Study Abroad “Bill of Rights”

This past month, I attended the Forum on Education Abroad’s conference in Charlotte, North Carolina. I participated in the Standards of Good Practice Institute “Beyond the Basics of Health, Safety and Security.” Being in the US, much of the conversation included liability and as a result, the dialogue, as it often does, turned to “what not to do, rules, policies and regulations.”

Before I continue, I must share a personal experience. This past weekend, I was trusted by a dear friend to participate in her family’s gathering at the beside of her husband who was in the Intensive Care Unit (ICU).  Sadly, he passed away early on Saturday morning and it was a rough weekend.  During our time in the ICU, I repeatedly found myself encouraging my friend to push back at the multitude of medical people (and maintenance people) who kept entering her husband’s sacred space as he simply tried to heal and rest.  I kept repeating to her – “Where is the patient’s bill of rights? You can remind the staff that you have the right to refuse treatment and to know what the intent of these people is when they enter his space.”  Every time she felt weak, I reminded her of her rights. The hospital often reminded her of what they “couldn’t or wouldn’t do”, which appeared to come from a place of fear and potential liability.  Despite all of their intent to provide care, it was hard not to feel the liability issue driving many of their actions.

In my life experience, I have learned that decisions and actions made from a place of fear are never the best for growth.

My experience at the ICU this past weekend reminded me of my reaction to comments about legal issues discussed at the Institute.  Liability issues kept surfacing, leaning the conversation toward what students should not do versus what they could be encouraged to do.

I kept thinking – what if we flipped the script?  What if we focused on what students CAN and SHOULD do to more fully experience another culture?  What if we ignored liability, our legal advisers, our fear of lawsuits….and created a bill of rights for students?  What would your bill of rights for your students look like?

Would your fantasy student bill of rights include these?

1) You have the right to receive respectful support in an environment free of fear driven U.S. legalese.

2) You have the right to ride a moped without a helmet, take local transportation even if it means riding in the back of a pickup truck without a seatbelt, and to drink alcohol responsibly  – knowing that you could get seriously injured and remembering that you do represent your own personal character, integrity, family, college and country.

3) You have the right to ask your mom, dad and/or guardian not to try to fix all of your problems for you.  You have the right to think for yourself (even if your brain is not fully developed), practice problem solving skills, reflect, work through your “stuff” and talk with your peers about what challenges you abroad.  And if you feel that you need help, you are warmly encouraged to talk with your program’s support team – in your home country, host country or both.

4) You have the right to travel outside your host country if that is what you feel you will most enjoy and learn from at this stage in your young life.

5) You have the right to not fill out an evaluation if you believe that it is too soon to properly reflect upon your experience abroad.

Now, I realize that these may be seen as a bit extreme to most – but wouldn’t it be interesting to explore the concept of a study abroad student bill of rights?

What are your thoughts on the subject?  Please comment so that we can generate some meaningful dialogue.

  • Anon

    Nice post. A good positive thinking attitude of what students are responsible for when they travel abroad, rather than putting responsibilities on them as a task.