Webinar: Study Abroad Safety – April 27, 2016


Hey, good afternoon everybody. Thank you for
coming online. We’re really excited to be having this webinar today on study abroad
safety. I really just am very appreciative for all of you who took the time to hop on board
to think about this really important topic that we think about here at the Department,
our friends at the State Department think about, and folks I know at higher ed institutions
across the country spend a lot of time thinking about.
Summer is coming up pretty soon and I know that means a lot of really exciting travel
for a lot of faculty and a lot of students and a lot of staff. It’s, you know, a great
opportunity for learning abroad. But we also want to make sure that — excuse
me — we want to make sure that faculty and staff and students are equipped with the best
knowledge possible to make the best decisions while they are overseas to ensure their safety.
So we have, with us, a few great presenters today. We’ve got with us Amber Hanson
from the U.S. Department of State. Amber is the country director – country officer – excuse
me – for American Citizen Services and Crisis Management. That’s a mouthful.
We also have with us — excuse me — Maureen Handrahan from Michigan State University.
Maureen is the Coordinator for International Health and Safety. She’ll be sharing some
of her thoughts. We also have with us Dan Spiess from the University
of Chicago. Dan is the Assistant Director for Postdoctoral Affairs and Career Development.
So thank you all for being here. I know we’ve got a lot of material to cover.
Just a few housekeeping notes. We’ll be taking – we’ll have a Q&A period towards
the end of our session today. You can input your questions into the chat box and we will
also be taking questions on our Twitter feed which is @GoGlobalED. That’s @GoGlobalED
on Twitter. So we’ll be taking questions that way as well.
Without further ado, let’s go ahead and get started and I’ll turn it over to Amber.
Amber, thanks so much for being here. Thanks so much for having me. I work for the
Office of Overseas Citizens Services for the State Department. Today’s presentation will
focus on some areas where we are helping citizens abroad.
Some of the topics that we’re going to cover our topics that you’ve heard of before but
there are also new relevant topics that are going to cover as well. Our primary responsibility
is to help U.S. citizens overseas and we do this in a variety of different ways.
We work very closely, my office does, with our embassies and consulates in providing
consular services to U.S. citizens traveling or living abroad. We do everything from passports
issuance to arrest visits to handling a crisis should a crisis happen as well.
We want to make sure that the public is informed of where they’re traveling to and the risks
and benefits of traveling to those countries. We have a variety of products that we create
on our website on travel.state.gov. And on this website, we have our country specific
information sheets. We also have our travel warnings and travel alerts. And we have information
regarding our embassies that – and some of those country specific information sheets
link to our embassies’ websites for our security messages that we publish to make
sure that U.S. citizens are informed should a threat exist in that country.
Our country-specific information sheets go over a variety of things. We have a safety
and security section. We have immigration and visa restrictions. It covers also, like,
how much money you can bring into the country and how much money you can bring out of the
country. It talks about health conditions such as what
types of health issues exist. We also talk about minor political disturbances that occur
in the country such as – and has been known to operate in a certain area.
We also talk about unusual currency restrictions, crime and security information, drug penalties,
and also LBGT travel safety. So what is that country’s law regarding LBGT issues?
As I previously mentioned, we also establish on our travel.state.gov website, travel warnings
and travel alerts. And basically we have a policy called “no double standard that exists.”
So if we warn our U.S. Embassy personnel of a particular threat to that country, we are
obligated by law to also inform the U.S. citizen population. Basically it has to fit within
– it has to be a specific, credible and non-counterable threat.
And to do this, we collaborate with our regional security officers who are at our embassies
to see if the threat exists and what we should be saying to our embassy personnel and also
to our private U.S. citizens. Travel warnings are for long-term protracted
conditions that make a country dangerous or unstable. So these are the things that are
going to exist for a long period of time. We also published travel alerts and travel
alerts are typically for short periods. We do those during political elections, for instance.
We published a travel alert in April for the political elections for Djibouti because there
was a chance that there could be violence that erupts during this or demonstrations
and protests that occur. And so we wanted the U.S. citizen population
to be aware of it so we passed – published travel alerts, and in our travel alerts, it
mentions when it expires. As I mentioned, also, we have security and emergency messages
that occur. Security messages are for things that are
going to be not as imminent. Emergency messages are sent out for things that are very imminent,
such as we need to get the information out now.
Security messages, again, warn U.S. citizens about a particular threat for the country
that is going on. Emergency messages also warn about a particular threat, but we also
send out emergency messages if we need to get the information out as soon as possible
regarding violent demonstrations that are occurring in the country or of an attack that
had just occurred. We also send out messages regarding demonstrations.
They are sent out as a message, as well, a security message to basically tell U.S. citizens
that there’s a demonstration occurring at this particular event. Please monitor local
events and review your personal security and try not to get mixed up in the demonstration
that’s occurring in that country. We coordinate a lot with our Overseas Security
Advisory Council, OSAC. Many of you are probably members of OSAC or your university is. And
basically, OSAC is a great place for constituent groups for academic and study abroad organizations.
Your membership into that organization is free. And in it, with OSAC membership, you
get an in-depth analysis of the security situations in those countries and also they review our
travel warnings and travel alerts. You can actually go to OSAC’s website and
view their information. And they actually post our security messages that are sent out
by our embassies as well. We work really closely with them, as well,
should a situation erupt in a foreign country, such as if there was a terrorist related event
that occurred, we will work with OSAC to make sure that we’re both communicating with
that university regarding their students that are there.
We also have our – the State Department also has the Bureau of Educational and Cultural
Affairs, which our U.S. study abroad office. There is – on travel.state.gov, as well, you
can actually put into the search engine “study abroad” and it will bring you to our study
abroad website. On it, we contain information for women travelers,
also for LGBT issues. It’s really important, especially for different population groups,
that they’re informed as they’re traveling overseas of the risks associated or things
just to be aware of. We also encourage people to get enrolled into
our Smart Traveler Enrollment Program through STEP.state.gov. Through this, you can register
and you can put in a time period that you’re in the country for, and when you register
for that, you’ll get our security messages that come out.
You’ll put your email address in and you’ll get those messages. My mom actually registered
in STEP when we traveled overseas and she was so excited that she was getting these
messages from the State Department and that she was informed of all the messages going
out. So she was telling us constantly, “Well,
the State Departments says not to go here right now or…”, so I really encourage
it. It’s a great tool for you to – for us to get in contact with you right away.
It’s also a great tool, for instance, if there was a crisis that happened in the country.
You put in your contact information and we can reach out to you to say, “Hey, are you
okay?” When a crisis does happen, we do get calls
from family members that are in the United States about their loved ones and with that,
we have to be very careful what we say to them because U.S. citizens are protected under
the Privacy Act. And so with that, we cannot just divulge information
to your family members without having something signed saying we’re allowed to do that.
So some of the – like I stated before, at the beginning of the presentation, some of
the services we provide are consular services that posts do.
If you are arrested, which I hope students abroad try not to get arrested, but we will
visit you. So we have this thing called consular notification access. So basically, if you’re
arrested in a foreign country and you say you’re a U.S. citizen, they have a certain
time period, basically, to inform the embassy of your detainment.
So I would highly encourage, if any of your students are arrested, that they do go ahead
and say I would like a visit from our embassy and our consular individuals will go and visit
the individual to make sure that they are okay.
We cannot act as a lawyer. We cannot personally intervene on your behalf with the police to
let you go. But we can make sure that you are being treated fairly according to all
the laws of that country, not of the U.S., but of that country.
We also provide emergency passports. I’ve been duty officer, which is a program that
we have where someone is on call all the time in case there’s something that happens.
And a lot of people get concerned that their child has lost their passport overseas and,
like, how are they going to get back to the U.S.? So we provide emergency passports as
well. They’re called EPDPs. And we provide them so that they can travel
back to the United States on that particular passport. It’s not a full validity passport
so it’s only good for a certain period of time.
We also do provide services in medical emergencies. We help identify medical resources. We do
not pay hospital bills and we are not doctors. So you can’t call us and say, “Well, I’m
feeling this way. Do I have malaria?” We’re not going to provide you that guidance.
But we will make sure that you have the medical resources that are in the country so that
then you can pick who you should see. On all of our embassy websites, if you go to the
U.S. Citizen Services page, they actually have links to attorneys and also to – it
has a doctors list as well. We will also help you identify financial resources
should you get put in the hospital, so we have programs such as an OCS trust, it’s
called, where family members, through Western Union, can send money to you. It goes to our
embassy and then we disperse that based upon the recommendation – what it’s allowed to
be dispersed for. If the individual who has a medical emergency
signs a Privacy Act, then we can basically notify their friends and family, should they
desire. We can help coordinate medical evacuations, again, not to pay for medical evacuations,
but we can help coordinate and work with different service providers in that country to get you
back to United States. We also do these things called welfare and
whereabouts visits which means typically my office, the Office of Overseas Citizen Services,
or our consular section at posts will get a phone call saying, “I haven’t heard
from my loved one in X amount of time. I’m very concerned that I haven’t heard from,
like, that person.” So we will do welfare and whereabouts visit
which means we will try to locate the individual and check on their welfare to make sure that
they are okay. Again, they are covered under the Privacy Act, so we can’t necessarily
tell you that the conversation occurred unless that loved one says that we can or that friend
says that we can. This is really important, and we do actually
over 30,000 welfare whereabouts visits. And it’s a great way for us to just check on
people to make sure that they are doing okay. I do encourage people that are studying abroad
to check in with their parents frequently, especially it’s very, very important because
we get a lot of phone calls at times where, “I haven’t heard from my daughter in 12
hours or 24 hours”, and parents begin to be very concerned about this.
So we do encourage study abroad students to check in with their parents frequently. And
also to make sure that their parents are aware of the expectations of travel time and those
types of things. When I was traveling overseas for the first
time when I was younger, my mom was one of those parents who got concerned after me not
talking to her for, like, eight hours. So that’s just something I would encourage
everyone to do. We also have a crisis response aspect of it. As I spoke earlier, we have
duty officers that are on call, 24/7, so when our office is closed, there is a duty officer
that’s on call. Our embassies also have duty officers that
are on call as well after hours. We have an operations center that operates 24/7. We have
a crisis management team. We have a big crisis management team at our headquarters building
can we have a consular crisis management team, as well, to help handle situations that erupt,
such as the attack in Brussels that occurred or the situation in South Sudan that occurred
a couple of years ago or the Westgate Mall situation in Kenya that occurred in 2013.
Our contact center is 24/7. If you go to our travel.state.gov website, there will be, like,
a 1-888 number that you can find that gives you access basically to call should you have
an emergency, and it’s after-hours. When an emergency happens, we do have a task
force that usually convenes and a consular person is always, from our office, is always
part of that task force so that we can field inquiries from people coming in and we can
make sure that information is getting out that needs to get out to people who are caught
up in the emergency situation. We also deal with a variety of things so,
like, death and estate cases, so if you die overseas, we issue a thing called a consular
report of death abroad. Basically it serves as almost comparable to, like, a U.S.-based
birth certificate. We also assist family members to make sure,
however they want their loved one’s remains to come back to the United States, that we
help facilitate that. Last year, or in 2014, we had over 11,000 U.S. citizens who died
outside of the United States. We also notify the next of kin, so when someone
dies overseas, whoever their next of kin is, we reach out to them and we said, “Your
loved one has passed away.” And we give them a variety of information as well.
We also offer financial assistance for our repatriation program. Basically, if someone
is destitute in a foreign country, they can apply for our repatriation program, and if
they meet the qualifications, then we will loan them money basically, the U.S. Government
will, to come back to the United States and they have to pay that money back.
We repatriated over, about 1300 people in 2014. We also have a program called Emergency
and Dietary Assistance, so, for instance, you’re destitute in a foreign country and
you’re waiting on money to come to you but you need a small loan, we’ll – if you meet
the qualifications, we will loan you a short – a small amount of money.
We have a victim’s assistance program, as well, so for instance, if someone is – unfortunately
it does happen – if someone is raped overseas, we will work with our victims assistance specialist
to get them the necessary resources needed. Basically, with this, we’ll liaise with
local authorities, provide them organizations, and also offer them a list of, like, U.S.
victim’s assistance programs when they return to the U.S.
This can include victims of crime, kidnapping, terrorism. Like I said, rape unfortunately
is a big problem that can occur at times. We also provide a federal benefits program
for Social Security and VA benefits. If you’re living overseas and you want your Social Security
check, we can help you out with that. We document U.S. citizens, so we provide first-time
passports or consular report of birth abroad. If you are overseas on a study abroad program,
you can also vote and our embassies have lots of information about voting especially as
the election cycle is coming this year, it’s very important that we make sure people are
informed of their rights regarding voting overseas.
We highly encourage people, when they’re overseas, to get medical insurance particularly.
Most medical insurances are not covered once you’re outside of the United States, so
it’s important for people to check with their insurance coverage to make sure that
they are covered when they get overseas. And I think a lot of people are surprised
when they are not covered and they wind up with a very large hospital bill. Sometimes
they actually will not allow you to leave the country until you have paid your hospital
bill or will not allow you to leave the hospital until your hospital bill is paid in full.
And so that’s something we really try to encourage. When I was on an abroad program
in grad school, I was in Tanzania and my roommate had an appendicitis and she didn’t – she
did not have overseas medical insurance so it ended up being quite a big bill that she
had to pay before she could come back to the United States.
We encourage you to visit our website which is travel.state.gov, our students abroad website,
we also have some information about intercountry adoptions and abductions.
But I really encourage people to be informed when they travel overseas because I think
that’s a big thing that people have a lot of concerns about and we get a lot of questions
and phone calls about. So I know, with one university in particular,
a couple years ago, they were looking at expanding into a different country and when they were
looking at expanding, they would call the State Department and say, “Hey, like, you
guys have a travel warning for this country. What does that actually mean? What are you
actually saying?” And so we go through the travel alerts and warnings with them.
And in those circumstances, with the travel warnings, we’ll actually go – I will spend
time as a country officer going through everything so that that study abroad program is fully
aware of the risks associated with traveling to that country.
And especially because travel warnings can be issued at any point in time and travel
alerts can be issued at any point in time as well. And so we’ll spend time just really
going through all of that information. And we’ll work with our OSAC colleagues,
as well, to make sure that everyone has the information. If you have any questions, we
really do encourage you to call us. You have the – I told you about the 1-888 number. It’s
1-888-407-4747. And you can ask to speak to the country officer
for that particular country. So if you have students going to India, for instance, then
you can have – talk with our India country officer.
Again, we just – our big things are: get informed about where you’re going, get your documents,
make sure that your passport – that your study abroad students, their passports are good
for at least six months and that they have extra blank pages on them because a lot of
countries won’t allow you to enter unless you actually have those two blank pages in
them. We encourage, again, get enrolled in our STEP
program, the Smart Traveler Enrollment Program. And if you haven’t heard from your study
abroad student, just give it some time and then – and I’m sure they’ll reach out
as soon as possible. So if you have any questions, I’m happy
to answer at the end of the presentation. And it was a pleasure speaking with you.
Thank you, Amber. So now we’re going to turn it over to Maureen Handrahan, who is
an International Coordinator for – Coordinator for International Health and Safety at Michigan
State University. All right. Awesome. Thank you so much. So
like we said, my name is Maureen Handrahan. I’m the Coordinator for International Health
and Safety at Michigan State University, and I’m part of an office called the Office
for International Health and Safety and we oversee health, safety, and security for all
of MSU’s international travelers. And I particularly, in my role as coordinator,
work closely with the Office of Study Abroad. So today I’m going to talk about some of
the ways you as an institution can build capacity specifically related to health and safety
for your study abroad programs. I’m sure many of you in attendance, some
of the things that I’ll be discussing, are going to be structures and processes that
you already have in place at your institutions, but I am hoping to go over some ways that
we promote safe study abroad at MSU so that maybe some institutions looking to expand
your capacity will receive some helpful tips and also maybe just some institutions who
are just sort of interested in how we do things at MSU will have that insight as well.
So in terms of an outline, I wanted to structure my presentation in a way that sort of looks
at answering three main questions. So the first being why is an important to build health
and safety capacity? The second question being, who is responsible
for health and safety when it comes to study abroad programs? And then the last is how
can we build health and safety capacity for our study abroad programs?
And then I’ll also be wrapping up our conversation with just in general tips for promoting safe
study abroad. So just to get started with the question of why should we consider health
and safety, anytime I give a presentation on health and safety at MSU, I always open
with this overview of the concept of duty of care because it’s really core to why
our office exists at MSU. We exist to enact MSU’s duty of care towards
those international travelers. Specifically, duty of care refers to the legal and moral
obligation to protect, as best we can, members of the university community when they travel
abroad, either on university programs or in conducting university business.
It’s this principle that we bear in mind when we’re developing our travel policies,
when we’re drafting procedures, when we’re responding to crises, et cetera.
One key to enacting duty of care is understanding that it works best when it’s done in collaboration,
which means basically, that the institution owes a duty of care to its international travelers
but also that our international travelers owe a duty of care to the institution which
is to say that, you know, we try to establish a reciprocal relationship such that the travelers
are active participants in our processes to help keep them safe when they travel abroad
on behalf of the university. I also wanted to go over the forum on education
abroad. I’m sure many of you participating are very familiar with the standards that
are laid out by the forum, but I wanted to draw your attention to standard eight specifically.
This is the standard that deals with health, safety, security and risk management.
If you’re looking to codify some of your own health, safety and security procedures
and policies, I really suggest reviewing the forum on education abroad standard eight.
I think it’s both a helpful starting point and a useful guide to be continually referring
back to as you build your study abroad capacity. So if those two sort of broad principles aren’t
enough to convince you that it’s important to care about health and safety, maybe I might
be able to persuade you with a highly pragmatic reason which is that I can almost guarantee
you that something will happen on a study abroad program.
And I’m sure that this is not news to anyone listening in. This is probably a factor that
we all too familiar with. But on the slide, I have listed just a few examples of some
of the incidents that have impacted MSU study abroad travelers just in the last academic
year. Fortunately in all of these instances, there
is fairly minimal impact on our study abroad students but it is just, you know, goes to
show that unfortunately something will happen at some point on a study abroad program and
you want to make sure that you have the structures in place to respond accordingly because, of
course, we can’t, unfortunately, prevent all instances of negative situations impacting
our students. So on that note, who, at the institution is
responsible for study abroad safety? And the answer to that question is a very classically
academic answer which is, well, it depends. Every institution is different. Every study
abroad office is different. So, of course, you’ll have to figure out exactly what works
best for your particular institution. However, my recommendation is that in all
cases, there is a designated person or a designated team responsible for health and safety. And
ideally, that responsibility should be baked into their job description or job portfolio.
That way, so there’s no ambiguity with regards to, well, whose job is it to make sure that
our study abroad programs are safe? So on that note, to give you an example of those
responsible for health and safety at MSU, for many years there was a health and safety
analyst within the Office of Study Abroad here.
This person’s full-time responsibility was the health and safety for all study abroad
programs at the University. Just one quick note on the structure here, this isn’t the
entirety of our study abroad office. Many of my colleagues at the business office,
for example, and our peer advisors are not on this graph just simply because there’s
not enough room to fit our giant team on here. But I am just trying to point to the analyst’s
positions specifically. But then you’ll notice on the bottom half
of this slide, the current structure looks similar but a little bit different. In August,
2015, MSU restructured its health and safety unit by expanding the mandate to include responsibility
for, not just study abroad programs, but non-credit international travelers as well, so faculty,
staff and also some students who may be doing non-credit bearing activities like, for example,
volunteering as part of the registered student organization.
So this restructuring meant that we brought on board a second full-time staff member to
act as the director for international health and safety, and actually the entire unit was
pulled out of the Office of Study Abroad and became its own unit.
So, like I mentioned, as the coordinator, I still work very, very closely with the Office
of Study Abroad but technically I’m a part of a separate unit. We’ve been liking the
structure at MSU. It’s been working really well for us but it’s certainly not the only
way or even necessarily the best way to structure things.
There’s a lot of variety in the education abroad field in terms of where their health
and safety position is situated. I know colleagues of mine at other universities, some of them
are part of study abroad still. Some of them are part of the Office of Risk Management.
Some are part of an Associate Provost office. So, again, I think the specific structure
is less important than having a clear understanding of exactly who it is at the institution who
oversees study abroad safety. In addition to having a dedicated health and
safety team, I would strongly recommend establishing and oversight committee if you don’t already
have one in place. I know that most institutions probably have something that looks a little
bit similar to what I have on this slide here. The reason why I recommend having a committee
is because things like risk assessments and the development of an emergency response protocols
and decisions like whether or not it has become unsafe to continue a study abroad program
in a particular area, those big decisions really should ideally not fall on the shoulders
of one individual. It really should be something that is within
the purview of a committee of relevant stakeholders. So at MSU, we have what is called the Risk
and Security Assessment Committee, or RSAC. RSAC’s responsibilities include a variety
of things related to overseeing health safety security for our study abroad programs. Particularly
relevant is its role in establishing policies like how do we evaluate what is considered
a high risk destination? What procedures do we have in place for reviewing
proposals for study abroad programs that want to take place in those higher risk locations,
that type of thing? And you can see on the right-hand slide there, an example of how
we have identified stakeholders on campus and how they are represented within the committees.
So now we’re going to move more into the nitty-gritty, if you will of how we actually
go about promoting safety on our study abroad programs now that we figured out, okay, who
it is that is responsible for that role. So this list is what we recommend as elements
of a study abroad program that collectively considers and take steps to mitigate health
safety and security risks. I won’t read through the entire list here.
My understanding is that the slides will be made available later, so you know, I’ll
save – I’ll try not to be boring and just go through the whole list here. But I did
want to draw your attention to a few items in particular.
So as you build your study abroad portfolio, you will want to have very clear and established
policies like all programs, particularly new programs, are reviewed for health and safety.
We, for example, at MSU, anytime a prospective program leader wants to propose a program,
they do need to complete a very formal proposal in addition to a site visit and there is a
health and safety component to that formal program proposal.
I suspect that is something quite common. Most of you listening and are probably nodding
your head saying yes, exactly, we do that, too. We also have a specific policy in place
for any program that is looking to travel to a destination with a Department of State
Travel warning. I know that was – the details about exactly
what that means for what the Department of State is saying about risks related to that
country was already covered which is really great.
That’s something that we take very seriously at MSU, anytime there is a travel warning
for our country, anyone looking to travel to that country on a study abroad program
needs to go through – the program needs to through an additional screening process.
Essentially the program leader needs to make a waiver request to our Risk and Security
Assessment Committee who reviews that request and makes a recommendation to the provost
who is the ultimate authority in terms of deciding whether or not a waiver should be
granted. Pre-departure orientation is also a cornerstone
to study abroad programming and should, of course, include a health and safety component.
At MSU, what we’ve done is we moved to doing an online health and safety orientation that
is required of all students. They must complete that online before they
go abroad. And this is meant to be a supplement to the program specific and country specific
pre-departure orientation that they do usually in person with either the Office of Study
Abroad or their particular program leader. The last thing I wanted to point out is you’ll
recall that one of the key points that was laid out in the forum on education abroad
standard eight, was the need to have appropriate insurance.
And I know that was also mentioned in the previous presentation and I just cannot emphasize
the importance of that’s enough. At MSU, we have mandatory international health insurance
coverage for our students. This includes medical coverage, repatriation
coverage, and it also includes political unrest and natural disaster coverage in the event
that we need to evacuate our students from a location that becomes unsafe.
While your institution likely already has insurance coverage in place, I did actually
want to spend just a second on it in order to highlighted as a tool that can actually
help you build health and safety capacity as well.
In addition to providing political unrest and natural disaster evacuation coverage,
many of these insurance providers, a component of that is also intelligence information and
security briefings. These can be incredibly helpful to your health
and safety person or your health and safety team in figuring out what’s happening on
the ground. They can also be a really valuable tool in sorting through what is a credible
report and what is maybe just a sensationalized media report.
So that is another tool that, if you’re not already making use of, I would strongly
recommend that you do that especially if maybe you’re a one-person office responsible for
the health and safety of all of your study abroad programs.
Certainly I can imagine you may want to have some extra help and I think that is a very
valuable resource that he wanted to make sure was not overlooked. So proactively considering
study abroad safety will hopefully go a long way towards mitigating risks to students when
they travel internationally. But of course, we, unfortunately, cannot prevent
everything which is why a crucial component to study abroad safety is having an effective
crisis response structure. So rather than go through all the individual
protocols that we have in place at MSU, what I thought I would do is just offer a visual
representation of our immediate crisis response structure.
This particular visual is one of the things that we share very widely with our program
leaders and their students during the orientation. For program leaders, also during their mandatory
emergency training that we do with them before they go abroad.
And I think it’s really important to share this widely so that everyone on both the administrative
and the participant side knows what to do if something does go wrong.
So all MSU study abroad travelers are given guidance on when and how to call for local
emergency responders in the event that they need emergency assistance.
They also know that they should call the MSU 24-hour international assistance line so they
require urgent assistance. And it’s myself and the director for international health
and safety. We’re actually the people on the other end of that 24-hour international
assistance line. It is also important to note that crisis response
is a collaborative effort. So while there is typically a single person at any given
time who is acting as the on-call responder, that doesn’t necessarily mean that that
person is or should be acting alone. They act usually is the initial point of contact
in terms of the person who literally picks up the phone and take that initial call and
they usually do lead the effort in mobilizing resources, but again, what’s key to that
is the fact that there are other resources available to them.
So in our case, we were particularly closely with University physicians, sometimes the
MSU police. Sometimes I’m on the phone with our insurance provider to activate an insurance
case. Sometimes we need to reach out to the U.S. Embassy.
So that’s something to keep in mind, too, that while there should be one designated
or two designated point people, it is very much a collaborative effort in terms of marshaling
resources to respond to a student who may be in crisis.
So I just wanted to close with some final tips for enhancing safety on study abroad.
As your study abroad portfolio increases, so will your need to have a system in place
to respond to safety issues when they arise. I sort of already alluded to the 24-hour emergency
line that we have at MSU but having a designated phone number that study abroad participants
can call it can reach someone at 24/7 is very crucial.
I know that other institutions may have, like we do at MSU, one or two people who assume
responsibility for responding to calls that come in through this line, but I did want
to mention that if you’re a smaller institution, maybe you’re just starting to build your
capacity, one good tip is that you could potentially make use of a third-party provider to be the
person responding to that. I know that maybe it is a third-party provider
who is on-site with your students. Sometimes even a third-party provider if they are an
insurance provider, might be able to offer that capacity.
So if it’s not feasible for someone at your institution to assume this role, don’t assume
that that means that, therefore, you cannot have a 24-hour line. That maybe something
you might be able to outsource, if you will, to another individual.
The key, whether it’s someone on-site, whether it’s a third-party, whether it is someone
on your home campus, the key is to have, A, a well-trained person available to answer
the phone when it rings and, B, to advertise this phone number widely.
I included a screenshot of the “In case of emergency” wallet cards that we distribute
to all of our study abroad participants and we give those out like candy on MSU campuses
so I would strongly recommend that you do the same.
Another general tip that I think is especially relevant to capacity building, is to emphasize
the local as much as possible. And by that I mean, following local media, following local
consular messaging. That’s often the best way to stay on top
of local safety and security issues. I would also recommend working to establish close
relationships with local partners and providers. That can be absolutely key to giving you confidence
that your students are safe when their on-site, if you haven’t engaged and efficient on-site
source of support. And then my third point there about not underestimating
more common safety concerns is something that we’ve been talking about at MSU a lot recently
in the aftermath of what happened in Paris in November and then the more recent attacks
in Brussels and in Istanbul. We certainly don’t want to give the impression
that we are, in any way, underestimating the potential for terrorist events. We’re following
the security situations in the cities where we have students and we’re sending students
very, very closely and we’re sharing the information with study abroad programs and
offering safety tips to our travelers. But another thing that we’re doing is also
emphasizing to our students and program leaders that it is equally important to not lose sight
of the more everyday safety concerns that, frankly in my opinion, are probably more likely
to impact students negatively. Anecdotally, just to kind of highlight this
point, is, you know, while the events in Paris and Brussels and in Istanbul are certainly
very upsetting, the thing that I have found most challenging when starting my role at
MSU, has actually been dealing with these mental health issues abroad.
So we want to make sure that there our students and our program leaders are not, not thinking
about, you know, the potential for safety security issues but they are also thinking
about some of those more everyday things that could negatively impact their study abroad
experience as well. I wanted to close and offer one final recommendation
that was sort of already touched on, but that was if your institution was already met is
not already a member of OSAC, the Overseas Security Advisory Council, I strongly recommend
you do become a member. I promise that I am not just saying this because
I know the State Department is part of this webinar. I have found OSAC to be a really
essential partner in addition to providing daily briefings, contact with their risk analyst
is really helpful. I can tell you that when something happens
overseas, it makes me feel a whole lot better to be able to pick up the phone and call someone
there that is able to help me sort through, okay, what exactly is happening on the ground?
What is happening for the safety profile of that place?
Those analysts have also been able to get me in touch with regional security officers
at consular offices which is extremely helpful. So if you’re not already and OSAC member,
I would recommend that you look into getting that membership.
So thank you very much for your attention. I know this is a bit of a basic overview but
I hope it was helpful in giving you kind of a bird’s eye view of how we deal with health
and safety at MSU. And if you’re looking to expand your portfolio
or build your study abroad safety capacity, I hope it was helpful and I’m happy to elaborate
on any specifics during the Q&A portion. So thanks. Great. Thank you so much, Maureen. That was very informative. Really good information
I think that a lot of people will take into account when trying to develop study abroad
programs in the future. And now we’re going to turn it over to Dan
Spiess who is the Assistant Director for Post-Doctoral Affairs and Career Development at the University
of Chicago. Dan is going to tell us a little bit about
a few initiatives that the University of Chicago is doing that are very unique.
All right. Great, thank you very much, Carolyn. I guess I should – a couple points of clarification.
So my name is Dan Spiess and I am, indeed, the Assistant Director for Post-Doctoral Affairs
and Career Development which might sound confusing to you.
When I started, I was actually International Affairs and Post-Doctoral Support. So I still
do a lot of international work here at the University. Another point of clarification
is that when we talk about study abroad here at the University of Chicago, study abroad
is a very specific undergraduate program. So we support, across the university, through
central administration, all travelers – undergraduate, graduate, post-doc, faculty and staff. So
anybody traveling abroad, we support. The study abroad program, which we work very
closely with, they actually have a few more requirements such as a mandatory orientation
and things like that. But generally, anyone traveling abroad, everything
is basically not mandatory, so we tried to emphasize safety and emergencies, but we also
try and create support for the whole travel experience for everyone.
We feel that makes it much more enticing and people are much more willing to get pay attention
to us and to use our travel registry, for example. And during – I held focus groups
when I first started and I heard from a lot of students that not only were they grateful
that the university was watching out for them for emergencies, but they also wanted a lot
more information: information on visas, information on passports, information on health, information
on our alumni. If they are hanging out in Lima, Peru for
week waiting for paperwork to process, they would love to get together with alumni. So
we tried to respond to that here at the University. I’ve been asked to focus on a couple of
things that we do here that we’re quite proud of. Oh, I also should say that we are
a very collaborative effort, kind of like Michigan State.
We work very closely with our area study centers and the directors of our area study centers,
our Office of Global Engagement, our Study Abroad Office, are Office of Risk Management,
are Office of International Affairs and our Communications Office.
We have a very, very strong working relationship across campus with all of these so even though
undergraduates are not part of my purview, I work very closely with that office.
And this comes in handy especially during emergencies. We have a small core team. I
wish we had the crisis response name the State Department does. We call it the First Alert
Team, FAT, so FAT is onboard. And we monitor global events all the time
and if somebody hears something, they contact the rest of the team and then we decide if
we have to respond and elevate this up to the vice presidential or the provost for the
president level. UChicago Traveler, Traveler.uchicago.edu,
is our travel registry. This is been talked about for years, and finally we started doing
some homework on this about, almost three years ago.
It had been recommended by a provost ad hoc committee on international travel and so we
went with that recommendation. We did our due diligence. We looked at off-the-shelf
products. We talked to our peers to see how they enjoyed those off-the-shelf products.
We decided ultimately to build it in-house, so me and my colleague, Carmen in Global Engagement,
worked very closely with our IT services department to build this.
It took about six months to build. We launched it September 19, 2014. Just because you launch
it does not mean they will use it. So getting the word out has been incredibly, incredibly
a high priority for us. We do roadshows basically. We need anybody
that we know who has international travelers, deans of students, area studies coordinators,
our alumni office, anybody – and it’s been very helpful.
So up until about – up to, I think I checked on Monday, we’re just under 2,500 registrants
which is great because prior to September 19, 2014, we had nothing.
And this kind of grew out of emergency response. We had no idea where people were in the world.
So this actually helps us greatly, especially during the Paris attacks as Maureen mentioned.
We still do – we still contact – reach out to the divisions in schools in kind of a belt
and suspenders redundancy which is good in this case. People log in with their CNET ID
just like they would any other application. We only require five pieces of information
– your name, your affiliation, name your trip, country are going to end dates of travel.
It takes two minutes. You can offer more information. We love more
information. But that’s all we require. We wanted to make this as easy as possible
so people use it. Give your trip a name, and you can add destination if you want to give
us the city or region. Quite often, there is no city because they
are doing fieldwork in some jungle in Madagascar. You can give us a hotel or a place you’re
working out of. We also ask for a cell phone or a preferred phone, actually I should say.
It could be your domestic cell phone, your international cell phone, your preferred email,
UChicago or Gmail or whatever. We’ll contact you three different ways – phone,
text and email in an emergency. We also ask for emergency contacts, domestic and abroad,
if you have them. And then went to submit, you are registered.
You will get a confirmation email but I should also note, prior to that, that everything
you register is editable at any time. So let’s say your plans change while you’re
abroad. You can go in and change it and we’ll know where you are. Also, every trip you take
is multi- can be multiple destinations. So let’s say you’re studying in China
for a month. You decide to go to Japan for a week. You can enter that in so we will now
you don’t just – you know, you don’t have to do a whole separate trip. They’re all
together. You’ll get a confirmation email which covers
most of the things that are covered on the first slide such as the State Department’s
STEP program, information on health insurance, on our travel clinic, which offers immunizations
and things like that. And then the next part, I guess we were talking
about another kind of thing that I think most people don’t talk about, is IT and communications.
And our IT Services Department has this information that we also try and promote across the university.
We talk about mobile devices, international roaming, international data plans. Probably
most sensitively, we talk about accessing UChicago resources. If you have restricted
file shares or more protected resources, you can actually log on to our virtual private
network from anywhere. We’re also part of Eduroam which I think
is, what, 3,500 institutions worldwide so you can logon using your CNET ID just as you
would here in Chicago. We also talk about, which I think people really don’t understand,
restrictions on encryption software. So that involves encrypted software, both
leaving the U.S. and entering other countries and there are certain countries where they
really restrict the import of encryption software such as Burma and China and Iran and Israel
and places like that. So we do have information on IT services website about those restrictions
and why you should be careful. And finally, I’ll talk about our global
presence and that kind of takes two forms. One is our global centers abroad. We’re
in Beijing, Delhi, Paris and we are currently constructing Hong Kong. We’re at a temporary
location but that should hopefully be done next year.
These have been a great resource for people traveling abroad even if you’re not in,
say, Beijing, you can access services through a Beijing office. They are very, very helpful
with anything local to either the city or the country and even as a regional presence
as well. These serve as places for people to study,
for people to give presentations, for people to teach classes. We have a huge amount of
events. They could be lectures. They could be receptions involving our scholars, faculty,
students, staff and local scholars, local alumni.
It’s been a really great resource and people are definitely taking advantage of it. Obviously
this is something that is not, you know, it involves some kind of investment but we’ve
really been seeing a great use of it as well. And finally, our alumni, we have clubs all
over the world. We have alumni all over the world as I’m sure many of you do. We really
try and access that. We try and find our students to the alumni database, so places are going,
reach out to an alum. They love this, and especially the alumni
clubs. The alumni clubs put on a lot of events and they welcome anybody from UChicago. So
we really have been trying to emphasize that along with our alumni relations and development
department. So really this is kind of the very quick,
hopefully, very quick overview of a couple of things that we’re doing at the University.
And again, collaboration is key in trying to also emphasize safety but also emphasizing
support for the entire travel experience. Great. Thank you so much, Dan. I think we
are going to open it up for a brief Q&A session. So if anybody has questions, please submit
them in the chat box in WebEx or via Twitter @GoGlobalED and we will take a couple of questions
and then we will finish up. Okay, so we do have our first question that
is for Maureen. It says: “In reference to crisis response, how do you work or inform
parents and also considering the fact that parents sometimes learn about an incident
even before the program director or the university, how do you handle those kinds of calls?”
Yeah, absolutely. So, can you hear me? Yes, we can hear you and we’re going to
be able to see you in a second. There we go. Perfect. Yeah, that’s a great question.
So there are kind of two parts when it comes to informing parents. One is, let’s say,
there’s a specific incident with a student, something has happened to their son or daughter
and we’re needing to respond to that. And then the other piece of it, too, is you
know, what happens when there’s just some type of major event and students are – or
parents are concerned about a study abroad program in general, whether it’s currently
overseas or whether it’s going overseas. So we’ll deal with the first one first.
We have specific protocols in terms of at what point can we contact a student’s emergency
contact person in the event that something has happened to that student.
Certainly if a student is incapacitated or hospitalized are unable to communicate for
themselves, at that point, we do reach out to who they have designated to be their emergency contact person. We have a database where they have submitted
that information. More often than not, it is the parents, but every once in a while,
it might be another individual. So we are a little bit careful to make sure that we’re
only reaching out to the person they’ve designated as their emergency contact.
We also do have students include a disclaimer. Basically, there’s a box that they can check
on their study abroad application that says I designate this person to be my emergency
contact and give you permission to release information to them.
So as long as that box is checked – has been checked, even if it’s not to the point where
a student is incapacitated or hospitalized, if there’s anything that we need the parents
to know, as long as that box is checked off, we usually feel pretty comfortable reaching
out to them in that instance. And the other piece in terms of, let’s say,
it’s not a particular student who is in crisis but there is some type of more general
crisis happening in country, we have not actually been sending emails directly to parents.
I do know that colleagues of mine and other universities have done that but we opted not
to. We opted to, instead, send that communication direct to the students and also update our
webpage with just a general statement. I do speak with parents whatever they call
me. You know, I’ve been speaking with a lot of parents and I’m more than happy to
speak with them when they do call. But usually, unless it’s something specific to the student,
we usually don’t reach out to the parents directly.
Great. Thank you so much, Maureen. I think we have a follow-up on question that you would
probably be best able to address. It’s: “How can we prepare for cases of mental
health situations or emergencies in semester and year-long programs? You know, what kind
of advice or guidance does MSU you have for mental health situations?”
Yes, that is a – that’s a good question and a really challenging situation. You know,
it’s funny, the timing of this, we just had a workshop yesterday with a lot of our
faculty-led program leaders on this issue. But I understand the question is more for
those exchange or direct-enroll programs. Obviously, trying to do the best pre-departure
preparation is really key to trying to getting out in front of the issue.
Something that we have set up at MSU is that we do ask students to submit a self-disclosure
health form when they applied to a study abroad program. That form is sent directly to our
MSU travel clinic and is reviewed by professionals there.
If they see anything on the health form that causes them to just have some questions for
the student, they will reach out to the student and encourage the student to come in for a
consultation. In the event that it’s some type of mental
health issue, I know that’s a big question that the travel clinic is asking that student,
is basically what is your plan? So let’s say, for instance, the student
is on some type of medication. It’s, have you considered whether or not you’re able
to legally import that medication into the country?
If you’re not, let’s talk about how we get around that problem. Similarly, if students
are currently in, let’s say, a weekly counseling or something like that, have you thought about
your plan for continuing that counseling if that’s something you want to do abroad?
And usually, at that point, I’m looped in and I work with our insurance provider to
set that up ahead of time. That’s obviously the ideal situation because, like I said,
these health forms are self-disclosed medical information.
The student is not obligated to disclose any information on that form. So it is entirely
possible, and I know, of course, that it does happen, that we have students who to have
some type of mental health issue and they do not disclose on that form.
We try, as best as possible, to have really good working relationships with an on-site
contact at our host institutions. Usually they’re able to check in with our students
in the event that something does happen. Having a good insurance provider and a good
relationship with your insurance provider helps, as well, in terms of being able to
set up some type of counseling appointments over there.
Again, ideally, you want to set those up ahead of time but sometimes, unfortunately, you
only become involved when the situation – or when the student is really in distress.
So we try as much as possible to emphasize pre-departure planning for students, whether
it’s through the health form or just trying to get to them through the orientation emphasizing
you can still go abroad if you do have some type of mental health issue but have a plan.
And if you want help establishing that plan, then make sure that you come and speak with
us. Other than that, we do really hope that they know to reach out to us if they get abroad
and something does happen or our on-site contacts over there might be able to alert us to something
that might be going on. Great. Thank you so much. We do have a couple
of other questions so we are going to stay on the line a few more minutes. Our next question
is for Dan: “I can imagine that some faculty may have been resistant to registering their
travel fearing almost a Big Brother presence that the university would be poking around
in their business.” So how did you address this? Was this an issue
at all? Or what kinds of questions did you get from your faculty about your registry?
I like the fact that you think this is a resolved issue, and it’s not. Getting faculty buy-in
for this has – is an on-going issue and buy-in from everyone. It’s more – it’s buy-in
and awareness. So, as I said, we’ve been trying – we’ve
been doing roadshows to anybody and everybody. And quite often, we are seeing – and hopefully
seeing more -faculty seeing the fact that their students are actually signing up our
travel registry. The fact that we ask for so little information,
I think, is also a good thing and that was on purpose. We didn’t want to be Big Brother
or even perceived as Big Brother. So we tried to keep it as simple and minimal
as possible, by reaching out to everyone, including faculty, but I don’t want to say
everyone around the faculty, but we do. We don’t limit it just to students are just
to faculty. We actually reach out to everyone. So working with the deans of students has
been key. Working with area studies, coordinators, has been great. And kind of trying to also
show by example how useful the travel registry has been during emergencies.
During the Paris attacks, this was, like, I think it was happening at probably 4:00
here in Chicago on a Friday and people were traveling and they were gone, and we were
able to pull up and see everyone who was in the registry, who was there in Paris.
Same thing with the earthquake in Nepal. I was on the East Coast and I woke up Sunday
morning at 7:30 and I was able to, in one minute, find out who was in Nepal.
Of course, we still reach out to everyone, deans of students, and our network kind of
like an email chain, I guess. But I think people are seeing the use and the usefulness
of the travel registry and in central administration’s role in monitoring. But I think it’s just
advertise, advertise, advertise, advertise. Great. Thanks for your answer. We have a question
from IFLE here from Cheryl Gibbs for Maureen so I’m going to place you on the video now.
Maureen, I have a question, with a focus on – and I guess this could have been for Chicago
as well, but with a focus on access to – providing access to community college students and minority
students, underrepresented students, do you have programs at Michigan State that target
these populations since they are most unlikely to have had any overseas experience?
Yeah, that’s a great question. I – we don’t do anything specific from, like, a health
and safety orientation perspective. You know, we certainly encourage our students, if they
have any sort of follow-up questions that they feel weren’t addressed in orientation
to come and meet with me and I do often meet with students.
But I will give you one example of one way that we’re trying to reach out to underrepresented
students, we have a very successful program that ends up targeting mostly first-generation
students and particularly students of color through migrant student services that we have
here on campus. They run a big spring break program to Mexico
and they group of about – there’re about four groups of 30 that go every spring break.
And so that’s one example of the way the Study Abroad office has reached out and reached
out and developed this really good strategic partnership to get a lot of students to go
on study abroad that are in that population of underrepresented students.
And I usually do a specific orientation for them and for their program leaders that’s
sort of specific to those programs and specific to Mexico where they will be traveling.
That’s one example. And I do know that there’s actually a colleague of mine at the Office
of Study Abroad who is our diversity lead. That’s one of our Generation Study Abroad
goals, is to increase our enrollment of students from underrepresented populations.
So I know that that something that the Study Abroad Office is specifically working on,
but I’m sorry I’m not as involved with their kind of enrollment and recruitment stuff,
so they would be the best people to speak with on that.
Okay, great. Well, I know we’ve run 15 minutes over so we really appreciate everyone who’s
still on the line. We hope this has been a useful session. We want to thank Maureen and
Dan and our colleagues from the State Department for their excellent presentations. A lot of
food for thought for all of us going forward as we think about study abroad. So thank you
everybody. Thank you.
Thank you.

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