Study Abroad Conference Addresses Security, Safety Issues
By Phaedra Brotherton
For international educators and study abroad administrators, issues of security have always been important, but after the terrorist attacks of Sept. 11, that awareness has been heightened.
Security, safety and health concerns were the subject of a panel discussion at the Study and Learning Abroad Conference held in Washington last month. The conference was sponsored by Michigan State University.
Richard Mainey, director of security for Morgan Stanley, Dean Witter & Co., told the audience that all security measures that took place before Sept. 11 should continue to be done. But “Sept. 11 has made them a must.”
Mainey, who comes from a corporate background, pointed out that universities are no different than corporations when it comes to being informed about overseas security issues. “You too need to communicate to your people what the inherent risks are,” he says.
One way universities can do this is by using the resources of the Overseas Security Advisory Council (OSAC) of the U.S. State Department, says Mainey, who is a representative to the OSAC.
The organization was established in 1985 to promote security cooperation between American private sector interest worldwide and the U.S. government.
The council is made up of 20 private sector and four public sector member organizations that represent specific industries or agencies operating abroad. Current committees include transnational crime, country council support, security awareness and education. In addition, OSAC has created a university working group, which met for the first time in February 2001.
The OSAC provides such information as daily highlights and reports on security and crime incidents, state department travel advisories, terrorist group profiles, significant anniversary dates and holidays abroad, general crime information from cities and counties, and the locations and contacts at U.S. posts overseas. More information can be found on the OSAC Web site, <www.ds-osac.org>.
The panel also touched on health issues, a concern for faculty, student and staff traveling abroad. Dr. Elizabeth Alexander, a university physician for Michigan State, discussed how MSU revamped its travel clinic to provide faculty, staff and students with up-to-date health information and travel advice. Much of the information can be found on a comprehensive Web site put together with the cooperation of various university offices involved in international and health issues. The Web site, <www.msu.edu/~travel/>, has helped communication as well as helped to coordinate and centralize information associated with study abroad and health issues.
Alexander noted that one of the important goals of a good international health/travel program is ensuring that people have adequate information before traveling so that get the necessary immunizations and medications. And travelers should know where to access information and how to get support when they need it overseas.
Visitors to the Web site will find information such as a video that provides tips and advice for overseas travel, a travel checklist, a vaccine planner and links to the latest information on individual countries.
Issues of liability and contractual obligations also were discussed at the conference.
Richard Kast, associate general counsel at the University of Virginia, says having an “attitude of anticipating problems” and knowing your contractual obligations is the key to avoiding liability issues.
He asked the audience, “Would you be able to quickly convene a meeting on your campus of everyone involved in international study issues?” Kast pointed out that many universities, like the University of Virginia, have a “tremendous diversity of international programs.” He stressed the need for the various programs to be aware of their contractual obligations. Liability is imposed according to terms of agreements, Kast says, and schools are expected to know what their contractual obligations are, what insurance plans are in place, and to understand specific agreements signed before overseas travel.
In general the law requires that universities take reasonable care in the programs they administer, says Kast. Anticipating problems and doing your homework is important, he added.
Carl Herrin, director of government relations for the American Councils for International Education, shared with the audience a final draft of guidelines developed by an interorganizational task force formed by the Association of International Education Administrators (AIEA) of the U.S. Students Abroad (SECUSSA) section of NAFSA: Association of International Educators, and the Council on International Educational Exchange.
Herrin says the task force drew up some “common sense” practice guidelines. They are not set in stone, he said, but the “starting point of a conversation on campus.” The guidelines “need to be customized to the kind of students you have and the programs you’ll be engaged in,” says Herrin.
The guidelines are broken down into three areas: guidelines for program sponsors, responsibilities of participants and recommendations to parents, guardians and families. The final draft can be found at <www.secussa.nafsa.org/safetyabroad/default.html>.
In a panel discussion, “Evolving Issues in Study Abroad,” leading study abroad professionals spoke on a variety of topics, including meeting the needs of today’s students and the expanding role of technology.
Dr. Joseph Brockington, associate provost, Kalamazoo College, spoke about the practical nature of the internships that his school is sponsoring. He noted that “language and culture are the base, not the end” in today’s study abroad opportunities. He pointed out that internships meet students’ needs for practical application of theories and “résumé builders.”
Ruth Sylte, principal consultant of the Manitou Heights Group, discussed some of the advantages — and disadvantages — of technology in helping to administer study abroad. She noted that one of the biggest advantages of technology was its value as a research tool. She cautioned against over reliance on technology to communicate across the globe, however. Fancy Web pages often cannot be accessed abroad because of the limitation of the user’s computer.
One area Sylte says has been underutilized by universities and study abroad programs is alumni databases. “They are your satisfied customers,” she says. Not many programs are taking advantage of the good will and loyalty of their alumni who have had good study abroad experiences.
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