Studying abroad is an exciting time, maybe even a once in a lifetime experience. It's an opportunity to try new things and be adventurous. You're far from home and you're learning a lot about yourself, as well as about the subjects you're studying. Perhaps, for the first time in your life, you can't just call your parents and expect immediate help if something goes wrong. You are relying on yourself—and that can be kind of scary.
Many universities review a student's conduct record before allowing that student to participate in a study abroad program. The university wants to know that the students they send will be able to handle the freedom and the barrage of decisions he or she will have to make in a foreign country. Students who are already on disciplinary probation are often not allowed to participate in a study abroad program. The mere fact that your school allowed you to study in another country indicates that you're someone who typically makes good choices.
Which Rules Apply?
While you are studying abroad, your school's student code of conduct will most likely still apply. Regardless of what local laws and policies are in the country where you are visiting, you will be expected to adhere to the code of conduct adopted and enforced by your school. This can be especially tricky if your school has strict rules about students under the age of 21 not consuming alcohol, and you're studying in a country where people much younger can legally drink. The same is true for using drugs that are illegal in the United States but might be legal in the country where you are studying. It's wise to read your school's student code of conduct before leaving for your study abroad program so that you know what behaviors you can and cannot do during your study abroad term.
In addition, many schools have a specific study abroad code of conduct for students. This code may include different, stricter, rules that apply to student behavior, and it may include a separate set of disciplinary actions for students who violate those rules. You should also familiarize yourself with your school's study abroad code of conduct, if such a policy exists.
Possible violations that you could get in trouble for while studying abroad include academic violations, such as plagiarism, cheating on a test, copying another student's work, misrepresenting work you submit, helping another student cheat, not attending the minimum number of class sessions, and other academic violations that apply on the home campus as well as in a foreign country.
Other violations that can result in disciplinary action are related to interactions between students and between students and the community. These violations include harassment; assault; sexual assault; sexual harassment; stalking directly, electronically or through a third party; domestic violence or abuse; sexual misconduct; possession or use of a firearm, explosive, dangerous chemicals, or other weapons; violating the rules of the housing facility; theft, destruction, or vandalism to property belonging to another student, person, business, or the university; unauthorized use of university equipment; disturbing the peace; disrespecting the customs and traditions of the host community; disorderly, lewd, or indecent behavior or gestures; hazing; inciting others to unlawful activity; filing a false report of a crime or emergency; violating the laws of the host nation; and other violations.
If You are Accused
If you are accused of violating the student code of conduct, the study abroad code of conduct, local laws, or Title IX, your school will most likely follow an established system for determining if you did, in fact, violate any rules, policies, or laws. You may be temporarily suspended while the initial investigation is conducted. Depending on the severity of the offense, you may be temporarily sent home while the investigation is ongoing, or you may be allowed to stay pending the outcome.
If the program director or other representative of the university determines that there is reasonable cause to believe that a violation of student code of conduct or study abroad code of conduct has occurred, that person will provide you with written notice of the rules you are alleged to have broken. You will also be informed of the potential punishments that can be applied and you will be given a reasonable opportunity to respond to the allegations. This may all be accomplished in person, in writing, via the telephone, or other reasonable means of communication. In cases involving allegations of sexual harassment, sexual misconduct, stalking, and relationship violence, the alleged victim may also be allowed to be heard prior to any decision being rendered.
After you have been notified of any allegations and given an opportunity to respond, the program director or other university official will make a decision on your guilt concerning the allegations, and will determine what corrective or disciplinary action should be taken against you. You will be notified, probably in writing, of the findings and the discipline that is to be applied. Typically, the discipline will begin very soon thereafter, if not immediately.
Typical corrective actions include, but are not limited to:
· A letter of warning or reprimand
· Probation (with conditions)
· Suspension from specified program activities
· Depending on the offense, you may be reassigned to different housing, at your expense
· Dismissal from the program
If your actions are believed to cause immediate danger to the health, safety, or welfare of yourself, another student, or other individuals, or are severely detrimental to the program, the school may elect to immediately dismiss you from the program on an emergency basis. You may or may not be allowed to respond to concerns raised before an emergency dismissal.
Title IX is an American federal civil rights law that was passed in 1972. It says that educational institutions that receive federal funding cannot discriminate against anyone on the basis of sex. The law states, “No person in the United States shall, on the basis of sex, be excluded from participation in, be denied the benefits of, or be subjected to discrimination under any education program or activity receiving Federal financial assistance.”
Title IX is perhaps best known as the law that requires equal funding for male and female sports and prevents schools from discouraging students from courses of study because of their gender. Since 2011, however, Title IX has also been used to compel schools to investigate allegations of sexual assault and sexual harassment.
Though Title IX applies to all American schools that receive federal funding, a new rule states that Title IX does not apply to actions that occur in study abroad programs that take place in foreign countries. If you are accused of a Title IX violation while studying abroad, you should speak with an attorney as soon as possible, but if the new rules go into effect in August 2020 (which is a separate consideration although it is highly unlikely that a Title IX violation charge will stand if the actions did not take place inside the U.S. (that is, if the new rules go into effect in August 2020 which is a separate consideration altogether as the new rules are being challenged in the courts).
Even though you are expected to abide by your school's code of conduct, that's not the only set of rules you have to follow. You will also have to follow the laws of the nation where you are studying. If you should get into legal trouble while abroad, the U.S. Embassy or Consulate is limited in what it can do to assist you. As a foreigner in a foreign land, you are obligated to follow foreign law.
One sure way to get into trouble is to not know the local laws. Something that may be perfectly legal in the United States, could be illegal in the country you're visiting. Most students who study abroad do not break the law on purpose. This is why it's important for you to read up on the laws of the country you're visiting so that you do not accidentally get into legal trouble.
Americans abroad have been arrested for numerous actions that are not illegal in the United States. In 1985, five American tourists were arrested outside the Vatican for the crime of making the signature gesture of the Texas Longhorn football team, a clenched fist with the index finger and little finger extended. They didn't know the gesture is considered obscene in Italy.
American women visiting the Middle East occasionally find themselves in trouble with local authorities for not adhering to the modest dress codes expected of women. Other laws that frequently trip up Americans abroad include, stopping on the autobahn in Germany, wading into Italy's fountains, chewing gum in Singapore, driving in flip-flops in Spain, and insulting the royal family in Thailand—a very big no-no there.
If you break the laws of another country, there is not much the U.S. government can do to help you. You are granted no special privileges or rights and will be dealt with according to the standard procedure of the legal system of the country you are visiting. Most students who get into legal trouble while studying abroad do so accidentally, and alcohol or drug use is a common reason. The Constitutional rights you are accustomed to having in the U.S. will not apply in a foreign country.
If you are arrested, get into a car accident, or get into some other form of legal trouble while abroad, the U.S. Embassy or Consulate only be able to help you in the following ways:
· Visit you in jail after your arrest
· Provide you with a list of local attorneys
· Call your family in the U.S. to ask them to send money
· Talk to local authorities to help ensure your proper treatment under the law and in accordance with internationally recognized standards
· Protest mistreatment if you are treated poorly
Even if the offense you are accused of is not serious enough to warrant arrest or imprisonment, it could still be serious enough for the host nation to rescind your student visa, thus expelling you from the country.
Some violations are likely to be handled only by university authorities. However, if your violation is a crime in the host country or if your violation involves residents of the host country, the matter may be moved from the program director or other university representative and be handled by local law enforcement instead. Violations that might fall under Title IX in the U.S., particularly if they are of a sexual nature, may be criminal offenses that incur harsh punishments in the host country. Other violations might be a violation of your school's code of conduct, but not of the host nation's laws.
What to Do if You're Accused
Whether you stand to be punished by the university or the host nation, or both, as soon as you learn that you stand to be accused of a code of conduct or legal violation, you need to enlist help from someone who has experience working in legal and university disciplinary systems. These are unique areas of law that few lawyers know how to navigate. Hiring an experienced attorney early into the process can even lead to a dismissal of all charges.
Before you answer questions from the program director or other university official, check with a lawyer who can advise you on your best plan of action. Don't try to do this on your own, and don't answer questions or provide details until you have consulted with an attorney. With the right help, you may be able to make this situation go away so that you can get back to enjoying this once in a lifetime experience.
You worked hard to get into your university and you scrimped and saved to participate in a study abroad program. Getting in trouble while studying abroad can be a big blemish on your record and can even derail your college and future plans. Don't try to fight these battles alone. An experienced advisor can intervene on your behalf, talking to school officials and helping you navigate other issues that can arise in a foreign country. You owe it to yourself to have a knowledgeable person speaking up for you. Call us at 888-535-3686, and we will be your voice.