As a Canadian having now lived in Costa Rica for 7+ years, I often get asked by expats on smooth(er) integration and immersion into a new culture. With some cultures having an innate dislike for foreigners relating to “stealing” jobs from nationals, losing unique elements of culture, cultural disconnects and the like, it can at times make one a target that stands out like the proverbial sore thumb. This article is the result, though not limited to the list itself as this is just the tip of the iceberg. Some conceptual ideas on survival and safety when living abroad as an expat:
- ….Visualize situations in advance and come up with a plan as to how you would act if…
(eg. Burglar comes in through the back, catches you off-guard in the night, alarm goes off, you hear someone fiddling with the window) Have that reaction hardwired by the time it happens. It takes no time at all and puts you in a state of constant vigilance. Preparation, not paranoia.
- With what’s happening in the U.S. right now with law enforcement “profiling” certain races, there’s been a negative stereotype, whether justifiably so or not in certain cases. But profiling can be an extremely effective tool for a civilian/citizen. What have the invaders done in previous home invasions? Were there more than one? What’re the common qualities of the burglar? (lower-class, multiples, from in-town/from out-of-town, poor upbringing, expose to violence at a young age, are they violent, could they be, do they have a history of violence) This is infinite but always better to know what you’re looking at than being caught off-guard by it. What places are populated by this type of person, where are they in accordance to your residence. Criminals are different in every place. A home invader in the U.S. may have different strategies and tactics than in Canada. Canada different than in Costa Rica. It’s not a universal phenomenon. It’s location-specific.
- Change routine. Take different routes to work, go to different restaurants, change your activity patterns at home. The more you act in patterns the easier it is for criminals to predict your behavior and take advantage of it. (“Bill goes out for supper with his wife every Tuesday to ChiChi’s at 5:00pm” – they watch and pick-up on these things.)
- Learn to think like a criminal. I call it the “Predator-Prey Reversal”. If you were a home-invader/mugger/kidnapper/car-jacker..hell, sociopath, killer, mass-murderer, active shooter, violence-driven individual…what would YOU look for in a victim? Don’t be that. Be specific and be extreme, it doesn’t make you a bad person to get in touch with your inner animal, you’ll find you can relate that much more to how others operate and make yourself less of a victim.
- Learn to “people-watch.” I have at times taken students to the mall for class. Just to watch people. Who hypothetically looks like a potential problem, interaction between people, notice suspicious behavior, who’s watching you, why.
- The modern criminal. There are two types of violence: social and asocial. Social is at the bar over a spilt beer, two men cockfighting over a woman of vice versa, demonstrations of physicality and an agreement to “settle things.” These rarely turn really ugly as they’re over pride. Asocial violence has a completely different dynamic: it’s to benefit one of the two people/groups involved. It’s not a fight they’re looking for but a victim and they have a profile too. Body language: fearful, slumped, short steps, looking down/only straight ahead, meek, submissive. Don’t be these things. Even if you can’t authentically, ACT persuasively like this in public, when there may be eyes on you. (And, yes, these actions can follow you home so it pertains more than a little to a home invasion, without a doubt)
- OC sprays, homemade/improvised sprays, tasers, stun guns. It’s not a guaranteed problem-solver. Know your weapon always if you’re planning on using it and NEVER bluff. If you’re called on it, the ensuing damage could be greater and more personal to the criminal as you’ve aggravated him/her. Practice how to use your tools: accessibility (where do you carry it, can it be deployed rapidly, do you know how to use it, what obstacles need to be overcome to utilize it-locks, switches, Velcro openings, etc.) What are the advantages and disadvantages of using it. (A spray is far more effective in the house than outside with a 30km/hour wind blowing against you) If you think you’re armed simply because you’re carrying a weapon, let me assure you that without this pre-emptive planning, it is a decoration, nothing more. I haven’t seen many tasers here in CR with the two extendable prongs. The majority being sold are of the stun-gun variety which means what? You have to be up-close and personal with your aggressor to use it. Close-range. If you have no training and have inner doubts that it may get taken away from you, it will. And some sprays don’t work on everyone. They do testing where some people (not many but this goes to pain tolerance, skin resistance, drug/alcohol usage, your accuracy, the volume of spray that actually hits intended targets and other intangibles that you will not know at that moment)
- Internet safety. DO NOT post your activities on Facebook or other social media. After the fact is one thing but to do so before invites the criminal to find out when’s the best time to invade your home. “My wife and I are going to the Juanes concert tonight! Can’t wait, it starts at 7!” Not a wise idea, in fact, pure stupidity. And for those of you that say Facebook is safe and you’ve put all the necessary precautions up, you haven’t. It’s free so that means ANYBODY and EVERYBODY is on it, including the criminals. Be cautious of accepting people on your friend’s list that you don’t know, don’t completely trust, just met or are simply friends of people you know somewhat.
- Police take in the U.S. an average of 11 minutes response time for home invasions, from what they’re announcing recently in the U.S. and Canada. (ADT advertises in Canada for 33 minutes before police arrive through their monitoring) How much more do you think it’d be here?? Significance? You can’t rely solely on this element to protect you and keep you safe. Most home invasions will be solved, one way or other (if you get what I’m saying) long before the 11-minute mark, if you even have time to put this train in motion. And, remember, police here aren’t always your friend as this is a small country and they may have grown up in the community along with many of the people who have intent to rob you.
- Get in habit of “proofing” your house to the extent you’re able…daily. This is one pattern that is a good one for both yourselves and onlookers. Lock windows and doors before leaving. Skylights. Check for other openings that you may not have thought of where they can get in. Are there weak points in your property that open themselves to unlawful entry? Points where the CCTV cameras don’t hit? Areas with poor visual acuity? Blind spots? Be prudent.
- Post-incident. Here’s one that doesn’t get enough respect: learn basic 1st You simply never know regarding the aftermath of violence. Loved ones may survive who’ve been left for dead or are dramatically injured, including yourself. A little damage control goes a long way.
- Post-incident. Never chase after your aggressor if you’ve managed to survive the initial robbery in-tact. A) Its no longer self-defense. B) You are re-initializing potential violence and C) could end up 6-feet under.