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SAFETI Clearinghouse
Special Issue: International Travel Safety in Perspective

International Travel Safety in Perspective
Balancing Safety Issues While Supporting Study Abroad Program Implementation

by Gary Rhodes, Ph.D., Director
Safety Abroad First - Educational Travel Information (SAFETI) Clearinghouse
Center for Global Education
California State University, Dominguez Hills

The current (Fall 2015) Institute of International Education Open Doors Data on study abroad shows a growth in the number of U.S. students who are studying abroad during their U.S. college and university degree programs. Data from the recently released Forum on Education Abroad "Insurance Claims Data and Mortality Rate for College Students Studying Abroad" (March 2016) reinforces the concept that while there are certainly health and safety challenges during study abroad, there is no current data which would support the idea that study abroad provides greater danger (in terms of healh and safety negative outcomes) than studying on a U.S. college or university campus. The Institute of International Education Generation Study Abroad initiative is one effort that is moving to significantly increase study abroad and other international opportunties for U.S. students. While increasing numbers shows positive growth, it needs to be done effectively to maximize positive impacts.

It is important that the growth of study abroad opportunities takes place in an environment where health and safety issues should be taken very seriously. Some institutions have provided resources to make a difference. There continues to be a growth in the number of U.S. colleges, universities, and study abroad provider organizations that have hired one or more staff members whose primary area of focus is on the health and safety issues for program development and implementation. However, there are some institutions where no central support is available for international initatives and the good practices shared in the study abroad field may not be known by faculty or staff implementing international programs. It is important that campuses support study abroad growth, but balance that with resources to support the health and safety of participants. Many resources are available to help.

The U.S. Government, through support from organizations including the U.S. Department of State through the Overseas Security Advisor Council (OSAC) in Diplomatic Security, the new position of Director for Study Abroad in the Bureau of Education and Cultural Affairs, and the support from American Citizens Services in Consular Affairs have continued to increase their support for college and university study abroad. The U.S. Centers for Disease Control and Prevention has also continued to provide support for colleges and universities including the recent outreach about responding to the Zika virus.

Along with the resources of the SAFETI Clearinghouse at the Center for Global Education at California State University at Dominguez Hills: SAFETI Clearinghouse, there are many other organizations that provide health and safety support for developing and implementing study abroad programs. This includes NAFSA: Association of International Educators, The Forum on Education Abroad, and the Association for International Education Administrators, whose headquarters are based in the U.S. and for whom the entire focus of their organizations is on internationalization of higher education, including study abroad.

One document that was widely used by the field ten (10) years ago can help in developing a balanced perspective on health and safety and study abroad. The NAFSA website hosts the document: Responsible Study Abroad: Good Practices for Health & Safety The website provides the following description of the resource: "The Interassociational Advisory Committee on Safety and Responsibility in Study Abroad (formerly the Interorganizational Task Force on Safety and Responsibility in Study Abroad) was formed as a joint venture a number of professional organizations and study abroad providers. One outcome of this task force was "Responsible Study Abroad: Good Practices for Health & Safety. Because the health and safety of study abroad participants are primary concerns, these statements of good practice have been developed to provide guidance to institutions, participants (including faculty and staff), and parents/guardians/families. These statements are intended to be aspirational in nature. They address issues that merit attention and thoughtful consideration by everyone involved with study abroad. They are intentionally general; they are not intended to account for all the many variations in study abroad programs and actual health, safety, and security cases that will inevitably occur. In dealing with any specific situation, those responsible must also rely upon their collective experience and judgment while considering their specific circumstances."

The challenge that is faced by colleges and universities who support continuing study abroad opportunities and growth of new opportunities is to implement policies and procedures which support faculty, staff, and students who study and travel abroad. These efforts should inform them of potential risks, ways to best avoid negative outcomes, and 24 hour emergency assistance to be able to respond at any time and at any place to any health and safety challenges that affect them or others taking part in the programs abroad. If the home campus has been involved in developing and implementing these programs and has been involved in supporting the development of effective policies and procedures, then in the event of an incident, the campus community will come together to help work through an incident, improve processes and procedures, support faculty, staff, and students in need, and continue to support the positive impacts of study abroad, including international learning, global understanding, as well as support for retention, success, and professional development and career.

For there to be a balanced perspective, there needs to be a campuswide effort to provide effective support. To provide effective support, there needs to be sufficient resources and cross-campus collaboration. As we continue to grow the samples of resources that have been developed, we would appreciate the forms and processes you have developed on your campus to support a balanced approach in support of study abroad program development and implementation, which provides resources and support for health and safety.


Gary Rhodes, Ph.D., Director
Safety Abroad First - Educational Travel Information (SAFETI) Clearinghouse
Center for Global Education
California State University, Dominguez Hills