International Students and Safety

courtesy of (Luis Sinco / Los Angeles Times)
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While studying in the United States is a very exciting time for new international students, it’s also important to keep in mind personal safety. Here are five tips to stay safe while studying in the States.

When students prepare for their studies in the United States, they often think about the excitement of living and studying somewhere new and the many places that they would like to visit. In contrast, they may be worried about their English abilities and difficult course of studies. The last thing that they may be thinking about is their personal safety.

Los Angeles, a popular city for many international students and a popular tourist destination around the world. Unfortunately, there have been many tragic deaths that have occurred in Los Angeles. In the last three years nearly 2,000 people have been the victims of homicide ( As a native of Los Angeles, I do not want to paint the city as a type of warzone. Overall, it is a safe city, but it is one of the largest cities in the world, and things do happen. It is an unfortunate statistic and some of these victims have been international students at some of the city’s most notable universities.

Three years ago two Chinese engineering students, Ying Wu and Ming Qu were murdered in their car outside the USC campus.  Subsequently, in 2014, another murder happened of Chinese USC student, Xinran Li, as we walked home after a study session. And most recently, Saudi Arabian student, Abdullah Abdullatif Alkadi, who was studying at California State University, Northridge, was murdered after he posted his care for sale on Craigslist and the accused murdered posed as a buyer.

Two Chinese engineering students, Ying Wu and Ming Qu were murdered in their car just off the USC campus. Photo by Luis Sinco/Los Angeles Times. 

It is very simplistic to blame these students or any victims for any perceived mistakes they may have made that may or may not have jeopardized their safety. However, as a community and as university administrators we cannot ignore these students’ deaths and must find ways to communicate safety practices as a hope of preventing more of them. Nonetheless, it should always be noted that no victim is to blame for the actions that the perpetrators have committed. Furthermore, much of the underlying problem is that there has been a decrease in safety in our communities and our schools as witnessed by several tragic events that have happened in the last decade.

Universities have recognized that campus and off-campus violence is a real problem and are addressing it in their risk management strategic plans. One of the most common ways to address safety issues is to incorporate it in student orientations and collaborate with the campus police. Emergency text messaging systems and social media are increasingly becoming the norm. Universities that have large populations of certain students will also have a staff member communicate in the students native language.

USC specifically has had to tackle the situation head on since the tragic events. USC until recently, had the largest international student population in the United States. According to campus staff from USC, “Our Department of Public Safety has done a lot of outreach since the events specifically with our Engineering graduate population which 90% international. They have been hosting information session, reaching out to smaller groups of students to engage in conversations and listen to the students.” In addition, USC has launched an app called Livesafe, which include safety tips, emergency options, safety map, stay safe where a friend can follow you home through a virtual map. Lastly, USC has partnered with the ride-sharing company Uber to offer free rides during the evenings and weekends.

Safety is certainly not the first thing young students want to think about as they embark on their studies abroad or in a new region. For international students who come from safer countries it can be a difficult cultural adjustment to understand that while the United States may not be overall a dangerous country, it certainly has more risks than possibly their home country, and U.S. safety varies upon region. While we can hope our culture changes and we see violence diminishing, it is important for both students and administrators to take a proactive approach to campus safety. Ultimately, as individuals we are responsible for ourselves. Do not hesitate to contact your international student office or the campus police directly. Your university is there to serve and help you. Many students have questions but are afraid to ask because they feel they are a burden. Remember, your university is in business to serve their students, and it is their pleasure and obligation to provide you with the information and resources you need to have a pleasant and successful study experience in the U.S.


Tips for Staying Safe:

  1. Be observant- Regardless of where you are. It is always important to stay “alert.” When walking alone avoid using headphones and electronic device. It is always good to hold on to your keys in order to be prepared for your destination
  2. Stay in a group– There is a saying in English called “safety in numbers.” It means you are always safer when more than one person. This is especially important for walking at night and using rideshare services such as Uber.
  3. Valuables- One of the most common crimes both on-campus and off-campus is theft. It is important to watch your valuable at all times and not leave anything unattended. This also includes locking your doors and windows in your dormitory or apartment. Also, try to avoid carrying large amounts of money and expensive items when you are out.
  4. Housing- It is common in American culture to not open the doors for strangers and to use the small peephole on doors before opening them. This means that it is also okay to speak with the door closed. Absolutely, never invite any stranger in, unless they are law enforcement.
  5. Personal Information– It is very important that you never give personal information such as passwords, credit card numbers, social security numbers or other forms of personal information over the phone or through email. Bank and Credit Card companies already have your personal information and will never ask for your password.


Katherine Murrin international student voice magazineKatherine Murrin, ISV Ambassador

International Student Coordinator, Long Beach City College

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