Minimizing Risks in Study Abroad! Who's Responsibility?
Minimizing Risks in Study Abroad! Who’s Responsibility?
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
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.
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.
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.
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
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.
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
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
Slind, M.H., Herrin, D.C, & Gore, J
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?
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.
Paige, R. Michael & B. Kappler
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”
[http://urmia.org/1999/rhoades.htm])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
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
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
Hoffa, William & J. Pearson
Paige, R. Michael & B. Kappler
Rhodes, Gary (1999)
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.
Rhodes, Gary – Crisis and Risk Management.
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.
• -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)
• -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
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:
The Center for Global Education (http://www.lmu.edu/globaled/studentsabroad/riskfactors.html)
Council on International Education Exchange
• 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
• 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
• 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
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
Mello, Natalie A.
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
Slind, M.H., Herrin, D.C, & Gore, J.
Rhodes, Gary (1999).
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
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
Slind, M.H., Herrin, D.C, & Gore, J
Mello, Natalie A.; Rhodes, Gary – Crisis and Risk Management
Rhodes, Gary – Health and Medical Care
Rhodes, Gary – Program Administration
Rhodes, Gary – Personal Safety & Adjustment; University of California Education Abroad Program
Student Conduct and Discipline Policy.
Council on International Education Exchange
(http://www.ciee.org/program_resources/knowledge/safety.aspx); Slind, M.H., Herrin, D.C, & Gore, J
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
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
University of California Education Abroad Program Student Agreement 2005-2006
Epstein, Joel & Gary Rhodes
Slind, M.H., Herrin, D.C, & Gore, J
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
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
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.
Slind, M.H., Herrin, D.C, & Gore, J
Rhodes, Gary – Program Administration
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
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
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
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
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
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.
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