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.


  1. So glad to see Sarah Hager presenting! She came on a ProWorld Mexico program in Oaxaca in January 2009 (and she is also attends my alma mater… Wofford College!), good work!

  2. Tny del Balzo says:

    We must not over look the specific dangers in the city of Perugia. Hidden in the beautiful side and chocolate festival are cultural differences and discrepancies that can cost a visitor severely. Take as an example the sad case of Amanda Marie Knox, She, as I am sure you know, is a honor student in languages on an exchange program through the highly accredited University of Washington. She was in the middle class, honors program at a college preparatory Jesuit operated high school. Her roommate was murdered while Amanda was spending time with her recently involved boy friend.

    She immediately began to see cultural and practical differences between the US and Italian judicial systems.

    1) The police claim to have identified her as a guilty party solely on her behavior, even before ANY physical evidence was examined. She apparently did not cry enough to suit their profile of a mourning roommate. 2) Her unusual behavior also included turning so-called cartwheels, which turned out to be a gymnastic stretching exercise that was requested by the Perugian detectives. 3) The detectives believe that she was too playful when she bent over to put on protective footwear. This immediately convinced the police that Amanda lacked morals and was promiscuous and a dirty woman. 4) The detectives believed that when she vas a piece of pizza for lunch at 3:00 PM with her boyfriend that the behavior was so suspicious that surely they were having a meeting to collaborate on the crime, and not having lunch.

    Amanda then learned about saving face as the Perugian police celebrated the quick close to the case. However, it happened that one of the people accused had an airtight alibi. This should have caused them to reexamine tall suspects but that would have made them look foolish

    She was held in a maximum security for a full year without being charged with anything because, in part, she had a “negative” (what ever that is) personality and she was a foreigner.

    While Italy does not have the death penalty, the prosecutor asked for the absolute maximum penalty of 30 years plus a mind-blowing 9 months in solitary confinement? This same penalty is used to punish Mafia bosses and assassins with a touch of the Middle Ages thrown in.

    She also learned about language differences. She sent a text message to her employer with the closing phrase “See ya later, Good Evening”. The police believed that this English phrase translated to “Lets meet later tonight”. Which we know that is does not.

    Trial procedures are also different. Italians are used to presuming that if the police make an arrest, they have the right culprit. The concept of innocent until proven guilty is new to Italy, since the mid 1990’s.

    This causes many cases to result in an incorrect verdict. Over 95% of all verdicts are appealed. Of those appealed, well over half arrests in a reversed verdict or altered sentence. Would you go to a doctor who made fatal mistakes on his patients every month?

    In the US, once a person is tried, the state has to live with the verdict. In Italy, the Government can ask for a harsher sentence.

    Italy does not allow credit for time already served. This means that the first year is lost forever…truly barbaric.

    In the US, it takes 12 out of 12 to send a person to prison for live. In Italy, only 5 of 8 can inflict the same penalty. That 100% in the US and 62% in Italy.

    In the USA, a defendant is sworn in when he or she testifies to insure that the truth is told, under punishment of perjury. In Italy, the defendant is not sworn in because the defendant is presumed to be lying. Anything the defendant says is not to be believed.

    There are lots more differences but I think you understand now how important it is to avoid Perugia as an unpredictable city with serious consequences. Amanda Know is sentenced to 26 full years in prison for a crime that she did not commit. She is gong to appeal but the court is highly prejudiced against her and insists in making damning presumptions about her that are truly “pure fantasy”.

    For a complete assessment f the Amanda Knox case, go to http://WWW.InjusticeInPerugia.ORG.

    To see the warning for students from one European country

    Enjoy the experience but be careful in Italy…or avoid Italy for greatest safety.

  3. Ouma Mpela says:

    Dear Missy Gluckmann

    My name is Ouma Mpela and I am in South Africa, working for interstudy as their Resident Director in Southern Africa.

    I throughly enjoyed following the Forum's conference through reading your blogg. Thanks you so so much for posting on a daily basis on Workshops and sessions held at the conference.

    I enjoyed reading your notes on the workshop 'Standards of good practice' as well as the student; Sarah Hager who presented about her experience in Morocco, while she was researching on the treatment of homosexuals.

    Thanks you so much.

    • Dear Ouma – Thank you so very much for your kind comments. I'm so pleased to hear that the blog updates were helpful to you. I particularly enjoyed Sara Hager's comments also. Best wishes, Missy

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