Minimizing Risks in Study Abroad! Who's Responsibility?


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Minimizing Risks in Study Abroad! Who's Responsibility?

  1. 1. Minimizing Risks in Study Abroad! Who’s Responsibility? By Dr. Marc Prou, Director and Professor Africana Studies Department Center for Caribbean African and Community Development (CACCD) & Tris OKeefe, Caribbean Research Fellow at CACCD University of Massachusetts Boston1 Prepared for the Seminar on Risk and Responsibility for Education Abroad Programmes: the Caribbean Perspective. At UWI, Mona, Jamaica, June 22-25, 2005 Abstract This presentation focuses on the possibilities of minimizing potential risks involved in education abroad programs in the Caribbean. Dealing with the existing literature, the procedures of past and existing programs, and the testimonies and experiences of former students and administrators, we aim to achieve a better understanding of the relationships between responsibilities, accountability, and the possibility of minimizing foreseeable risks. From the standpoint of the students, the faculty, and the institution, we will attempt to gauge the possible risks based on their likelihood, preventability, and severity, and will examine ways in which a standardized procedure for allocating responsibility and accountability can help to prevent or minimize these risks. Among the central issues are risks relating to health, travel, student conduct, crime, and political turmoil or violence. Examining the spectrum of inherent as well as avoidable risks specific to the Caribbean region allows us to conceive of some general safeguards for administrators and institutions planning and carrying out education abroad programs. Among these safeguards are responsibilities relating to legal accountability, the student selection process, health issues, orientation, student conduct policies, and contact/communication. While we cannot eliminate the multitude of potential risks, clarifying the different responsibilities of students, faculty, and institutions in managing and avoiding risks, and presenting a number of suggestions for future planners, enables us to move towards reducing the potential dangers involved in education abroad programs to the Caribbean. Introduction I would like to thank the conveners of this conference for inviting me and for organizing such a timely forum, in such a fitting place. As the theme of the conference calls into question, Risk and Responsibility in Study Abroad Program: the Caribbean Prospective, let me just say that, so far, we have been addressing the issues from the standpoint of the English-speaking Caribbean nations. Many of the issues addressed thus far would take a different bent when we add other Caribbean nations such as Cuba, Haiti, Dominican Republic, in the mix. As we all know, study abroad anywhere is a “risky business,” as Professor Rex Nettleford cogently stated in his introductory remarks. Having said that, let me now share with you a few of the many risks, I have encountered in organizing and directing Caribbean study abroad programs. 1 About the authors: Dr. Marc Prou, assistant professor of Africana Studies and co-Director of the Center for African Caribbean and Community Development (CACCD) at UMass Boston. Tristram Keefe, a student at McGill University in Canada, worked as a research assistant in the Africana Studies Caribbean Fellow Program from June-August, 2005. Prior to becoming a fellow in the Africana Studies, he participated in the study abroad in Cuba that I organized in summer 2003. We extend our thanks to Barrie McClune, research assistant in the CACCD, for her editorial suggestions to this introduction. 1
  2. 2. Over the past six years, the Africana Studies Department has developed a number of study abroad programs in Jamaica, Cuba, and Haiti. In addition, my institution has study abroad programs in Belize, Mexico, Ireland, Vietnam and Paris. Having had so much experience in academic study abroad, I have a wealth of stories that I could tell of relatively benign to seriously dangerous situations, I have found myself in, with the students I was supposed to be entirely responsible for. In the winter session of 1999, during our very first study abroad program here at Mona in (Kingston) Jamaica, the faculty member who was in charge of the students fell ill within the first week. My University dispatched me overnight to take over the program. By the time I had gotten there, the fourteen American students had been enjoying almost a week of non-supervision and were very reluctant to have their vacation cut short by a stranger. I struggled to have them out of bed and in class the first couple days of my arrival. With so little mental preparation for the responsibility that was abruptly mine, failure felt like a real possibility. The students’ obviously felt more strongly about going to the beach than attending classes. Waking up early and getting ready for a 9:00 class is a difficult task if you have been up all night. I found myself faced with the challenge of collecting the diffused individual students into what eventually became a focused and cohesive group. Despite the unfortunate setback and rocky start, I was able to successfully continue where the other faculty member had left off, eventually gaining the students’ confidence, developing their trust, and, above all, sparking their intellectual interest in the rich history and culture of the place they had come to study. In the town of Matanzas, Cuba in July 2004, on the second day after we arrived, one of the students who had been on the island prior to this trip, ran off to stay with a Cuban family without letting me or any other of the program members know where he was. Following some clues from conversations that student had with some other students, I found out that he was staying with a Cuban family he knew from his previous trip, which is an illegal action in socialist Cuba. After scouting around with the Cuban guide- driver, we found the presumed family. When asked the two adults who opened the door about the student in question, they all denied that any student was staying with them, which left me in a precarious legal position. The entire program risked being deported and heavily fined, if the authorities were to find out about this inappropriate action. Fortunately, I made a few contacts with some Cuban officials to ask for advice. So, I returned the next day to inform the Cuban family that I was going to make a report to the police. Immediately, the family became cooperative and complied to my request. I managed to get the disobedient student back to the university dormitory without too much of a scene. In the southeastern town of Jacmel, Haiti, I experienced one of the most horrifying experiences a person could ever imagine as a study abroad faculty member who is responsible for the health and well-being of a group of young adults. A twenty- one years old female student, perfectly healthy and not prone to misbehavior, did not show up for dinner one evening. Everyone found it odd since she was not the type to run off without informing anyone. I, more than the students, found her absence especially 2
  3. 3. unnerving because the same student had appeared in a strange and unsettling dream the night before. When we finally found her, she was passed out on the floor of her bathroom. I immediately called a nurse, who, after taking one look at the young woman, told me that she was comatose, that there was nothing she could do to save her life, and that I should call an ambulance and hope for the best. Unwilling to accept such a diagnosis, I insisted and requested the presence of a physician to obtain a second opinion. Meanwhile, I began to perform CPR on the student who had worsened and was no longer breathing. When the doctor finally arrived, he took one look at the girl, told me to continue what I was doing and, obviously in shock, left the room. Three minutes later he came back in, smelling of tobacco. Unable to decide what to do, he had gone outside for a cigarette! I could not believe the nightmare unfolding. I had been performing CPR for 45 minutes at that point and the girl was showing no signs of recovery from this inexplicable fit. The doctor, taking another look, decided to give her an adrenaline shot in the buttocks. He was visibly unable to handle the pressure of the situation and accidentally stabbed his hand with the syringe while trying to administer the injection. I could not believe what I was seeing, knowing that we may have to wait several hours to get another syringe from some other medical post in this remote rural area, but knowing the danger of possibly infecting her, it was truly a decision of life and death. I figured we had to save her life, not even thinking about the possibility of infecting her. But, before I could say anything the doctor had injected the shot. And soon after, still performing mouth to mouth, I felt her whole body gasp for air. The next day, she had no recollection of the episode. And though she was exhausted and went to sleep early that night, the next day the program returned to Port-Au-Prince and went out with other students, spent the entire night dancing. Later, I found out that she had had an epileptic seizure once before when she was seven years old. It left me wondering what could have happened, and how a situation like that could be avoided in the future. In fact, we hope that these real incidents will serve as a backdrop to help us frame our discussion, and our understanding of ways to minimize, and even avoid certain risks. With this framework in mind, let us look at some operational definitions of the two key terms of the conference, namely: Risk and Responsibility. Operational Definitions Merriam-Webster Online Dictionary defines risk as “the possibility of loss or injury; something or someone that creates or suggests a hazard”. In the context of study abroad programs in the Caribbean, risk must be assessed on two levels. Students and faculty participating in the program are faced with a certain number of inherent or unavoidable risks, such as the possibilities of war, civil unrest, public health issues, and weather disaster and, to some degree, crime. Along with these unavoidable risks there exist a large number of preventable or avoidable risks that the students, faculty, and institutions involved in the program are faced with. Among these preventable risks are the possibility of theft, issues with transportation, risks involved with alcohol and drugs, and general health issues including dietary concerns, water consumption, and sexual health. 3
  4. 4. Along with the two levels of risk, (inherent and preventable), risk must be examined in terms of the three sets of actors involved in a study abroad program, namely, the institution, the students, and the faculty. Therefore, it is important that while discussing risk and responsibility in study abroad programs in the Caribbean we focus on the different levels and degrees of risk faced by the different sets of actors both on the ground in the host country, and at home on the institutional level. Responsibility is defined by Merriam-Webster as “the quality or state of being responsible; something for which one is responsible: burden”. Like risks, responsibilities relating to study abroad programs in the Caribbean must be assessed from the standpoint of the three sets of actors involved. The responsibilities of the home institution differ greatly from those of the faculty or students participating in the program. The risks faced by each set of actors to some degree dictate their responsibilities. While it would appear that the largest share of responsibility would pertain to the institution and, to a lesser degree, the faculty, it is important that, in attempting to minimize risk, the responsibilities of students be identified and emphasized, and that accountability not be allocated to the institution when in fact it lies in the student’s hands2. For example, an institution should not be held legally responsible for a student’s well-being during a study abroad program in as much as the student’s personal conduct dictates his or her safety and how he or she manages the risks faced. On the other hand, if an institution or faculty member does not provide adequate information about risks or crisis management during preparatory work and on site orientation, a student should not be held responsible for his or her failure to properly assess a given danger or risk3. The important task, when discussing responsibilities involved with study abroad programs to the Caribbean, is to allocate responsibilities and to clarify the relationship between the responsibilities of the three sets of actors. Once this is achieved it becomes possible to clearly identify who is accountable in specific situations, and to move towards reducing the potential risks involved in education abroad programs. Is it possible to organize the allocation of responsibilities within the groups involved? Nature of the Problem A risk can occur to anyone, anywhere and at any time; that’s a fact of life. While risk seems to suggest a hazard; responsibility assumes a state of being. It is important to analyze both from their contextual and actual meanings. The very paradoxical relationship that transcends both terms calls into question the real issues at stake in addressing: risk and responsibility. Thus the broad question one must pose is the following. How can we gauge the responsibilities of students, faculty, home and host institutions when any risk arises? Or, simply put: Who is to be held accountable when something goes wrong? Very often in the classroom, teachers ask their students to take risk in their learning; thus one would deduct that certain types and levels of risk are 2 Slind, M.H., Herrin, D.C, & Gore, J 3 ibid. 4
  5. 5. educationally desirable. We don’t teach learners how to take risk, nor do we teach them how to be responsible. Is there a paradox in our understanding of these two basic notions? Given the risks involved in education abroad programs anywhere and at any time, we must attempt to understand the nature of the problem by addressing the issues from a multidimensional perspective of the relationships between the responsibilities of each of the sets of actors: who is responsible for what and at what stage of the program? The various time periods of the program: what are the responsibilities during the selection process, preparatory and on site orientation, when is the action of the student no longer the institution or faculty’s responsibility? The various levels and severity of the risks being faced: how do we gauge what is an avoidable vs. an unavoidable risk? Can we group risks from least to most severe? If the relationships between the various actors, the levels of risk, and the various stages of responsibility (i.e. selection process, preparation, etc) are clarified, it may become possible to create a standardized system of dealing with responsibility and risk management. Once these relationships are clarified, and responsibility has been appropriately allocated to the different groups, we can move towards minimizing and avoiding risks to the degree possible. Problems include the relationship between the structure and policy of the program and the behavior and individual conduct of the student. How does this relationship differ with students of different ages, levels of experience? To what degree can students’ behavior be regulated or even monitored while still allowing them autonomy? Rationale A two-folded rationale guides this inquiry: First, by examining the issue of risk and responsibility in study abroad programs in the Caribbean, we are able to move towards creating a standardized procedure of dealing with issues surrounding risk and responsibility for institutions and individuals who plan on organizing these programs in the future. While texts such as NAFSA’s (Association of International Educators) Guide to Education Abroad for Advisors and Administrators exist as important resources for those wishing to organize study abroad programs in general, we must also address issues and concerns specific to the Caribbean region4. Second, by creating a framework in which we can deal with issues of risk and responsibility, we are facilitating students and administrators who face these issues in their daily lives, both in the Caribbean and abroad to work towards minimizing the risks involved in study abroad programs or exchange programs while bettering the ability of institutions, faculty, and students to deal with their respective responsibilities. 4 Paige, R. Michael & B. Kappler 5
  6. 6. Relevant Literature There are a number of documents that deal with issues of risk and responsibility in study abroad programs. NAFSA’s Guide to Education Abroad for Advisors and Administrators is a thorough text which provides detailed guidelines for setting up and successfully running study abroad programs5. NAFSA’s Guide provides the closest thing to a standardized procedure for carrying out study abroad programs6. A number of other organizations also deal with study abroad issues, including The Center for Global Education, for which Gary Rhodes has written extensively on study abroad issues (see “Study Abroad Program Issues for the Risk Manager” [])7. Helpful resources can also be found from organizations like SECUSSA (NAFSA’s Section on US Students Abroad), AIEA (Association of International Educators), CIEE (Council on International Educational Exchange), and SAFETI (Safety Abroad First-Educational Travel Information) among others. In addition to consulting such texts, it is helpful to examine the procedures in place for programs and institutions with study abroad programs to the Caribbean. Looking at the various agreements, applications, waivers, release forms and selection procedures from existing programs enables us to get a sense of what administrators have done in the past, how and if these procedures can become standardized, where programs have differed in their approach to responsibility and risk management, and which approaches have proved successful/unsuccessful in the past8. Having examined the existing literature, we can outline a number of risks and responsibilities which are widely mentioned and widely held to be relevant in study abroad programs. NAFSA’s Guide presents five types of risk that are frequently present in study abroad programs (we have grouped the category “strikes” in the category of “political turmoil”, paring the list down to 4 categories). 1) Natural Disasters (floods, earthquakes, mudslides). 2) Political Turmoil (street demonstrations, riots, strikes). 3) Health (epidemics, nuclear hazards, pollution, water and air contaminants). 4) Crime (theft etc. also includes the possibility of students being arrested)9. The Center for Global Education identifies six categories in which most incidents fall: 1) travel/traffic accidents, 2) use and abuse of drugs/alcohol, 3) sexual harassment 5 Hoffa, William & J. Pearson 6 Paige, R. Michael & B. Kappler 7 Rhodes, Gary (1999) 8 Mello, Natalie A.; CC-CS Program Conditions & Release Statement; MSU Medical & Other Emergencies Abroad: Overview of MSU Procedures; University of California Education Abroad Program Student Agreement 2005-2006; University of California Education Abroad Program Student Conduct & Discipline Policy; University of California Education Abroad Program Health Clearance for Students Planning to Study Abroad; University of Notre Dame Statement of Responsibility, Release and Authorization to Participate in an International Studies Program. 9 Rhodes, Gary – Crisis and Risk Management. 6
  7. 7. and assault, 4) crime/petty theft, 5) mental health issues/stress, 6) disease and illness that exist in the host country10. Drawing on the conclusions of NAFSA and The Center for Global Education, and working within the framework of inherent/unavoidable vs. preventable/avoidable risks, I have identified a number of relevant categories of risk. Inherent/Unavoidable Risks • -Natural Disasters • -Political Turmoil • -Public Health (to some degree) • -Travel/Transportation (to some degree) • -Crime – including sexual harassment and assault (to some degree) Partly Preventable/Avoidable Risks • -Health (to the degree that it is in the hands of the individual whether or not to expose his or herself to avoidable health risks) • -Crime (to the degree that some risks are avoidable) • -Mental Health (to the extent that the student selection process can identify people who may be liable to have issues) • -Drugs/Alcohol • -Travel/Transportation (to the extent that the individual makes decisions as to that type of transportation they use in the host country and also the study abroad program) Once we have set up a general framework of risks that are likely to be faced during the study abroad program, it becomes necessary to highlight the different responsibilities involved in ensuring that the program is a safe one and that the possibility for risk is minimized. CIEE identifies the general responsibilities of both institutions and students: Programs should 1) create and maintain a safe program, 2) select and manage participants safely, 3) keep student and family informed. Students should 1) get informed, 2) be prepared, 3) act responsibly, and 4) communicate11. While this framework does not deal with specific responsibilities, it enables us to get a general sense of the type of responsibilities that students and institutions must face at different periods during the study abroad program. The responsibilities of the institution and faculty with regards to inherent or unpreventable risks lie mainly in setting up and maintaining a program that minimizes the exposure to risk and the possibility of crisis12. Important responsibilities include, but are not limited to: 10 The Center for Global Education ( 11 Council on International Education Exchange ( 12 Stubbs, Nancy 7
  8. 8. • Setting up Crisis Management Teams, or crisis management plans (including plans for evacuation and repatriation of remains); • Avoiding, to the degree possible, risks (i.e. if there are going to be elections and elections tend to bring political violence… not housing students in high-crime areas etc); • Educating students to the potential dangers involved (orientation programs, providing information, “necessity to explicitly outline risks to the students”) • Maintaining contact with host institutions, contacts, students, and families in order to be aware of any incidents that may occur; • Ensuring that responsibility is shifted to the students regarding inevitable risks (through release forms and waivers etc. important that the student be held responsible for their safety regarding risks that are beyond the control of the institution); • Ensuring, through the selection process, that students have adequate insurance coverage that extends to their study abroad experience • Obtaining copies of students’ health records and doctors statements about special health problems. Regarding the various avoidable risks that are within the control of the students and, to a lesser degree, the faculty in the host country, it is the responsibility of the institution to select students who, based on their application process, appear to be responsible and able to deal appropriately with situations involving risk13. Important responsibilities of the institution include, but are not limited to: • Student selection process (medical records-including mental health-, physical check ups, references that refer to not only the academic ability of the student, records regarding conduct etc.); • Creating clear conduct/discipline policies that ensure the institution’s right to send a student home or discipline a student at their home university (this is important because the conduct of students can jeopardize the safety of the group); • Educating students about how to avoid dangerous situations and how to stay safe while in the host country (NAFSA identifies on-site orientation as the most effective way to provide this information); • Ensuring that the institution and the faculty member(s) should not be held legally accountable for the actions of students who put themselves or the entire group in danger (through waivers and release forms). Regarding the responsibilities of students in study abroad programs to the Caribbean, one of the main concerns is conduct in the host country. NAFSA’s Guide (chap 13) notes the impossibility of completely ensuring that students’ conduct will be reasonable. The Guide suggests that three main points must be understood by all students: 1) that they are guests in the country and should always behave with this in mind, 2) that each program has its own specific rules of conduct put in place for good 13 Mello, Natalie A. 8
  9. 9. reasons, and 3) that being “foreign” does not excuse them from knowing or from obeying civil and criminal laws of the country14. Along with general concerns regarding student conduct, there are a number of responsibilities that students should be aware of and that are central to the running of a successful program. Students should be made aware of their responsibilities, including, but not limited to, the following: • Be informed about potential risks/ high risk scenarios; • Be prepared to deal with high risk situations as they come, pay attention to procedures and plans of action regarding risk management; • Take responsibility for individual actions and be aware that they can place others in harm’s way; • Learn and follow rules of conduct and behavior specific to the program, as well as laws and customs of the host country; • Keep faculty, institution, and fellow student’s informed regarding well being, risks that have been faced, actions; • Be aware of any health concerns that may pertain to you including mental health/ stress, allergies, specific medical conditions etc. Developing a body of knowledge 1-What we can learn from former students, administrators and faculty? Once we have reviewed the available literature and began to place risk and responsibility within a cohesive framework, it becomes helpful to examine the past experiences of students and administrators in order to better our understanding of relevant issues. Working with the past experiences of students and administrators enables us to learn what strategies have proved successful in dealing with risks or crisis, and what strategies have failed. We are able to learn some of the problems that have been faced by programs, at the level of risk management, but also in terms of issues that students and faculty have faced in the host country. What are some “horror stories” from past programs? What type of risks have students felt affected by? What have been some of the main concerns for faculty members in the host country? How have these issues been resolved and with what degree of success? The testimony of students and administrators who have taken part in education abroad programs in the Caribbean provides us with valuable information regarding risk management, what type of issues have been of frequent concern, what type of risks programs have expected, prepared for, and faced15. 2-Identify some safeguards from the standpoint of the institution Based on the available literature and the experience of past study abroad programs in the Caribbean, it is possible to identify a number of safeguards for avoiding and managing risks from the standpoint of the institution. While it is impossible to ensure that all risks will be avoided, particularly various inherent or unavoidable risks, and risks 14 Slind, M.H., Herrin, D.C, & Gore, J. 15 Rhodes, Gary (1999). 9
  10. 10. relating to the individual conduct of the students in the host country, there are a number of ways in which the institution can work towards preventing high risk situations. These safeguards include shifting responsibility from the institution to the individual student through waivers and release forms. It is necessary, in the words of Slind, M.H., Herrin, D.C, & Gore, J “that institutional liability is minimized through careful planning”16. It is important that students be held legally accountable for their own actions once they have been adequately educated, through on site and preparatory orientation, about the risks they are likely to face. Institutions should, as a part of the application and preparation process, ensure that all students have adequate medical insurance which extends coverage to the study abroad program in the host country 17. The application and selection process should include information regarding the student’s behavior, medical records (including mental health), as well as academic performance18. The institution should, to the extent possible, attempt to ensure that the students selected will be responsible, and will be able to adjust to an unfamiliar setting. In planning the program, an institution should ensure that students will have access to medical care and emergency facilities, if this is not possible at all times, students should be made aware that they will be traveling to a location without facilities close by19. Along with informing students about the availability of medical resources, the institution should provide intensive orientation both in the home country and on site in the host country20. Information regarding possible risks, aspects of the culture which may be unfamiliar, local laws and customs, politics, and environment, must be provided for any student participating in a program21. An institution should clearly outline a conduct and discipline policy, and ensure that students are made aware of the possible consequences of their actions. Institutions should retain the right to discipline students for violating conduct policies, including sending the student home or disciplining the student at his or her home university22. Finally, it is crucial that the home institution maintains regular contact with the host institution, faculty and contacts, and that there are specific plans of action implemented in case of emergencies or crisis (crisis management teams/plans)23. While each institution should carefully weigh the risks involved in their specific program, these are a number of safeguards and concerns that apply broadly to education abroad programs in the Caribbean. 3-Can we qualify risks from minor to major? While education abroad programs in the Caribbean face a number of risks, all of which must be addressed in the preparation of a program, it is possible to qualify a number of issues, based on their severity, from minor to major risks. It is important to identify the risks that are of utmost severity in order to better understand the 16 Slind, M.H., Herrin, D.C, & Gore, J 17 ibid. 18 Mello, Natalie A.; Rhodes, Gary – Crisis and Risk Management 19 Rhodes, Gary – Health and Medical Care 20 Rhodes, Gary – Program Administration 21 NAFSA ( 22 Rhodes, Gary – Personal Safety & Adjustment; University of California Education Abroad Program Student Conduct and Discipline Policy. 23 Council on International Education Exchange (; Slind, M.H., Herrin, D.C, & Gore, J 10
  11. 11. responsibilities of the institution as well as those of the students and faculty24. Prioritizing the risks involved in study abroad programs enables us to be more cognizant of where responsibilities should have the most importance, and how to respond to various different scenarios. Major risks, which present the most severe possible outcomes in the study abroad program include incidents leading to death (violent crime, political violence, medical conditions, irresponsible actions), and incidents leading to serious injury (assault, accidents, sexual assault). Along with the risks of serious injury and death, a major risk is the exposure to serious diseases or infections that could have life threatening, or grave consequences. If we view those risks leading to serious personal harm as the most severe of risks faced by students and faculty in the host country, it is necessary to identify a number of lesser, or minor risks that should be addressed by the study abroad program. Minor risks include the possibility of injury that, while it may jeopardize the student’s experience, does not pose a serious threat to the student’s health. Crime that does not pose a serious risk may result in minor injury or loss of or damage to property. Many health issues present possible risks to the student while in the host country. While some health issues, including issues related to stress and mental health, may require that a student receive medical attention, or even be returned home, unless they pose serious health risks, or are life-threatening, these issues should be viewed as minor risks. Finally, there is a risk that students’ behavior will place them in an undesirable position, whether this comes as a result of drugs and alcohol, violation or neglect of conduct policies, the risks involved with this type of issue, unless they escalate, are generally relatively minor25. All of these risks present examples of general issues which can be viewed as “minor” relative to serious health concerns or the possibility of serious injury and death. While minor issues can always become major issues if not managed properly, it is important that risks are assessed according to their severity and their likelihood in a given situation. In order to successfully prepare and maintain a study abroad program, we must accept that certain risks are less important than others, and certain risks are more likely to be present. Based on the severity, likelihood, and preventability of a given risk, we are able to better prepare for managing that risk, and to focus or attention on the risks that pose the most concern to the well being of the students. 4-Health issues in the application and selection process One of the most important risk factors in education abroad programs is health. Health issues are of central concern to any institution or administrator involved in a study abroad program. In many ways, responsibilities regarding health issues are a part of the preparation and selection process26. The application and selection process should deal extensively with health issues relating to a number of different factors. The institution should ensure that they receive up to date information regarding allergies or reactions that 24 University of California Education Abroad Program Student Agreement 2005-2006 25 Epstein, Joel & Gary Rhodes 26 Slind, M.H., Herrin, D.C, & Gore, J 11
  12. 12. students may have. The application process should include any information about allergies and their treatments in order to avoid any preventable crisis relating to allergic reactions27. The general medical history of a student is absolutely essential to the selection and application process. Students should receive up to date physical examinations. Up to date information regarding any conditions, mental health issues, diseases, substance abuse issues, as well as a statement from a doctor confirming the student’s medical history and condition should be an absolute must in the selection process in order to minimize preventable risks. If students do have a particular condition, then all measures should be taken to ensure that they will remain healthy during the study abroad program28. The faculty and the institution should be informed of any specific dietary issues or concerns that a student may have, and should inform students of the likelihood that they will be able to maintain their dietary habits and needs in the host country. Part of the orientation process should prepare students for the inevitable changes in their dietary patterns that may come about, and students should be informed of what type of food and drink is likely to be available to them during the program29. Equally important in the preparation process is informing students about the environment that they will be entering. Students should be made aware of not only the possibility of health concerns, but should be informed of various changes that can accompany a change in environment or setting30. Information about allergies, medical history of students, dietary concerns, and change in environment is crucial to the creation and maintenance of a successful study abroad program. While there are in many cases no obvious solutions to some of the problems that may arise out of these health concerns, it is essential that students be informed about the possibilities of risk relating to their health and lifestyle. It is important that administrators attempt to minimize the risks involved with study abroad programs by carefully examining the medical history and any specific conditions of the students involved in the program. Part of creating a safe and successful program includes selecting students who are not going to jeopardize their own health by exposing themselves to unnecessary or unknown health risks. Below are two case scenarios of risky situations that may arise and how you can address them based on an analysis of the responsibilities of the set of actors involved. These two examples were taken to illustrate some of the issues associated with risk and responsibility raised throughout the paper. 27 NAFSA ( 28 Slind, M.H., Herrin, D.C, & Gore, J 29 ibid. 30 Rhodes, Gary – Program Administration 12
  13. 13. Case Scenario # 1: Student Y with medical condition X Student Y has a condition that only occasionally affects him and doesn’t think to pack prescription medication during a weekend trip to the countryside. Once the group has reached the destination, and spent a few hours relaxing, student Y experiences a reaction. While the preparatory orientation had mentioned that there are scarcities of pharmaceutical goods in some regions, the students stay in the capital, where this is not an issue. Now, student Y is in the country and medication is not available. Responsibility in this situation lies on the shoulders of each three sets of actors. It is the institution’s responsibility, in planning the program, to ensure that on site orientation will deal with all relevant risks, including health and medical concerns. It is the faculty’s responsibility to carry out these orientation programs and provide students with information on the ground regarding risks. Also, when possible, the faculty member should try to familiarize him or herself with the medical background of students (i.e. student Z is diabetic, student G is vegetarian etc). Finally, the student is responsible for getting informed about the host country. The student must pay attention to and retain any information regarding health risks, and should make sure that they travel with all appropriate medications, particularly to regions that may lack infrastructure or access to pharmaceutical goods. If each party involved in this scenario is aware of their responsibility, and acts responsibly based on their knowledge of the relevant risks involved, the risk can be minimized if not avoided completely. Understanding our responsibilities and how we need to carry them out is central to running a safe study abroad program. Case Scenario # 2: Student D gets robbed and injured Without notifying fellow students or faculty, Student D takes public transportation to neighborhood E to visit someone she met at the university, on her way home in the evening Student D is robbed and assaulted, receiving a minor injury. Responsibility for this scenario lies in the hands of the student. While the institution and faculty are responsible for providing information about relevant risks, they are in no position to act as guardian for each individual on the program. It is the responsibility of the student to get informed about their surroundings, and to maintain contact with their peers and faculty. Had student D told professor G that she planned on going alone to neighborhood E for the evening on the public bus, she would have most likely been encouraged to travel with a friend from the host country, or to avoid that neighborhood during dark etc. Likewise, if student D had been informed about her surroundings she would have thought twice about placing herself in that situation for one reason or another. This scenario can be avoided or the risk can be minimized relatively easily if the student is made aware of her responsibilities to her own safety as well as that of her peers. 13
  14. 14. Conclusion Based on the existing literature and the experiences and procedures of past students and administrators we can conclude that a number of steps should be taken to ensure that risks are minimized and that responsibilities are designated to the correct parties. Having examined the relevant risks affecting the different sets of actors involved in a study abroad program, as well as the responsibilities in managing and preventing those risks, it is possible to highlight a number of steps that should be taken in setting up a program in order to minimize the possibilities of risk. From the standpoint of the institution it is crucial that the student selection process deals thoroughly with the ability of the students to avoid high risk situations. Background information relating to medical history, academic history and adjustability is central to the selection process. Along with selecting the right students, it is important that institutions rely heavily on orientation programs, both preparatory, and on site in the host country, in order to educate the students about how to minimize and avoid potential risks during their experience. It is also crucial that institutions take the necessary steps, through waivers and release forms, to ensure that legal liability for a student’s safety and well being is shifted from the institution to the individual participant in the program. The faculty member(s) participating in the study abroad program act as something of a buffer between the institution and the student. A large aspect of the faculty’s responsibility lies in ensuring that students stay informed and receive adequate orientation on the ground in the host country. The faculty member should also ensure, to the degree possible, that students are reminded of their role as guests in a foreign country and that they follow codes of conduct and behave appropriately. While the faculty member cannot be held responsible for policing or monitoring the actions of individual students, it is their responsibility to act as guides and not hesitate to intervene if a student is acting in a way that puts themselves or others at risk. Finally, the responsibilities of students lie largely in following the guidelines set forth by the home institution and the faculty member(s). Along with learning and following codes on conduct and behavior, students should be held responsible for retaining information provided during orientation sessions, and for acting appropriately given their position as guests in a foreign country and representatives of their home institution. While following guidelines and getting informed about laws, culture, and customs of the host country are the primary responsibilities of the individual student, it is also important that students stay in communication with the faculty from the host as well as the home institutions, and keep others informed about any risks they may have avoided or encountered. While it is impossible to identify and eliminate all of the risks involved in education abroad programs in the Caribbean, examining specific and general risks faced by institutions, faculty and students participating in a study abroad program enables us to better conceptualize ways in which these risks can be minimized. Likewise, examining and clarifying the relationships between responsibility and risk, on the level of the 14
  15. 15. institution, the faculty, and the student, enables us to move towards creating a standardized procedure for administering study abroad programs. Clearing up issues regarding the allocation of responsibility and accountability will aid future participants and organizers of study abroad programs in the Caribbean and will move towards minimizing the potential risks faced by students, faculty and institutions alike. References Center for Global Education. 1999. Safety Abroad First Educational Travel Information (SAFETI) Clearinghouse. University of Southern California. globaled/safeti/ Epstein, Joel & Gary Rhodes. A Discussion about Alcohol and Student Exchange. 2000. SAFETI ON-Line Newsletter, Volume 1, Number 2. Frank, Judy, ed. 1975. SECUSSA Sourcebook: A Guide for Advisors of U.S. Students Planning an Overseas Experience. Washington. NAFSA: Association of International Educators. Hoffa, William and John Pearson, eds. 1997. NAFSA’s Guide to Education Abroad for Advisors & Administrators. Washington. NAFSA: Association of International Educators. Mello, Natalie A. Risk Management, Safety Issues and How WPI Responds to the Interorganizational Task Force on Safety and Responsibility in Study Abroad Guidelines. 2000-2001. SAFETI ON-Line Newsletter, Volume 2, Number 1. Michigan State University. Medical and Other Emergencies Abroad: Overview of MSU Procedures. Optimizing Health Care in International Educational Exchange. NAFSA. 2002. Ortiz, Judith M. Letter from the CC-CS US Director. Center for Cross-Cultural Studies. Program Conditions and Release Statement. Paige, R. Michael & Barbara Kappler. Book Review: NAFSA’s Guide to Education Abroad for Advisers and Administrators. Frontiers Journal Volume IV. 1998. 15
  16. 16. Rhodes, Gary. Personal Safety and Adjustment. SAFETI Resources for Program Advisors. The Center for Global Education. Rhodes, Gary. Study Abroad Program Issues for the Risk Manager. URMIA 1999 National Conference. URMIA. ----------------. Crisis and Risk Management. SAFETI Resources for Program Advisors. The Center for Global Education. ----------------. Program Administration. SAFETI Resources for Program Advisors. The Center for Global Education. ----------------. Health and Medical Care. SAFETI Resources for Program Advisors. The Center for Global Education. Risk Factors and Strategies to Reduce Risk. Study Abroad Safety Handbook. The Center for Global Education. Ritchie, Mark A. Risk Management in Study Abroad: Lessons from the Wilderness. Frontiers Journal Volume IX. 2003. Safety: Info on Security Plans, Tips for Yours. The Knowledge Series. CIEE. Slind, Mickey Hanzel, Deborah C. Herrin and Joan Gore. NAFSA’s Guide to Education Abroad for Advisors & Administrators Chapter 13. Health and Safety Issues in Study Abroad. Stubbs, Nancy. Study Abroad: A 21st Century Perspective – Safety and Security Issues and their Impact on the Study Abroad Field. Washington. AIFS Foundation (American Institute for Foreign Study). Statement of Responsibility, Release and Authorization to Participate in an International Studies Program. University of Notre Dame. Haiti Program October 13-20, 2000. 16
  17. 17. Study Abroad Handbook, Health. University of California, Education Abroad Program Student Agreement. 2005-2006. University of California, Education Abroad Program. Student Conduct and Discipline Policy University of California, Education Abroad Program. Health Clearance for Students Planning to Study Abroad. U.S. Department of State. Tips for Travelers to the Caribbean. Department of State Publication 10439 Bureau of Consular Affairs May 1997. 17