Given world events there are often questions asked by both students and parents regarding the safety of study abroad. It is easy to become alarmed when we hear the Homeland Security Office has raised the alert level for U.S. citizens, or we see natural disasters being broadcast on network television. However, it is important to step back when we receive such information, to view the information through an impartial and rational lens, to separate fact from rumor. We know this is difficult - as parents we worry about our children, and as students we wonder how these events might impact our study abroad experience.
At the University of Idaho we take student safety and well-being very seriously. However, we cannot guarantee a risk-free overseas environment any more than we could do this for a student studying in the U.S. The best way a student can remain safe is to be aware, be responsible, and to follow the advice of UI and other program staff.
Student safety is a three-pronged effort: initial preparation, on-site personal responsibility, and program preparedness.
Students on UI programs participate in a pre-departure orientation. Two of the main discussion points of this orientation are health and safety. Students also receive a Survival Guide that discusses these issues. When students arrive in-country, they receive another orientation that covers site-specific health and safety issues. As a part of this preparation (both in the U.S. and overseas), students should receive emergency contacts for:
- Host institution international office staff and/or on-site resident directors
- UI Study Abroad Office staff
- Police, fire, ambulance
- Nearest U.S. Embassy or Consulate
If students have misplaced this information, they should request it from their resident director and/or host institution international office staff, or contact UI’s Study Abroad Office (telephone: 208-885-4075 or email
On-site Personal Responsibility
There are many things students can do to minimize their safety risk:
- Blend in with the local surroundings as much as possible. Dress like the locals and avoid wearing clothes with American slogans, cultural icons, or company logos.
- Avoid American hangouts, moving about the city with a large group of other Americans, and visiting areas that are known to be unsafe.
- Avoid consuming alcohol or other substances that might impair their decision-making ability.
- Keep travel to a minimum, but if they do travel, they should journey with a companion (preferably a local citizen), and be sure to leave an itinerary behind with their host family or resident director.
- Avoid crowds, confrontations/arguments concerning political/religious views, and public demonstrations of any kind.
- Draw upon as many sources of information as possible before making decisions—the U.S. Consulate, host family members, on-site resident directors or program staff, and heed their advice whenever it is given.
- Make every effort to be aware of their surroundings and keep in regular contact with the host institution and/or program provider staff.
If students follow these simple recommendations, they will keep themselves safe and have a great educational experience.
Over the years, UI has handled a wide variety of emergency situations, including student injury, illness, arrest, natural disasters, political and social unrest, and war. The UI International Programs Office staff is very experienced in emergency response, and they have an extensive network of professionals in the U.S. and abroad that they can draw upon for expertise and advice. Each of these sources of information provides a critical link to understanding complex situations and providing guidance in taking the appropriate actions.
Figure 1. UI has an extensive network of professionals in the U.S. and abroad that can be drawn upon to provide student safety information or advice.
Whenever possible, UI uses in-country assessment since this provides the most accurate picture of a situation. As an example, last year the U.S. State Department issued a Public Announcement concerning potential political instability in a country where UI students were studying. On-site staff kept our office updated on the recommendations provided at weekly U.S. Embassy briefings so that we could make informed decisions and keep our students safe.
Another important source of information are the travel advisories provided by the U.S. State Department. These usually come in the form of a Travel Alert or a Travel Warning. A Travel Alert, in itself, does not necessarily constitute a reason for canceling a program. The incident may be in a remote region of the country where UI students will not be going, or the threat might be non-specific, e.g., advising U.S. citizens to be cautious because of possible heightened terrorist activity worldwide. As when handling all potential safety issues, UI consults as many sources of information as possible before making decisions or taking action on a Public Announcement. As a general rule, Travel Warnings tend to be more serious than Travel Alerts, and it is UI policy not to allow student travel in a country where Travel Warning has been issued.
As defined on the U.S. State Department website www.travel.state.gov
are issued to disseminate information about short-term conditions, either transnational or within a particular country, that pose significant risks to the security of U.S. citizens. Natural disasters, terrorist attacks, coups, anniversaries of terrorist events, election-related demonstrations or violence, and high-profile events such as international conferences or regional sports events are examples of conditions that might generate a Travel Alert.”
are issued when long-term, protracted conditions that make a country dangerous or unstable lead the State Department to recommend that Americans avoid or consider the risk of travel to that country. 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.”
How often are programs cancelled or students evacuated, and what should I do if I am asked to evacuate a country?
Program cancellation and/or the necessity for student evacuation is really quite rare.
Should students be asked to evacuate, they should always follow the instructions of the resident director and/or the host institution international office staff. Some program sites may have a predetermined emergency meeting place that students should go to, or in other cases, students may be asked to remain with their host families, or stay in their residence hall rooms or apartments until further arrangements can be made. As in all emergency situations, it is important that students try to remain calm, not act impulsively, and follow any instructions that are given by program staff or the U.S. Consulate. Once students are safe, they should contact their family members in the U.S. at the earliest opportunity available.
During such an emergency, parents are encouraged to contact the UI Study Abroad Office so they can be provided with the latest information available.
In the event of an emergency, the following Study Abroad Office numbers may be called (please call in the order in which they are listed):
8:30 a.m. to 4:30 p.m. (Pacific Time)
|First point of contact:
After 4:30 p.m. (Pacific Time)
|First point of contact:
What roles do UI, the host institution, and/or program provider have in an emergency response situation?
UI provides study abroad opportunities in approximately 370 institutions in 70 countries through a variety of programs and collaborative relationships. This represents a wide array of language, social, political, cultural, and administrative differences. A “one size fits all model” for emergency protocols would not be possible or even practical.
Generally speaking, UI’s study abroad programs can be categorized into two main types: partner programs that involve two universities (UI and the host institution), and programs delivered by program providers. Program providers may be a membership organization made up of many universities such as the University Studies Abroad Consortium (USAC), or may be a company such as GlobaLinks. In most cases, they provide programs at multiple sites, and act as an intermediary between UI and the host institution(s).
In the case of partner programs, each foreign university has developed its own emergency response protocols based on what makes sense for that institution given its particular environment, and UI works within the framework of those established protocols should an emergency situation arise. Emergency response and decision-making are equally shared by UI and the host institution.
Program providers have also developed their own emergency response protocols. These typically operate in tandem with host institution protocols where the providers deliver programs. However, when a program provider leases campus space, hires its own faculty, and delivers its own curriculum—creating a “specialty program”—the protocol used may be entirely its own. Regardless, the emergency response is coordinated by the provider (usually via a U.S. office), and although UI remains an active partner in the process, it is to a lesser degree than with partner programs.
Below you will find UI programs organized by program type:
- Australia - University of the Sunshine Coast
- Costa Rica – CATIE
- Denmark - University of Copenhagen, Faculty of Science
- Denmark - University of Southern Denmark
- Ecuador - Pontificia Universidad Catolica del Ecuador
- England - Chelsea School at the University of Brighton
- England - Lancaster University
- England – Regent’s University
- Finland - Mikkeli University of Applied Sciences
- France – INSEEC Alpes-Savoie
- France - Institut International d'Etudes Françaises at the Universite de Strasbourg
- France - Institut National Polytechnique Grenoble
- Germany - Hochschule fur Technik und Wirtschaft-Berlin
- Japan – KCP International Japanese Language School
- Japan - Nagasaki University of Foreign Studies
- Japan - Ryukoku University
- Kenya – Kenya Methodist University
- Mexico – Universidad Autonoma de Guadalajara(UAG)
- Mexico - Universidad Autonoma de la Yucatan
- Morocco - Al Akhawayn University
- Nepal - SANN Research Institute
- The Netherlands - The Hague University of Applied Sciences
- New Zealand - Lincoln University
- Spain – Universidad de Zaragoza
- Sweden - Lulea University
- Taiwan - National Chiayi University
- Thailand - Chulalongkorn University
Figure 2. Emergency response for reciprocal programs: While UI works within the host institution emergency protocols, response and decision-making are equally shared by UI and the host institution.