7 Things the Amanda Knox Case Taught Us About Studying Abroad

As I prepare to teach in Italy next summer, here's a short list of items that students should know before leaving the States to their study abroad country.
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Studying abroad is a great opportunity to learn about other cultures and yourself. However, the Amanda Knox case has prompted students to be more mindful of their actions abroad. In 2010, I had the opportunity to teach in Northern Italy and critically compare the Italian and U.S. court systems. As I prepare to teach in Italy next summer, here's a short list of items that students should know before leaving the States to their study abroad country:

1. Keep a translated statement to police in your pocketbook or wallet. Before my students travel, each of them will carry two copies of this statement, translated into Italian: My lawyer has advised me not to talk to anyone about any criminal matter. I do not wish to answer any questions without my lawyer in the room. I have the phone number for my lawyer with me.

Italian: Il mio avvocato mi ha consigliato di non parlare con nessuno qualcosa questione criminale. Non voglio rispondere ad alcuna domandai senza il mio avvocato nella stanza. Ho il numero di telefono per mio avvocato con me.

Why two copies? If you are detained for questioning and the copy you give the police disappears, you've got a backup copy to give to your lawyer as proof of your intent (as he or she moves to exclude a supposed confession from evidence). Make sure your faculty program director translates the statement above into your country's native language.

2. Keep the telephone number of a criminal lawyer with you. Every attorney in the world is listed in Martindale Hubbell. Identify a criminal attorney in the city you will be living in, and keep that name and number in your wallet or pocketbook.

3. Read non-fiction books which touch on the legal system in your country. Next summer, my students will be reading portions of The Monster of Florence and The Fatal Gift of Beauty: The Trials of Amanda Knox.

4. Respect the laws of the country you are visiting. Amanda Knox won her appeal, but she was convicted of criminal slander for alleged statements made about bartender Patrick Lumumba. In addition, an overzealous prosecutor charged her parents and her with criminal slander for statements made about the Italian police. In the United States, civil courts are the only remedy for slander, but continually remind yourself that you are not in your own country.

5. Keep the phone number of the closest U.S. Consulate General Office with you. My students will have this number in their wallets or pocketbooks: (+39) 055.266.951

6. Get an international driver's license before traveling. Even if you don't intend to rent a car, this document makes it easier for you to communicate with foreign authorities.

7. Exercise restraint in the face of inequity. Last month, I was at a pizzeria near the Santa Lucia train station in a very touristy area of Venice. The menu was in English and I ordered a pizza for a reasonable 7.50 Euros (about $10.00). When I handed the menu back to the English-speaking waiter, he asked if I wanted a small or large Coke. I went with the large, which turned out to be the size of an oil drum. When the check came, I was charged 11 EU (about $14.75) for the beverage. I calmly asked about the obvious error, but the waiter then pointed to the back of the menu that listed the large Coca Cola at 11 EU. I know that it was careless on my part, but I was ordering Cokes all week for a reasonable 3 EU. I gave the waiter a little ill-advised lip about his tourist trap, which he didn't like. He said I could take it up with the polizia. At that point, I did the smart thing: I bit my lip, paid with Euros instead of a credit card so he wouldn't know my name, and went on my way.

A caveat about lawyers and law professors: They are "worst case scenario" thinkers. Your study abroad experience will be fun, educational, and worry free, but it's always good to be prepared. And it's important to look at beverage prices on the back of menus!

Perry Binder, J.D. is a legal studies professor in Georgia State University's Robinson College of Business, who teaches law classes in Italy.

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