STREET CRIME AND HOW TO AVOID IT
Petty thievery is as old as cities themselves. Here are
some thoughts about how to protect yourself from unpleasant encounters with
the criminal element.
Don't carry with you more cash than you can stand to
lose. Traveler's checks are probably the safest way to take money abroad.
One of the wonders of the modern world is the automatic
teller machine (ATM), which allows the wandering student to withdraw money
from his or her US-based checking account while abroad. The usual warnings
about ATM use--keep the ATM card safe and inaccessible, keep your personal
identification number in your head rather than on paper, avoid making
withdrawals from isolated or unprotected locations--apply to ATM's abroad
with equal force.
Money belts and travel pouches are useful devices for
frustrating pickpockets. If you use a billfold don't put it in the hip
pocket of your jeans or the inside breast pocket of your jacket. It's much
harder for a thief to extract a purse from a front trousers pocket or a
pocket inside buttoned-up clothing.
Your passport can be as enticing as your money. You
should stow it, like your wallet, in a relatively inaccessible pouch or
pocket. Or you may wish to leave it at home (that is, your residence
abroad) and carry a photocopy.
Do make photocopies of your passport and other
important papers. Make a list of your travelers' check and credit card
numbers. Keep these documents in a separate pocket, pouch, or bag.
If you carry a bag keep it close and keep it closed. In
crowded or threatening situations hug it to your body. Use only a bag that
closes with a snap, tie, or buckle. Never leave your bag unattended. If
you place it beside you on a bench be aware of who's nearby.
Pickpockets and purse-snatchers often work in pairs. Be
aware that an importuning stranger may be a decoy engaged in distracting
you from the malicious work of his or her associate. Sad to say, a child
may be a partner in this sort of crime.
- Avoid crowds as much as possible. Public conveyances, because they
tend to compress strangers into dense masses, are especially attractive to
pickpockets. We would not ask you to avoid such conveyances, but do keep
your antennae up.
While the College tries to insure
safe housing situations for all participants in its study abroad
programs, it is of course impossible to guarantee absolutely safe
accommodations. In this regard you must do your part in keeping your
temporary home secure. Here are some suggestions.
Whether you live in an apartment, a residence hall,
a pension, or a family, you need to take steps to keep your temporary
home "off-limits" to strangers.
Whether you are setting out or returning, you
should get in the habit of locking your front door as soon as you
close it behind you. If you have engaged in the dubious practice of
leaving your Chicago dormitory room unlocked, you need to put that
sort of naive behavior behind you.
Don't admit strangers to your home. Repairmen
should be asked for identification.
As soon as you arrive in your new abode you should
make an inventory of doors and windows and mentally map out a set of
escape routes in case of fire.
The telephone can be the means of invasive
attentions and the harbinger of unsolicited physical contact. The only
proper response to a prank caller is an immediate dial tone. If you
experience a pattern of harassing calls, report them to the
authorities just as you would in this country.
Getting from here to there, a significant aspect of
life in general, looms very large indeed in study abroad programs. We
want you to get from here to there safely. These tips cover
transportation at all levels: by air, by rail, and by public
transportation within your host city.
The admonition to "travel light" is not simply a
matter of convenience. When you encumber yourself with excess baggage
you make yourself less independent, slower, more vulnerable. The more
bags you have, the more likely you are to "lose" one, and a snatched
bag is difficult to recover when you're weighed down with others.
Both in traveling to your host country and in
returning to the States, be sure to arrive at the airport well ahead
of your departure time and check your luggage early on. Try to avoid
flight plans with very short layovers. Even if you make it from one
plane to the next, your checked luggage may not.
Never leave bags unattended. If you see an
unattended bag in an air or rail terminal, report it to the
On trains you should either take your bags with you
to the dining or lounge cars or leave a friend to look after them. A
stranger you have just met is not, for these purposes, a friend.
Don't agree to act as a courier for someone else
unless you know the other person well and know the contents of the bag
or package entrusted to you.
In general everything that we have said about
avoiding crowds, being wary of strangers, and staying alert should be
applied doubly to airline and train terminals.
Public transportation systems in most foreign
cities are usually more convenient and user-friendly than ours (also
less expensive), and you will certainly want to avail yourself of the
buses, trolleys, and subways in your host city. But you need to know
the system and where it's taking you. Subways especially, because
their underground routes keep you from seeing the passing cityscape,
can convey you into areas you would not normally enter on foot.
Here are some tips about taxis. While they reduce
to near-zero the risk of being pickpocketed, taxis can pose other
dangers (you are, after all, entering an automobile controlled by a
complete stranger). Make sure that your taxi is a “normal,” properly
licensed conveyance and that your driver’s identification is in view
(the degree to which this is possible will vary from country to
country). Most guidebooks will contain some information about the taxi
system and give you the means for making the important distinction
between legitimate and illegitimate cabs. (On this topic and on
others, it’s important to read the pertinent sections before you
arrive in your host country.) Before taking a taxi from an airport,
take a second to size up how the cab dispatching system, if there is
one, works. Look for an official cab line, perhaps with a dispatcher.
Again, guidebooks are usually helpful in this regard. Be wary of
drivers who are too aggressive in soliciting business. To avoid being
driven in circles as a means of jacking up the fare, you may wish to
reach a preliminary understanding with the driver about what
constitutes a reasonable fare to your destination. This applies
especially to meter less cabs. (Remember that, in some cities,
nighttime rates are higher.) Obviously you want to avoid a dispute
with your driver, and above all, you do not want a dispute to become
violent. Look to police to mediate such altercations.
Don't plan to operate a motorized vehicle abroad.
Almost all of the overseas venues to which Chicago sends its students
have two things in common: 1) public transportation is excellent and
2) strolling is pleasant and edifying. To saddle yourself with a
rented motor scooter or vesper or automobile is to complicate your life
unnecessarily. You add a distraction from the central mission of your
program, and you put yourself in the way of a host of legal/medical
problems. Walkers take in their surroundings and learn. Drivers watch
the road. Our national obsession with the automobile (and motorcycle)
is grotesque and a source of wonder to America-watchers abroad. We
urge you in the strongest terms to think of your time abroad as an
emancipation from the internal combustion engine. Walk, enjoy the air,
take in the sights, connect with your host culture. Don't drive