The basics
Study abroad : Once you arrive

Tips for students when a major catastrophe occurs

Sometimes bad things happen - it can't be avoided. But it shouldn't put you off from studying overseas. Here are some tips if you are caught up in a major incident near where you are living...

emergency situation

If a major catastrophe occurs, whether natural or man-made, there can be a lot of panic in the hours which follow. This panic is not necessarily limited to areas which are at risk either. Seeing terrible images on television and the internet can prompt worry for those who have loved ones in that area, or for those who are not closeby, such as students studying in another country.

Whether it's a closed incident (e.g. you've suffered minor injuries in a road accident) or a larger, more serious incident (e.g. a terrorist attack has occured nearby), here are some tips to help you remain calm, keep in contact with loved ones and remain safe...


Notify people about your status

While you may be absolutely fine, loved ones who are watching something occur on television in another country may not know this for sure; this can cause a lot of needless worry on their part. Even if they will be asleep due to the time difference in their country, get in touch with them so they are in the know and won’t wake up to a nasty shock. Phone, email or text them as soon as possible.


Tracking software

Without being too overprotective, tracking software for your mobile device can come in handy at times like these. In general, it’s a good idea for students going abroad with expensive technology incase it is lost or stolen. In an emergency, an app like Cerberus can allow you to log in elsewhere and track where a device is; however, while this can be a good indicator of where someone is, it doesn’t help if they are not currently carrying that device (though it is more likely someone will carry their smartphone, than their tablet in an emergency).


Use social media 

Phone networks can get extremely busy or even go down altogether. As soon as possible, change your Facebook status or tweet out to tell people that you’re OK, where you are and your plans or movements – it may not be the wittiest or most exciting social media post you make, but you’ll be surprised how many “likes” it will receive when people find out you’re OK. Do this as quickly as possible as the internet may slow down due to increased traffic. With smartphones and other mobile devices more commonly used, this can be done in seconds. Be a good Samaritan and offer your device to others so they can change their status; alternatively tag them yourself, so it will appear on their profile. Fortunately, with location tracking, friends and followers can sometimes track where a message or post was sent from.


Listen to your university

The university will likely send out a quick email or text message to notify students of any important developments which they should know about. This might be related to what they ought to do, whether campus activities have been suspended or communal areas to convene at. It’s occasions like this when following your university on social media comes in handy too; while they may not be as trendy as following musicians or actors, they often promote practical advice on a daily basis.


Stay on campus, in communal areas

Do not go into the city or town outside of campus, especially if this area is at risk (e.g. highly populated cities); doing so will only make it harder to track you down if someone is trying to get a hold of you. If the city or region you are studying in is where the incident has taken place, venturing off-campus will only put you at risk, as well as disrupt emergency services attending the scene. Food and any other necessities can be purchased at campus stores (or you can borrow from fellow-students, and take the opportunity to bond).

The other benefit of remaining on campus with fellow students is that you can watch for news updates together. If you are in a new country and your language skills aren’t so good yet, having someone familiar to translate what is being said on the news can be extremely helpful. Breaking news is often frantic, with unverified or conflicting reports, cutting between many sources and videos; likewise, newsreaders can speak quickly and often off-script as they receive new updates. All in all, it can be frustrating, and difficult to keep up with if it isn't in your first language.


If you’re a student currently studying abroad, or you’re planning to, keep these tips in mind if the worst was to occur; alternatively, if you know someone who is currently studying abroad, or is planning to, share these with them.

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About Author

emergency situation

Paul Ellett is the editor for Hotcourses Abroad. His role is to plan, produce and share editorial, videos, infographics, eBooks and any other content to inform prospective and current international students about their study abroad experience. When he's not thinking about student visas in Sweden and application deadlines, Paul is an avid fan of comedy podcasts and Nicolas Cage films.