Forum on Education Abroad Conference: Day 1 (March 24, 2010)

I must begin this post by commending the Forum on Education Abroad  for starting this conference off on the right foot.  I attended the Standards of Good Practice Institute (Beyond the Basics of Health, Safety and Security) and it easily met my expectations.  The depth of knowledge was exactly what I had hoped for while the format of a mix of roundtable discussions, panels and case studies did not let me down.

Before I go any further, I must describe the scene in Charlotte.  I arrived to a rambunctious group of Mexican soccer fans at the Westin Hotel! Apparently the Mexican soccer team is playing against a friendly game against Iceland tonight. This photo is of fans outside the hotel today, waiting for the team to leave the hotel. There were HUNDREDS of fans!

Fans of the Mexican soccer team await their heroes outside the hotel in Charlotte, North Carolina


I attended the day long Standards Institute – each session was 90 minutes with a plenary over lunch.  As much was covered, I will simply share some highlights.

Session 1:  “You be the Judge: Case Studies in Risk, Negligence and Risk Management” was an excellent overview of legal terms and the definition of negligence. Presenter Julie Friend, JD, International Analyst for Travel, Health, Safety and Security for Michigan State University schooled us in legal terminology. She spoke about negligence (the careless performance of a legally required duty or the failure to perform a legally required act) and how a plaintiff must establish 4 elements:  duty, breach, causation and damages. She explained that if you plan not to follow a State Department travel alert suggestion, you must carefully document why you did not heed the government’s recommended standards.  If you do not do so effectively, you could be considered a breech of duty because the institution failed to conform to recommended standards. She recommended an article by Hoye (2006) :  “Legal Issues Influencing International Study Abroad Programs.” 

Session 2:  “Where Does Student Responsibility for Student Health and Safety Begin and End?” That is the million dollar question for many of us in this field.  Of course, we all think that students should generally be more responsible than they are!  The highlight of this session was the presentation by a student, Ms. Sarah Hager.  She studied abroad in Morocco Fall 2009 and reflected on her orientation and how useful many of the tips and suggestions were.  She provided examples of using logic and following carefully doled out advice.  Then she spoke about the challenges of the rules of her program – for example, students were not permitted to surf even though there were free surfing lessons available. She could not ride a motorbike even though it was common practice in the country.  

Sarah chose to conduct research on the treatment of homosexuals in Morocco.  She and her translator traveled to Casablanca to go to an underground gay party, where she intended to conduct interviews for her research. After her first interview, the manager of the establishment kicked her and the translator out, afraid that they were investigating his property. Upon reflection, she realized that she could have been arrested and how that would have been a very difficult situation. Isn’t hindsight ALWAYS 20/20?

Her experience and perspective were refreshing – she was home, safe and sound and could articulate, diplomatically, why she felt the need to “break” some rules along the way. I smiled, and while slightly horrified at the thought of dealing with any issues related to her decisions, I was educated by hear her frank remarks, youthful perspective and solid determination to study a sensitive subject abroad.

Study Abroad student, Sarah Hager
Sarah Hager presents on her experiences in Morocco.


Keynote:  Dr. Eric Shaw. “Risk Measurement, Management and Mitigation as Best Practices Before, During and After.”  Dr. Shaw is an Associate Professor in the US Naval War College and a very engaging speaker.  He covered a lot, but I might suggest that you take a look at the GAR model, a risk assessment tool used in the US Coast Guard.

Dr. Eric Shaw (US Naval War College) and Bill Frederick (School for Field Studies)


Session 3:  “Assessing Adequate Coverage: Case Studies in Disability Accomodations and Insurance Planning.”  This session covered some very useful gems:

 – the new health care bill does not apply to study abroad programs because it is considered a supplementary insurance plan.

– accommodation is a very fine line – it is often obligatory to provide accommodation in the classroom, but there is much more leeway with non-academic issues such as housing.  

-be creative about excursions.  Nine of out ten times, you can find a great excursion that will be more inclusive for all of your students.

Session 4:  “Beyond the Basics: Case Studies Amidst Psychological Challenges.” 

Dina Nunziato, Director of Counseling Services at Sarah Lawrence College, spoke about the human brain and how it actually continues to develop into our early 20s.  The late adolescent brain is designed to be impulsive and respond with a “gut reaction.”  This prompted much discussion in our break out groups about how the freshman experience abroad really IS more demanding and how we can restructure orientation and communication to better support the young, developing brain!

I must digress for a moment – I hear many cars honking outside – I think Mexico won that game!  🙂  Will do my best to blog tomorrow. I look forward to your questions and comments meanwhile.