Is studying in the US (actually) safe?

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In the midst of numerous mass shootings in the US, our contributor Steffen Hadi shares his insight into how this affects day-to-day life as a student.

Being cautious is fine, but should safety concerns hinder you from studying in the US? Here, allow me to give you some insight into safety in the US, especially in the midst of an increasing number of mass shootings that have occurred this year.

What are the facts?

I will not hide the fact that until September this year, there have been at least 200 mass shootings in the US. All of these shootings have happened randomly and have inflicted many casualties. Many people in the US believe that the root of this problem is the legality of owning firearms. In a sense, it is true, as generally speaking anyone of legal age in the US may possess firearms. This is just a rule of thumb; the technicalities regarding the possession of firearms include complex identification processes to ensure that the potential buyer is of sound mental health. However, it turns out that such complex identification processes do not help reduce mass shooting incidents.

What does it mean for us?

Especially for us who wish to study in the US, the issue of safety may be a big consideration. However, I would argue that safety should be a consideration even if you were to study in the UK, Europe, or any other popular study destination. Criminal actions including mass shootings may happen anywhere, and the increasing number of mass shooting in the US shall only mean the need to increase awareness of our surrounding. There are many actions that we can do to increase our awareness while still enjoying our study without fear.

First of all, we need to maximize the facilities that the local government and the university have provided for us. In the US, the local government will send to every registered phone number an emergency alert should any incident happen around you. Keep an eye on this alert, because it tells you which street to avoid and how to protect yourself. While I was studying in the US, I got at least five alerts on topics ranging from suspicious person to street burglary. The alert features an accurate location of the accident that you must avoid, and rest assured because once we get the alert, the authority must have undertaken several necessary measures on the area.

Aside from the alert system provided by the local government, American universities usually have a standard of safety system for all students. As part of your study orientation, the university will give you at least a full session about their security measures. Usually, you will be given a security phone app or emergency contact number that can be easily accessed should emergency situations occur. A big university will usually have its own security system which includes the university police, 24-hour camera surveillance and escort service. As in my case, the University of Pennsylvania is located at a designated location called the University City. This location is pretty safe as it is equipped with modern security measures which include emergency public phone in various locations spread within the University City. You can always call a security escort to take you somewhere during the middle of the night, all free. As a student, you need to be mindful of that information as it might come in handy later in the future.

Secondly, many will advise you to avoid crowds. Well, usually the crowd is where the fun happens, so I would not suggest that. What I would like to suggest is that you need to carefully pick what kind of crowd you will join. Is it an event with proper security measures like security checks? Or just an unorganized random crowd? A big city event that invites the crowd will usually have a security measure performed, at least security checks at the entrance. The city government will usually designate the locations of the event in a way so that the crowd can be managed.

Furthermore, it is better if you pick an event that does not bring any political message that invites controversies such as immigrant issues, right to firearms, etc. Just pick neutral and fun events, they are not too difficult to find, aren’t they?

My third tip is to pick your housing near the university. For some students, choosing apartments in the city center is preferable so that they will not miss all the fun. Well, it is true that you will find more entertainment in the city. However, it also increases the criminal vulnerability of the location.

I picked an apartment very near from my school and I did not miss all the fun. Living in the inner circle of the university is proven safer with all the security measures the university implemented. On the other hands, accidents tend to happen a lot more in the city as there are more people bustling in the city, which attracts criminals. More importantly, living near your campus is more convenient for you. As a students, you will get many tasks that make you stay late in the library, labs and other premises within the campus. Having apartments closer to campus will be a safer option in the likely situation where you need to go home late.  

Keep in my mind the above tips and your study in the US will be pretty much safe and fun!

Any chance the government will prohibit the possession of firearms?

My tip is that do not base your decision to study in the US on the question above. I believe the government will not prohibit the possession of firearms, at least not in the near future. The right to possess firearms is granted by the American constitution itself, thus to prohibit the firearms, the constitution itself must be amended. Meanwhile, due to its complex constitution system, amendment of the constitution will be extremely difficult.

The least that the US government can do is to impose a higher requirement to possess firearms. And this has been done several times by the US government several times since 2014.

All in all, studying in the US is still pretty much safe for me. The government has done all in its power to minimize the risk of a mass shooting. What you need to do is just be more aware of your surrounding and be “better safe than sorry”.

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Steffen Hadi
Steffen Hadi studied LL.M. in University of Pennsylvania Law School and Wharton Business and Law Certificate of the Wharton School at the same university. He was the Class President of Penn Law LL.M. Class 2016, Penn Law Students Representative in University of Pennsylvania’s council, and international associate editor in Penn Law Journal of International Law. Steffen also interned at a prominent international law firm in Philadelphia. Aside from LL.M. Steffen also holds a Sarjana Hukum (LL.B. equivalent) from Parahyangan Catholic University. Steffen has been practicing law as a corporate lawyer in Jakarta and Singapore. Presently, he is a senior associate in a prominent law firm in Indonesia and independently assisting few legal issues for start-ups. In his spare time, Steffen is a movie freak, loyal runner, and outdoor trekker.