsin): I encountered no safety issues. When I went out, I was usually with other people. The closest I ever felt to a hostile situation was aggressive bargaining :). Program staff briefed us on safety during our Pre-Departure Orientation.
Jane (California): Throughout our Pre-Departure Orientation, there was an extreme emphasis on how to take steps to stay safe as a female in Morocco. Staff told females to walk with a male companion, limit eye contact with strangers, and avoid any confrontations. When I arrived in Morocco, I expected to immediately be harassed, but honestly, I felt safer there than I have in some parts of the U.S. Sure, there were the occasional catcalls, but the men who say them don’t necessarily realize the weight of their words, and I kept walking along with my head high. As a girl, I felt perfectly safe, I often walked alone and had no troubles navigating myself through Rabat; nonetheless, I heeded the advice of NSLI-Y to stay safe.
Madison (Virginia): Morocco felt incredibly safe. Even though I lived in Marrakech, a city of over one million, I was never once felt seriously concerned for my safety. My biggest concern at any given point was generally being aware of my surroundings, which was a basic precaution my group was encouraged to take at all times. Especially being a female, catcalling could be overwhelming; however, ignoring it proved to be the best solution. My implementing organization and language school were also especially helpful in providing safety guidance. My NSLI-Y peers and I received a lot of advice about the safest methods of transportation, in what scenarios we should use discretion and judgment, what to do and not do if certain situations were to arise, who to call, etc. Overall, I had no cause to feel unsafe on my NSLI-Y program and would gladly return to Morocco in a heartbeat.
William (New Jersey): I studied in the Shuangliu district of Chengdu through NSLI-Y this summer and there was never a time I felt unsafe. Everyone was so kind and welcoming. As an American, most people I encountered were eager to learn about the United States and hear my perspectives. I had no issues with safety. The only potential danger was crossing the street and watching for cars since traffic laws and norms are different there. Even still, this concern was minimal and never proved to be problematic. My implementing organization did a wonderful job making sure we were safe by frequently checking in on us. The local coordinators often asked how we were feeling, indirectly asking if we felt safe. There were no issues regarding safety on program but I know for sure they would have resolved any if they arose.
Tully (Delaware): I felt incredibly welcome and did not feel unsafe once. I was especially nervous about using the bus system in China as a young woman before I arrived, but found it to be one of the best parts of my experience. I was completely comfortable on the bus and even took it alone after dark without worry at all. In fact, I felt more comfortable walking alone and taking the buses in China than I do in my hometown. Once early on in the program, I got lost in the evening and in the rain after a taxi dropped me off at the wrong address. I called my Resident Director, who was extremely comforting and helped calm me down and get me home. Throughout the program, the host country staff and my RD made me feel incredibly comfortable and safe, and I knew that if I ever had a problem, they would be there for me.
Sara (Arizona): Honestly, I felt incredibly safe. I walked home by myself every single day, and quite a few times late at night and I didn’t feel unsafe at all. My host city (Nanjing) is well lit and easy to navigate at all times. As a woman, I was worried, but I didn’t experience any sort of harassment during my time there. The community is extraordinarily welcoming, and people are really excited when they learn that you speak some of the language. The only thing that some might find uncomfortable is the picture taking and especially if you’re a student of color, touching your hair. I have curly thick hair and every few days someone would just come up to me unsolicited and stroke my hair. It never felt like I was in danger, and it was a harmless though awkward encounter. We were given several orientations and talks about safety, and our resident director did a fantastic job showing us around the city and the safest transportation, etc.
Kate (Utah): I felt extremely welcome and safe. Just like in any big city, it’s probably not a good idea to wander the streets alone. India has a very family focused culture. However, even when just my host sister and I, who were both 16, would ride in a rickshaw together, we never felt unsafe or had any unsolicited attention. Everywhere I went I was surrounded by my host family and their friends and extended family. I sometimes encountered people in the streets who gave me attention for being a foreigner, but my host family would always assist me. Other than that, I was not generally spoken to on the streets and felt safe. Six days a week, I was always with the group of NSLI-Y students and our local coordinator. Outside of my time with them, I was always with my host family. All participants were given basic cell phones in case we needed to contact a family member or program coordinator.
Thomas (Indiana): Foreigners will be stared at and perhaps, there may be some unwanted attention with seemingly weird compliments. A lot of people in Indore just haven’t seen foreigners before and NSLI-Y participants/foreigners tend to intrigue them. That being said, people are usually just curious about you and I never felt unsafe. Even at night in public places, there are always people there which I think is much more comforting than being on a street all alone. NSLI-Y provides all participants little Nokia phones and we were required to get an Indian SIM in case of emergencies or if you just need to get a hold of your host family or local coordinator. Furthermore, my local coordinator checked up on us at school twice a week (one day was dedicated to one-on-one conversations) to make sure that nobody had any problems.
Jacquelyn (Kentucky): To be honest, I felt safer walking alone in Seoul than I do in my home city. At night in Seoul, all of the streets are well-lit, and people are out and about on all days of the week! I personally never experienced any form of harassment. iEARN, my implementing organization, ensured that all of the students were able to navigate Seoul’s incredible public transit system. Program staff also provided general briefings about safety.
Lucas (Indiana): I studied in Seoul on NSLI-Y. I felt more comfortable walking in Seoul than walking alone in the suburbs I live in stateside. The public transportation is clean, quiet, and well monitored. In busy areas, there are people working in information booths who can help you find your way. The crime rates in Seoul are very low and I can honestly say I never for a second felt unsafe on my program. Most Koreans I interacted with were either excited to meet a foreigner or curiously observing from a distance, I never experienced real hostility. They carefully screened host families and implemented a program curfew the host families abided by. Program staff also gave us a crash course on country customs related to safety to be as safe as possible in our particular country’s context. Furthermore, they gave us cell phones to keep in contact with both our host families and our program leaders for emergencies and generally kept tabs on our whereabouts.
Mira (Oklahoma): While participating in NSLI-Y in Dushanbe, I never felt in danger. Dushanbe feels incredibly safe. Occasionally, men may catcall or stare at women. Although my first host family was not a good fit, the program staff helped facilitate a move into a different one. The situation was handled really well. If you have any safety concerns, the program directors are fantastic at handling concerns.
Rachel (Arizona): While Moscow requires being aware of your surroundings as in any major city, I felt very safe during my time there. I found those parts of the community that I encountered to be generally welcoming; young people, in particular, were eager to interact and hear about the US as well as what I thought of Russia. However, catcalling is more of an issue there, as is unwanted touching from strangers. For girls, the way you dress is a much more important consideration for safety in Russia in my experience. My implementing organization gave us helpful information about cultural norms and about the area so that we could stay safe and not draw unwanted attention to ourselves.
Alaina (Nebraska): I felt very welcomed as an American and overall felt very safe. I witnessed some catcalling and rude comments, but nothing unusual in a large city. The Resident Director was always available if we needed assistance and was just a phone call away at all times.