University of Southern Indiana

Responsible Study Abroad: Good Practices for Health and Safety

NAFSA: Association of International Educators

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.

Choose a section below:

I. Responsibilities of Program Sponsors

The term "sponsors" refers to all the entities that together develop, offer and administer study abroad programs. Sponsors include sending institutions, host institutions, program administrators and placement organizations. To the extent reasonably possible, program sponsors should consider how these statements of good practice may apply. At the same time, it must be noted that the structure of study abroad programs varies widely. Study abroad is usually a cooperative venture that can involve multiple sponsors. Because the role of an organization in a study abroad program may vary considerably from case to case, it is not possible to specify a division of efforts that will be applicable to all cases. Each entity should apply these statements in ways consistent with its respective role.

In general, practices that relate to obtaining health, safety and security information apply to all parties consistent with their role and involvement in the study abroad program. Much of the basic information is readily available and can be conveyed to participants by distributing it and/or by referring them to, or utilizing materials from, recognized central sources. Statements of good practice that refer to the provision of information and the preparation of participants are intended for parties that advise, refer, nominate, admit, enroll or place students. Statements of good practice that suggest operating procedures on site apply to entities that are directly involved in the operation of the overseas program.

It is understood that program sponsors that rely heavily on the collaboration of overseas institutions may exercise less direct control over specific program components. In such cases, sponsors are urged to work with their overseas partners to develop plans and procedures for implementing good practices.

The use of letters is provided for ease of reference only and does not imply priority.

Program sponsors should:

  • Conduct periodic assessments of health and safety conditions for their programs, and develop and maintain emergency preparedness processes and a crisis response plan.
  • Provide health and safety information for prospective participants so that they and their parents/guardians/families can make informed decisions concerning preparation, participation and behavior while on the program.
  • Provide information concerning aspects of home campus services and conditions that cannot be replicated at overseas locations.
  • Provide orientation to participants prior to the program and as needed on site, which includes information on safety, health, legal, environmental, political, cultural, and religious conditions in the host country. In addition to dealing with health and safety issues, the orientation should address potential health and safety risks, and appropriate emergency response measures.
  • Consider health and safety issues in evaluating the appropriateness of an individual's participation in a study abroad program.
  • Determe criteria for an individual's removal from an overseas program taking into account participant behavior, health and safety factors.
  • Require that participants be insured. Either provide health and travel accident (emergency evacuation, repatriation) insurance to participants, or provide information about how to obtain such coverage.
  • Conduct inquiries regarding the potential health, safety and security risks of the local environment of the program, including program-sponsored accommodation, events, excursions and other activities, prior to the program. Monitor possible changes in country conditions. Provide information about changes and advise participants and their parents/guardians/families as needed.
  • Hire vendors and contractors (e.g. travel and tour agents) that have provided reputable services in the country in which the program takes place. Advise such vendors and contractors of the program sponsor's expectations with respect to their role in the health and safety of participants.
  • Conduct appropriate inquiry regarding available medical and professional services. Provide information about these services for participants and their parents/guardians/families, and help participants obtain the services they may need.
  • Develop and provide health and safety training for program directors and staff, including guidelines with respect to intervention and referral that take into account the nature and location of the study abroad program.
  • Develop codes of conduct for their programs; communicate codes of conduct and the consequences of noncompliance to participants. Take appropriate action when aware that participants are in violation.
  • In cases of serious health problems, injury, or other significant health and safety circumstances, maintain good communication among all program sponsors and others who need to know.
  • In the participant screening process, consider factors such as disciplinary history that may impact on the safety of the individual or the group.
  • Provide information for participants and their parents/guardians/families regarding when and where the sponsor's responsibility ends and the range of aspects of participants' overseas experiences that are beyond the sponsor's control.

In particular, program sponsors generally:

  • Cannot guarantee or assure the safety and/or security of participants or eliminate all risks from the study abroad environments.
  • Cannot monitor or control all of the daily personal decisions, choices and activities of participants.
  • Cannot prevent participants from engaging in illegal, dangerous or unwise activities.
  • Cannot assure that U.S. standards of due process apply in overseas legal proceedings or provide or pay for legal representation for participants.
  • Cannot assume responsibility for actions or for events that are not part of the program, nor for those that are beyond the control of the sponsor and its subcontractors, or for situations that may arise due to the failure of a participant to disclose pertinent information.
  • Cannot assure that home-country cultural values and norms will apply in the host country.

II. Responsibilities of Participants

In study abroad, as in other settings, participants can have a major impact on their own health and safety through the decisions they make before and during their program and by their day-to-day choices and behaviors.

Participants should:

  • Assume responsibility for all the elements necessary for their personal preparation for the program and participate fully in orientations.
  • Read and carefully consider all materials issued by the sponsor that relate to safety, health, legal, environmental, political, cultural and religious conditions in the host country(ies).
  • Conduct their own research on the country(ies) they plan to visit with particular emphasis on health and safety concerns, as well as the social, cultural, and political situations.
  • Consider their physical and mental health, and other personal circumstances when applying for or accepting a place in a program, and make available to the sponsor accurate and complete physical and mental health information and any other personal data that is necessary in planning for a safe and healthy study abroad experience.
  • Obtain and maintain appropriate insurance coverage and abide by any conditions imposed by the carriers.
  • Inform parents/guardians/families and any others who may need to know about their participation in the study abroad program, provide them with emergency contact information, and keep them informed of their whereabouts and activities.
  • Understand and comply with the terms of participation, codes of conduct and emergency procedures of the program.
  • Be aware of local conditions and customs that may present health or safety risks when making daily choices and decisions. Promptly express any health or safety concerns to the program staff or other appropriate individuals before and/or during the program.
  • Accept responsibility for their own decisions and actions.
  • Obey host-country laws.
  • Behave in a manner that is respectful of the rights and well being of others, and encourage others to behave in a similar manner.
  • Avoid illegal drugs and excessive or irresponsible consumption of alcohol.
  • Follow the program policies for keeping program staff informed of their whereabouts and well being.
  • Become familiar with the procedures for obtaining emergency health and legal system services in the host country.

III. Recommendations to Parents, Guardians and Families

In study abroad, as in other settings, parents, guardians and families can play an important role in the health and safety of participants by helping them make decisions and by influencing their behavior overseas.

Parents, guardians and families should:

  • Be informed about and involved in the decision of the participant to enroll in a particular program.
  • Obtain and carefully evaluate participant program materials, as well as related health, safety and security information.
  • Discuss with the participant any of his/her travel plans and activities that may be independent of the study abroad program.
  • Engage the participant in a thorough discussion of safety and behavior issues, insurance needs, and emergency procedures related to living abroad.
  • Be responsive to requests from the program sponsor for information regarding the participant.
  • Keep in touch with the participant.
  • Be aware that the participant rather than the program may most appropriately provide some information.

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