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Rediff.com  » Getahead » How Indian Students Can Stay Safe Abroad

How Indian Students Can Stay Safe Abroad

By DIVYA NAIR
March 28, 2024 09:29 IST
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'Be aware of your surroundings. Stay alert, stay vigilant.'

How to stay safe in a foreign country: Tips for Indian students

Illustration: Dominic Xavier/Rediff.com

2024 hasn't been kind to Indian students living away from home. At least eight or more have been reported killed or found dead and others feel threatened due to various alleged incidents of violence against them across the United States.

On January 16, Vivek Saini, a 25-year-old MBA student, was brutally murdered in Georgia by a homeless man whom he had been reportedly helping for several days.

A resident of Bhagwanpur village in Panchkula, Haryana, Vivek had travelled to the US to pursue his studies and then look for a 'decent job and better opportunities to support his family'.

Vivek, who worked part-time at a convenience store in Georgia, was attacked by the 53-year- old man with a hammer nearly 50 times.

On January 29, the body of Neel Acharya from Purdue University was found after he was reported missing.

On March 11, Abhijeeth Paruchuru from Guntur in Andhra Pradesh, was discovered dead in a car deep within a forest.

In December 2023, V Muraleedharan, India's minister of state for external affairs, had shared shocking statistics in the Rajya Sabha. 'Four hundred and three incidents of death of Indian students abroad have been reported since 2018,' the minister said, adding that the reasons for the deaths included 'natural causes, accidents and medical conditions'.

Canada has reported 91 deaths of Indian students since 2018, followed by the United Kingdom (48 deaths), Russia (40), the United States of America (36) and Australia (35).

Rohit Sethi, an overseas education expert and director, ESS Global, explains why, while one does not need to panic, there is a need to train ourselves to be more vigilant, especially when we are travelling to or living in a new place.

Sethi who has been working with Indian students and parents, assisting them in travelling to the US, UK, Australia and Europe for their education, insists that USA continues to be the top and safe destination for Indian students to study abroad.

"In my 20 years of experience," he tells Divya Nair/Rediff.com, "I understand that safety is the topmost concern for parents and consultants (like us).

"If anything bad happens in a foreign country, parents first come to us consultants seeking advice. I remember recent unfortunate episodes of Indian students -- one happened in Australia, another in the UK, the most recent one reported in the USA.

"While each of these are terrible, I do not believe that the US or any of these countries where they happened are unsafe or violent for Indian students.

"If you study (them) closely, it's a case of the wrong people at the wrong time and/or the wrong place.

"In fact, Indian students have been going to these countries for a long time now. And the US is a number 1 choice for students, parents and consultants.

"In 2023, the US department of state had issued around 446,000 student visas -- 8.5 per cent more than the 411,000 visas issued in 2022. Of these, over 130,000 student visas were issued to Indian students, the highest so far.

"Not just in the US, there are wrong zones in every country. We have no-go zones in Delhi and Chandigarh for example. So if children are living abroad and going to these places, they need to be more vigilant.

"Whenever we do pre-departure briefings for international students, we tell them that nothing should be taken for granted.

"When we give Indian students a pre-departure tour, we remind them that there are rules to be followed in every country. Some of these rules may not exist in your country and you may not be following them here but we tell them very clearly: You have to follow the rules of the country you will be living in irrespective of the fact that these rules may not exist in India. For example: You must follow pedestrian crossing rules on the road when you are in the US or any country outside of India.

"Similarly, students who are working late nights must have emergency numbers on speed dial. We are living in the age of the internet. There are so many safety apps. Download one that will keep you safe at night, especially when you are on your own.

"During times of distress or an emergency, we tell students, 'Jitna zyada shor macha sako utna kam hai (Make as much noise as possible).'

"Carry a whistle in your bag. Keep a pepper spray handy. You never know when you might have to use it to protect yourself.

"If someone is threatening you, you can use a whistle and blow it hard. This might help you distract the person who is attacking you.

"If you are in a new place and you are alone, it's important to know your surroundings well.

"I have seen students working late in shops and stores where it's not so safe to travel. It's okay to work late if you don't have a choice but you must know how to protect yourself in an emergency. You must know how to be at a safe place or overcome the situation with a certain action.

"For safety reasons, I strongly advise students: Do not take up a part-time job in red zones. "Tumhare life se badkar kuch nahi hai (There is nothing more important than your life).

The reason I am saying this is because I have seen students take up these jobs to support their education and living costs. After a few years, red zones become comfort zones. But I’d never recommend it.

"Not just students, even parents of international students research details on scholarships, tuition fee and living costs but only a handful of them look for accommodation and research the place where their children are going to spend the next couple of months or years. After visiting the university, students often realise that they had not spent enough time reading or understanding the vicinity.

"Before you zero in on your college, it's important to talk to people in those universities or areas, highlighting the red zones. Normally, Indian students sign up for the course, take up a job in a red/danger zone and immediately regret it, feeling, 'I should not have come here.' All it takes to increase your safety is a bit of homework and research.

"As for student-friendly destinations, the US is well-known for its top ranked universities. However, you may also consider Australia, the UK and Europe as your alternate options before making the final choice.

"It doesn't matter which country or university you choose to study at. The ground rules to be safe in any country are: Be aware of your surroundings. Stay alert, stay vigilant."

Are you a student studying at a foreign university?

Tell us: Have you been attacked or felt threatened while studying abroad? What did you do to stay safe?

What safety advice would you like to share with Indian students living abroad?

Please mail us your experiences, valuable tips and advice to getahead@rediff.co.in (Subject: Staying Safe Abroad) along with your NAME, AGE and LOCATION, if possible. We'll publish the best responses on Rediff.com.

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DIVYA NAIR / Rediff.com
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