Alcohol Use and Abuse

  • Students studying abroad may be old enough to drink legally in their destination country.  Please be aware that customs surrounding alcohol vary significantly from country to country. In many European countries, for example, wine or beer is often consumed with a meal, but it is very uncommon for people to drink until they are drunk. Even college students rarely drink to excess in continental Europe. 
  • In more conservative or religious countries, alcohol may be taboo or it may be socially unacceptable for college-age students to drink even if not technically prohibited by the law.
  • As in the U.S., excess use of alcohol overseas often leads to poor judgment and is frequently a factor in accidents and other problems. Students should remain aware that, if drinking to excess, they may be putting their safety and the safety of those around them at risk—and will probably be more vulnerable to crime and accidents abroad.
  • Students who do not drink and wish to find out how prevalent alcohol consumption is in their study abroad destination should consult with their program staff or Off-Campus Studies. It is perfectly acceptable for students to decline a drink, wherever they study abroad, and ask for a soft drink instead if they do not drink alcohol.

Drugs

  • Students should not even consider using illegal drugs while abroad.
  • In most countries, the authorities consider illegal drug use an extremely serious matter. Even possession of small amounts of some drugs, which often result in relatively light penalties in the U.S., may be considered a very serious crime in a study abroad destination.
  • Some countries even execute those convicted of possession if illegal drugs. Several foreign countries have drug laws that include guilt by association. And penalties for possession may be as stringent as those for trafficking illegal drugs.
  • If a Whitman student is caught with any illegal drugs, they are subject to local, not U.S., laws. The U.S. authorities and the student’s study abroad program staff will not be able to do much more than give the student’s parents a list of lawyers. They will not be able to assist the student in any other way. Since local drug laws frequently carry very stiff penalties, many young Americans find themselves in prison for seemingly small offenses.
  • Students should not be fooled by the apparent availability of drugs in some countries.  It is not uncommon for drug dealers to turn their customers in and get paid by the police for doing so.
  • At airports do not agree to check or carry bags of strangers, as you could be found responsible if illegal items are being transported.
  • If arrested abroad, students will find that:
    • Few countries provide a jury trial
    • Most countries do not accept bail
    • Pretrial detention (which is often solitary confinement) can last for months
    • Prisons may lack even the minimal comforts of a bed, toilet, or washbasin
    • Diets are often very poor
    • Officials may not (or may not want to) speak English
    • Personal property may be confiscated
    • Treatment may be inhumane