Each college and university develops and administers study abroad programs differently. Some programs are administered by the students’ home campus or another U.S. college or university, while others are supported by international universities, private study abroad companies, and other programs where students may be students with a faculty or staff member with no formal center abroad. A number of large universities and study abroad programs have full-time staff focused specifically on international travel health and safety issues for faculty, staff and students.
We are raising the following issues to provide some background about reasons for you to take the same amount of time you did in choosing a university where you are getting a degree to review the information about the study abroad or other international travel program which will support them while they are abroad:
- In 2007-2008, 262,400 students studied abroad (Open Doors, 2009) and many others did internships, service learning projects, and international travel. As study abroad is increasing every year, it is important for campuses to set effective and comprehensive policies and procedures for their international programs.
- In 1998, the study abroad field developed a set of Good Practices for Health and Safety and Study Abroad, they provide suggestions for program sponsors, students, and parents (NAFSA). They provide a good foundation for thinking about the various support services that should be in place and the importance of the student’s responsibility in supporting their health and safety.
- Health and safety challenges are found in all countries (including the U.S.). The U.S. Department of State provides Country Specific Information with general as well as specific information about crime and transportation for every country in the world. When the U.S. State Department special concerns, they will issues Travel Alerts to disseminate information with short-term impact on health and safety and Travel Warnings “to describe long-term, protracted conditions that make a country dangerous or unstable. A Travel Warning is also issued when the U.S. Government’s ability to assist American citizens is constrained due to the closure of an embassy or consulate or because of a drawdown of its staff.” See the U.S. State Department’s Current Travel Warning list.
- ASIRT has taken action to improve the travel safety standards by education, advocacy, and the creation and support of sustainable road safety programs and partnerships worldwide, including U.S. embassies business in their focus countries. ASIRT proclaims that “The need to educate and inform the education abroad community about the risks associated with road travel is paramount.”
- The Center for Global Education at Loyola Marymount University has developed Student Study Abroad Handbooks, which includes a checklist of issues to consider when choosing a study abroad program, including those which relate to health and safety.
- The Forum on Education Abroad is recognized by the U.S. Department of Justice and the Federal Trade Commission as the Standards Development Organization for education abroad. The Forum’s Standards of Good Practice goal “is to improve practices in education abroad, so that our students’ international educational experiences are as rich and meaningful as possible. The Forum’s Quality Improvement Program for Education Abroad uses the Standards as part of a quality assurance program that is available to all Forum institutional members.”
- NAFSA: Association of International Educators, is one of the largest organizations that support the college and university study abroad field. NAFSA declares that “Study abroad is very safe. No experience, whether in our own communities or in the world beyond, is completely free of risk.” NAFSA is working to implement appropriate policies aimed at improving student safety. They recognize that “establishing requirements to report crime statistics cannot, in and of itself, make programs safer or prevent random acts of violence.” However NAFSA and the field of study abroad are “dedicated to comprehensive efforts to improve student safety and security.”
- Study abroad, internship, service learning, and other international programs are operated differently at every college and university. This includes differences in staff support in the U.S. and abroad and health and safety support, including insurance options and what is covered. Some study abroad programs include student health insurance and 24 hour emergency assistance coverage during overseas travel. It is important to look closely at the coverage when made available. We suggest that all students purchase study abroad insurance from private insurers such as HTH Worldwide, special emergency assistance support from companies like International SOS, and international safety information from companies like iJet. Some International Student ID Cards, like the ISIC Card can provide emergency assistance and insurance coverage for a low cost.