Going abroad can be a thrilling experience, with lots of different emotions thrown into the mix — and rightfully so! It’s a totally new environment and culture that you’ve never experienced before. Because of this, it’s a good idea to prepare yourself for potential challenges that many students experience. This section will help you mentally prepare for what it’s like to live abroad, stay safe during your study abroad experience, and care your your health and wellbeing.

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Travel Tips

Cultural Adjustment

While you are abroad, you are likely to experience “cultural adjustment.”  Living in another culture is very exciting and rewarding, but it can also be disorienting and challenging to be far away from your family, friends, support systems, and familiar cultural norms. For most people, the study abroad experience consists of a series of emotional highs and lows. However, the more you know what to expect in the host country, the closer your expectations will match reality and the less shocking your experience will be.

Cultural adjustment does not result from a specific event. Instead, it derives from the experience of encountering new ways of doing things that challenge the basic belief that your way of doing things is the “correct” way.  It builds up from a series of events in your host country that you may find difficult getting used to. For instance, you may encounter an ambiguous situation where you are expected to do something without adequate direction or explanation. You may also have your values questioned at times, which can deepen the anxiety of living in a foreign environment.

When you first arrive in the host country, everything around you will probably be new, different and exciting. You will probably enjoy the sights, sounds, and other cultural novelties that surround you! This initial reaction is frequently called the honeymoon stage. It is characterized by feelings of fascination, exhilaration, and a desire to learn more about the culture.

After a couple days or even a couple of weeks, when you have settled into more of a daily routine, some of the subtle differences in gestures, manners, and tone and rhythm of voices will become more evident. It is possible that these cultural differences will make you feel out of place and miss everything about home. You may even feel disappointed in yourself if it is difficult to communicate at first. However, this is a natural and common reaction called “culture shock."

Symptoms of Culture Shock

Culture shock manifests itself in different forms, but some symptoms can be:

  • Changes in eating habits and sleeping habits
  • Homesickness; calling home much more often than usual
  • Feeling hostile, bitterness and/or complaining frequently about the host country/culture
  • Irritability, sadness, depression
  • Frequent frustration; being easily angered
  • Self-doubts; sense of failure
  • Recurrent illness
  • Withdrawing from friends or activities

How to Respond to Culture Shock

You will feel more liberated after experiencing culture shock because you will have learned new approaches to doing things in your host country that have been adopted as part of daily life. By getting to know your host country and understanding the logic that lies behind the style of living there, you will be able to foster more effective interaction within the new culture.

To ease the stress of culture shock here are several solutions that can help you overcome it more quickly:

  1. When you first arrive, observe your surroundings so that you may trace any odd interactions you see to their underlying values. Once you have identified some of your host country’s values, share some of your observations with a local person whom you trust. It’s a great opportunity to develop deeper relationships so that you may converse non-judgmentally about issues impacted by cross-cultural beliefs.
  2. Do not fear losing your home values or personal values. Partaking in the customs of your host country will not make you less of an American. It will only enlighten your mind and spirit and allow you to be more at ease in your new environment. It will open doors to understanding.
  3. Maintain a good sense of humor. You may feel foolish at times when you have difficulty expressing yourself in another language, but learn to laugh it off. Many people will enjoy conversing with you and commend you for your efforts.
  4. Keep your mind occupied and be active. Activities such as reading, exercising, and socializing will keep you in healthy spirits. If you are feeling down, engage in some self-care activities before re-engaging with others.
  5. If you take time to inform others of your home country by sharing scrapbooks, photo albums, or other types of visuals with them, you will build closer relationships that will allow your hosts to get to know a part of you that is not so apparent in your daily living situation.
  6. Trust that your study abroad experience will be positive. As you acquire more knowledge about your host country and you begin to develop new friendships, you will discover the innumerable rewards of studying abroad.
  7. Learn the local language, if applicable. Speaking the language of your host country will demonstrate your initiative to learn and, at the very least, will be a courtesy to your hosts. Attempting to use the local language is a good basis on which to build new relationships with local people. Look for various ways to improve your language skills. If you are participating in an immersion program, try to speak your host country’s language at all times, even with your American peers.
  8. Recognize that other cultures may use different verbal and non-verbal communication methods. Body language, personal space when conversing, and other non-verbal communication can be very different than what you are used to in the United States. Likewise, some cultures are not nearly as frank, sarcastic, or confrontational when discussing certain topics as Americans. Sometimes, things are implied in conversation but are not actually voiced. Remember that differences in communication styles are just that — different.
  9. Be open-minded. Observe the culture in a way that makes it easier to see how behavior fits together, both logically and systematically.  Try to be open-minded rather than resort to becoming defensive and holding on to your preconceived stereotypes.

Experiencing culture shock where you face unfamiliar and uncomfortable environments presents a unique opportunity to learn. Many of the key skills that students gain from studying abroad—such as adaptability, ease with ambiguity, problem-solving, self-confidence—are acquired this way.

How to Access UO Technology

Before traveling abroad, you should ensure you can still access your various UO accounts overseas including:  

  • DUO Login – If you use the DUO Mobile app on your smartphone, you may want to consider getting a hardware token as a back-up DUO login option. 
  • UO VPN - Use to connect to UO campus network from any off-campus location. 

If you encounter issues while abroad, please contact UO IT Services to help troubleshoot.

Personal Travel Expectations

It is possible your program will have some free days, especially on the weekends. Each time you spend the night outside of your program's provided housing, make sure to fill out the non-program travel form and notify your on-site staff, the faculty leader, and/or your host family (if applicable).  

Safe Travel Tips: 

  • Share your travel dates and itinerary with your on-site staff, the faculty leader, and/or your host family (if applicable). You may also want to inform your family at home to avoid any unwanted worries, and to ensure that several people know where you are when you travel independently. 
  • Be careful not to display money, jewelry, or other valuable items while traveling. 
  • You could also wear a money belt and keep it close where you can see it at all times in order to avoid pickpockets. 
  • When using public transportation: 
    • Avoid train or metro cars that are empty.  
    • Upon boarding, locate the emergency equipment 
    • If someone is bothering you, inform the train or bus operator.  
    • Try to stay awake and alert during your travels so you do not miss your destination and avoid unwanted attention and confrontations. 

You are responsible for the storage of luggage. If you plan to arrive early or stay a few days after the program end date, you should not expect to have access to early housing or luggage storage. Housing arranged by on-site staff begins on the first day of the program (arrival date) and ends on the last day of the program (departure date). 

Vote & Pay Taxes While Abroad

Absentee Voter Registration 

Even though you are abroad, you remain eligible to vote in local and national elections. If you wish to vote during the time in which you will be abroad, request a ballot to be sent to you at your overseas location before you leave for your program.  

You can find additional information from the US Department of State


You may need to file your tax return while you are studying abroad. Be prepared to access any necessary documents needed to submit your tax forms before departing for your program. If you plan to be out of the country when it is time to file your U.S. tax return, you can always file at an American embassy or online. 

Sustainable Travel

To study abroad is to be a global citizen. As such, it is important to leave your host country with a positive impression of you/your culture/the US by respecting the local culture, history, language, and environment. Making a conscious effort to reduce your environmental footprint while traveling is also part of being a global citizen. Learning how to live sustainably in your host country is no different from learning how to adapt to local customs, accents, or dress. It requires a concentrated effort to understand not only local sustainability efforts, but how you can help support them.  

Be Mindful of Waste 

Pay attention to how waste is handled in your host country. Do locals recycle? What about compost? How does waste management differ from home? Remember that throwing the wrong or dirty materials into a recycling or compost bin can contaminate the whole amount of waste, resulting in it being sent to the landfill instead. 

  • Recycle and compost appropriately whenever and wherever possible. 
  • Be sure to use the proper receptacles and understand what goes into them. 
  • Avoid activities that cause extra waste: buying food and drink in disposable containers, buying souvenirs you won’t keep, etc. 

Conserve Water and Energy 

Many countries abroad conserve water and energy a lot more than in the US, either due to the price, the availability, or the public commitment to sustainability. This can mean many things: 

  • Taking shorter showers 
  • Hand-washing dishes 
  • Air-drying laundry 
  • Turning off power sockets, lights, and other uses of energy 

Use Public Transportation 

Public transportation (trains, buses, metros) will generally be much more robust than what you are used to, and as a student, your ability to travel in your host country will be determined by its availability. Public transportation and traveling by bike, is not only more sustainable than travel by car or airplane but is also an inexpensive way to explore. Depending on the duration of your stay, you might want to get a bike rental pass or a metro pass. Look into traveling by train rather than by plane; you’ll limit your carbon emissions and can see much more of your host country and surrounding areas. 

Explore Sustainable Diets 

Look carefully at what the locals eat, and what foods result in the lowest carbon footprint. Vegetables, legumes, and grains are all great choices. Eggs, yogurt, fish, and poultry also provide many nutrients while leaving a medium carbon footprint. To have the lowest impact with your food choices, eat pork, cheese, beef, and lamb rarely or not at all. If you are living with a host family, it may not be possible to dictate your diet. Instead, look at what you are eating for lunch, meals you make, or meals you choose yourself. 

  • Consider preparing your own meals instead of buying.
  • When you buy take-out, be mindful of whether your food is packaged. Are there non-packaged options from cafés? 
  • Is what you are eating local? If not, can it be? This is also a great way of sampling more regional cuisine. 
  • No matter what or where you eat, avoid wasting food, which has a huge impact on greenhouse gas! The higher the carbon footprint of a food item, the greater the impact of wasting it. 

Shop Locally 

It can be a lot easier (depending on the country) to shop locally. Look for signs in stores that identify local products, as well as farmers’ markets (which are often held daily depending on the size of your city). 

  • If you are living with a host family, ask them where they buy their food or even go with them to the market.
  • If you are living alone, or with roommates, take careful notes on what you see in stores. Often, as in the US, there will be symbols for local as well as organic, vegan, or vegetarian, but remember that cultures may interpret these differently than the US. 

Shop Thriftily 

Along your study abroad journey, you may need to purchase certain items to accommodate your needs or interests last minute, or sell items prior to your return. While some websites like craigslist are international, others like leboncoin.fr will depend on your host country. We recommend asking on-site staff or students about your options, as well as doing the following:       

  • Check out a local thrift shop to find the clothes you need for a specific trip or for everyday wear 
  • Surf the internet to find buy/sell pages to re-sell items or buy a used one that’s fully functional 

Get Involved 

Look for local organizations, clubs, projects, or classes you can take that focus on sustainability. Doing this allows you to directly engage with and impact the community, as well as directly utilize the strategies above. While options may be limited, depending on your program type, the duration of your stay, and the host-country itself, there are always ways to be involved. If you haven’t already, check out options on campus, and think about how they might apply to study abroad. 

Ultimately, the most important elements of sustainability abroad are respect and an open mind. You are a guest, and your learning experience is not constrained to the classroom. While the shift might be difficult at first, it is not uncommon for students who have studied abroad to adapt to local sustainable practices. 

To learn more about GEO Sustainable, visit the GEO Sustainable Programs and Initiatives website

Study Abroad Students Share Their Tips

"I studied abroad at the University of Oregon GEO Center in Siena, Italy. Throughout my time in Italy, sustainability was not emphasized very much. Every time you get a water in Italy, it comes out of another plastic bottle. One thing I made sure of doing was using my own water bottle with our water station in GEO center. While it may have only reduced the amount of water bottles one person used, it was a start. It was this kind of action that I performed, and saw my fellow classmates do that showed me how anyone can start to make a difference, just by reusing a water bottle. While Italy did not do a great job with water bottles and other single use items, the use of dryers was irregular, all grocery stores were filled with local foods, and walking was the most common form of transportation, especially in Siena."

—Donovan Jones, Pre-Business in Siena

"During my time in Lyon, I was introduced to new habits for sustainable travel. For laundry, I was used to washing loads of all sizes with the convenience of drying them in the dryer back at home. However, most French homes have washers but no dryers because people air-dry their clothes to reduce energy. I thought it was awesome to airdry my clothes and my host mom showed me her favorite linen spray. Even still today, I alternate between using the dryer and airdrying when I have more time."

—Mecca Donovan, IE3 Lyon French Immersion

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Staying Safe Abroad

Safety on a GEO study abroad program is a shared responsibility and requires students to be well-informed and active participants in their own well-being while participating in a program. GEO provides students with extensive health and safety information throughout pre-departure, advising, and on-site orientations.

Many travelers do find that they need to be more cautious in a foreign country as misunderstandings can easily arise. It is worthwhile to be aware of cross-cultural differences and local laws to avoid potentially dangerous situations as you may not be able to pick up on subtle social clues as easily as you do in the US.

Follow these general tips:

  • Avoid public or political demonstrations.
  • Follow the advice of local authorities and on-site staff.
  • Drink responsibly and do not use illegal substances.
  • Be alert in crowded places like train/bus stations and popular tourist destinations.
  • Know the 911-equivalent number in your country. In case of an emergency, call that number first.
  • Be careful not to divulge too much information to strangers, this includes information about where you live.
  • Don’t leave personal items (backpacks, laptops, etc.) unattended for even a short while.
  • Always lock your door.
  • Check your privacy settings on social media and consider what you are sharing.
  • Identify ways to blend in with the local culture to avoid being targeted as a tourist.
  • Listen to your instincts. If a situation feels unsafe, speak up or remove yourself.

Register for the Smart Traveler Enrollment Program. All students participating in a study abroad program are highly encouraged to register for the Smart Traveler Enrollment Program (STEP) to receive information from the US Embassy regarding conditions in your country of study during your program. You will receive email alerts in the event of any anticipated events such as protests that may impact you. We suggest that you also register yourself and notify the US Embassy of the dates and locations of any personal travel you plan outside of the program to help you make informed decisions about your travel plans.

Emergency Response

Student safety and security is GEO’s number one priority.

In the event of an emergency, students should contact the following support services as follows:

  1. If the emergency involves crime or emergency medical attention is needed, students should immediately contact local emergency services by dialing the 911-equivalent in your host country. We strongly recommend that you first contact local emergency services, as they will be able to provide immediate assistance. Save the numbers for these emergency contacts in your phone and carry a paper copy with these contacts in your wallet, purse or backpack. If you are unable to make a phone call (due to a language barrier or other challenges) or are not sure which emergency service to contact, then get in touch with your on-site program staff so that they can assist you in obtaining the necessary services.
  2. Once you have contacted the relevant authorities or medical services, be sure to get in touch with your on-site program staff to inform them of the situation and let them know of your status so that they can continue to support you on site. If it is after hours and you did not need to contact emergency services, ask yourself if this is a true emergency that cannot wait until business hours. For example, a lost passport is an urgent situation. However, if you contact your on-site staff in the middle of the night, they will not be able to do much to assist you until the following morning when embassies are open.
  3. GEO provides support via a 24-hour emergency hotline. If you are unable to get in touch with local emergency support services and your on-site staff, please call the GEO emergency line. If you are not sure who to contact, please also don’t hesitate to call. It is strongly advised that you save this number (along with the local emergency numbers) in your mobile phone before going abroad.

GEO 24-hour Emergency Hotline: 503-764-4146

For less urgent issues requiring assistance, contact your on-site staff or GEO Advisor by email.


In the unfortunate event that a terrorist attack or natural catastrophe occurs in your area while abroad, be aware that your on-site program staff, faculty leader, or GEO will attempt to contact you for a check-in to make sure you are safe and secure. Please respond to any inquiries as quickly as possible.

Also monitor local events and check your UO email regularly if such an event occurs in your area or while you are traveling during off time during your program. You can be proactive and contact your program staff and GEO Advisor as soon as you’re aware of an event in your area to let them know you are safe.

Identifying Your Emergency Contacts

Be sure to add at least two numbers to your mobile phone contacts with the contact “name” as “EMERGENCY CONTACT #1,”, etc., so that someone trying to help you can easily contact your site director, host parent, and/or GEO emergency contact if you become incapacitated.

In event of a sexual assault, see the section on Women’s Safety in this guide and the University of Oregon Help for Victims and Survivors website.

Be Aware of Local Laws

While abroad, be aware that local laws and penalties apply to you. If you break local laws while in another country, you are subject to arrest and prosecution. If you are arrested overseas, there is little help GEO staff can provide, and you may need to work with an attorney.

For more information on arrest or detention abroad, visit the US Dept of State website. You are also highly encouraged to read the Travel Advisory issued for your country as it contains helpful information regarding required documents, crime, safety considerations based on identities, healthcare information, and where to find the nearest embassy abroad.

Alcohol & Drug Safety

Excessive drinking can be disruptive to your program and have a negative impact on your experience and those around you. Disruptive behavior due to alcohol use is a violation of the UO Conduct Code. Infractions of the code will be taken seriously and behavioral incidents involving alcohol may warrant removal from a program. If you do choose to drink while abroad, drink responsibly.

Here are some tips on drinking responsibly:

  • Keep in mind that drinking norms and culture may be very different where you are studying abroad; in most other countries, locals may find excessive social drinking very off-putting.
  • Eat before you drink and always consume alcohol with food.
  • Be aware of how strong your drink is and how much alcohol is poured in every glass; drinks can be much stronger in some countries than what you are used to in the US.
  • Pace your drinking; consider alternating an alcoholic drink with a non-alcoholic drink or water and try to keep consumption to one drink per hour.
  • Know your limits. 

Be aware that alcohol consumption is a factor in many of the injuries, assaults, and thefts that students might experience on study abroad programs. Drinking excessively impairs judgement and can lead to circumstances that could put you in danger.

To increase your personal safety when going out:

  • Do not drink alone or walk on the street alone at night after drinking.
  • When going out with friends, make sure you leave with everyone you came with; and don’t insist on staying behind or leave someone alone when you leave.
  • Do not accept drinks from someone you don’t know and always keep an eye on your drink; drink spiking is very common in some areas frequented by foreign college students.
  • Follow your best judgment, but remember that you are in an unfamiliar environment and the culture about alcohol consumption in other countries may be very different than what you are familiar with in the US.

Prevent Pickpocketing

Many places like Europe have a low crime rate compared to many cities around the US, but petty crime such as pickpocketing and bag snatching continues to increase, especially in tourist areas and during the summer.

Prevent pickpocketing by:

  • Staying alert in crowded places, on pedestrian streets, buses, trains, subways, and tourist attractions.
  • Your bag should close with a zipper so it is not easy for someone to open.
  • If you carry personal items in your pants’ pockets, be sure to keep all items in your front pockets.
  • If someone bumps into you, check your belongings as soon as possible.
  • Be aware that pick pocketers sometimes work in teams where one creates a distraction while another removes something from your person.
  • Consider a money belt or neck wallet that can be tucked inside your clothing when you need to carry your passport and other valuable items.

Sexual Violence (Title IX)

If you experience any type of sexual violence while on a study abroad program, please know that you have options and support is available to you as you begin the healing process.

If you are a victim/survivor of sexual violence, what happened to you was not your fault.

Experiencing sexual violence is difficult and it can be even more confusing and complicated if it occurs in another country. Victims/survivors often experience a range of emotions including fear, anxiety, confusion and loss of control. There is no one “right way” to respond, and determining what steps to take after a traumatic experience can be difficult, especially when you are far from home. The options listed below are meant to be resources. GEO supports the victim’s/survivor’s right to make their own decisions about what is best for their recovery.

Make a Report

The decision to report and when to do so is always up to you. GEO encourages reports to be made in close proximity to the incident even though reports can be made to GEO, confidential staff, and law enforcement at any time.

Students are encouraged to report any incidents of sexual violence to local police if you are comfortable doing so. If you would like assistance in making a report, you are encouraged to work with on-site staff. Please know that most staff are Assisting Employees and so can assist you without being required to report it to the university.

If you would like to file a report with the University of Oregon, you can complete this form with the Office of Investigations and Civil Rights Compliance. Know that a report can be made at any time.

Talk to a Confidential Resource

Speaking with a confidential resource means that any information you share is protected and cannot be shared without you permission. Confidential resources are a great way to get information about your options without having to file an official report where legal action may be taken:


If you do not wish to speak to anyone, you can utilize other online resources that can be found on the UO’s Title IX website.

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Mental Health & Wellness

Mental Health

If you are currently using professional help with emotional or mental health concerns, talk about your study abroad plans with your care provider before making the final decision to go. The added challenges of adjusting to a new environment coupled with the absence of a familiar support system may exacerbate existing conditions, especially around anxiety and depression. 

If you think you are in need of assistance while abroad, let your on-site staff and GEO advisor know as soon as possible. Should you need professional services abroad, your program staff can help to make arrangements for services that may be covered under the program insurance. You can also work directly with GEO travel insurance to identify a nearby provider. Note that English-speaking therapists and psychiatrists may not be readily available in all locations where GEO has programs. Similar to here in the US, it can take some time to get an appointment. 

All students studying abroad with GEO will also have access to the TELUS Health Student Support mobile application. It allows you to message or call a professional therapist 24/7. The service is completely confidential at no added cost. The app also contains other helpful resources including: 

  • Exercise videos 
  • Podcasts 
  • Articles 
  • Self-assessments 

Mental Health Abroad


If you are taking specific prescription medication(s), you may not be able to find them at a local pharmacy or you may need a prescription from a local doctor, including for some medications that are available over the counter in the US. Some tips regarding medications include: 

  • Bring an adequate supply of prescribed medication that you will need for the duration of the program plus a little extra. 
  • Bring prescription medicine in its original containers with your name on them. 
  • Pack all medicines in your carry-on luggage and in original pharmacy containers (with Rx labels). 
  • Discuss how major time zone changes may affect your medication schedule with your primary physician before going abroad. 
  • Ask your doctor for the generic name of your medication, as brand names are frequently different in other countries. 
  • It is recommended that you bring a note from the prescribing doctor stating your name and the medication prescribed. 
  • It is recommended that you bring your own basic medicines for headaches, colds, coughs, stomach aches, hay fever, diarrhea, and so on. 
  • Medical use of cannabis in any form, including CBD, is not allowed in most countries. Do not attempt to bring any form of cannabis with you when traveling abroad. 

Be aware that it is illegal in most cases to send prescription medication through the mail internationally. If you run out of your prescribed medications while abroad, your family/friends will not be able to send you an additional supply through the mail. In such cases you will likely need to get a local doctor to provide a new prescription, and this may take some time as you may need to set up an appointment.  

Note that some countries have restrictions and regulations on medications that differ from the US and some medications that are allowed in the US may be illegal in other countries. Make sure to research whether specific medications that you use in the US are allowed in your host country. There is no single database of restrictions on medications for all countries. You can check embassy and ministry of health websites of your host country, or entry regulation and visa websites to find out about restricted medications before you go. You may also contact the US Embassy in your host country for information about specific medications. 

Self-health Evaluation

Before you go abroad, you should take inventory of all items related to your health and wellbeing. If applying to a GEO-sponsored program, you will be prompted to complete the following self-assessment in your GEO Portal after you have been accepted to participate. 

  1.  Are you currently being treated for a physical health condition or injury?
    • Talk to your healthcare provider about a plan
    • Work with insurance to identify a provider ahead of time
  2. Are you currently being treated for a behavioral and/or mental health condition? 
  3. Are you currently taking any medications or supplements?
    • Talk to your doctor
    • Make sure you have enough for the duration of travels
    • Check to make sure all substances are legal where you're going
  4. Do you have any allergies? 
    • Indicate in your housing form (if applicable)
    • Let on-site staff know
    • Bring EpiPens (if needed)
    • Know how to say what you're allergic to in host language
  5. Do you have a health condition or disability that requires reasonable accommodations? 
  6. Do you have any dietary preferences or restrictions that may impact your participation?
    • Indicate in housing form on GEO Portal (if applicable)
    • Let on-site staff know
    • Know how to say what you cannot eat in host language


Students participating in a GEO-sponsored program are automatically covered under the UO’s international accident and sickness insurance plan. Students participating in SIT, CIEE, USAC, DIS and IE3 programs will not be enrolled in the UO’s international insurance plan but rather with insurance provided by those organizations.

Information about UO’s international insurance policy:

  • This insurance is considered secondary insurance, and GEO recommends that you keep your primary health insurance in the US while studying abroad.
  • This plan functions as a reimbursement-based plan so students will need to be prepared to pay medical expenses out-of-pocket upfront. Students should hold on to any documentation, summary visits, receipts etc. and then file for reimbursement afterwards.
  • It may be possible to pre-arrange direct payment to approved providers if you work with the insurance company in advance.
  • This insurance is for accident and sickness coverage and does not cover personal property loss or trip cancellations and delays (except when caused by a personal medical condition verified by a doctor). You are advised to take out travelers' insurance for personal property as well to cover theft or damage to your laptop, cell phone, etc.
  • High-risk activities are not covered. Be sure to check the insurance policy if you have questions about exclusions and limitations.

Student can view the entire insurance policy and claim forms in their GEO Portal.

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