In 2012, I arrived at what was called ‘the most dangerous study abroad location’ on an organizational map of over 60 cities across 43 countries.
My initial contract was to turn around program safety. Urgently. Just a few weeks before, a student had found a way to involve himself in a drug-dealing ring (yes, as a dealer) and another had to jump out of a moving van after being forced into the vehicle at gunpoint. True stories and there were many more.
Immediately, I called an off-campus meeting with all students, filled up numerous large notebooks with equally disturbing stories (handwritten recording was a relic of grad school teaching that the group found quite amusing), and then started working on the program re-vamp through safety.
Here are a few things that were done with the goal of improving safety:
- New all-student meetings organized by theme: immersion and adaptation venting; how we/students are read differently across new gender, race, and class lines; defining and implementing research projects, and more)
- New night-time taxi rules: as simple as it was, this played a huge role!
- Complete re-doing of pre-departure orientation so the next groups of students would come with funds for transportation under the new taxi rules
- Enhanced advising supports; bringing language learning into all program activities; encouraging students to come to the ‘office’ and much more
- And, of course, an academically challenging and engaging is a safer program: rebuilding the courses and training teachers around student-centered learning models was part of this
- Stronger partnerships with the community organizations where students volunteered—programs with great service learning provided an anchor in a dangerous city and a protective armor
- New evacuation plans and contingency plans
- Water safety in a city surrounded by the ocean
- Staff trainings on how to respond to students in distress, ways of reading red flags and proactively addressing issues before they explode
- Incident reporting in-line with the Clery Act
- Assembling a network (and coaching them on what we meant by “putting students outside of their comfort zones, away from a support network, and yet safely”) of licensed bilingual mental health counselors who also understood that students have very different experiences in a given host city based on race, gender, class, sexual orientation, religion
- Inviting some of these incredible counselors to participate in program activities so they could understand, more, the full-immersion ‘process’ and development stages
- Within 3 weeks of focused safety improvement in these areas (and others) we went from 95% of the students on the receiving end of violence to 0% in one of the most dangerous cities in the Americas.
I am writing about this work in an e-book entitled, “Study Abroad: A Guide for Program Developers.” Please sign up so I can let you know when it is completed!
And, as a program development consultant, I can be contracted to improve student safety in your programs. By applying the above steps and customizing them to your study center’s needs, I guarantee safety improvement and better supports for culturally diverse groups of students. Please contact me!
If you are a university in the Spanish or Portuguese-speaking world, Blue Sage offers this exact same student-centered service. After observing the full operation of your international office, I am glad to help strengthen your programs’ performance in this area, worldwide.
The first stage is always the Observation Phase that is listed on the services page and the Blue Sage mission and method will give a solid understanding of the Blue Sage commitment to student-centered development. We want students to challenge themselves, explore, and to be safe and fully supported!
Turn around your study abroad program’s safety by following the Blue Sage recipe for success and support you can always contact me directly to learn more about the safety consulting!