Reflections on Emergency Planning for Advisers of Study Abroad Students in Egypt

Egypt.  It IS the news. But when you’re a study abroad adviser who had sent students to Egypt for the spring semester, your mind is focused:  Safety.  Their safety. Comforting and advising parents. Working with the partner institutions abroad.  Communication, even when there is no internet.

I have reflected on this situation during this past week and here are my thoughts:

1) Emergency Planning: Did your institution have a documented plan in place before the events in Egypt unfolded? If so, did you follow your plan, convening your safety and emergency planning committee to assign action steps? Once your students are safely out of the country and either returned to your home campus or reassigned to another spring program abroad, have you scheduled time to review how your process worked?  Are there tweaks that need to be made?  Team members that you need to include in the future? If you didn’t have an action plan, how did you handle this emergency situation? Do you now plan to prepare a process for the future?

2)  Relationships: These are necessary for a smooth transition through an emergency.  These relationships include internal partners (your safety and emergency planning committee as well as anyone who touches the registration/financial aid/advising processes, counseling center, public relations, etc) as well as external (your partners abroad, your vendors, your community, State Department contacts, local press, etc.)  I cannot stress enough how important it is to have formed these relationships BEFORE an emergency.  Whenever possible, you do not want to be introducing yourself for the first time during the emergency.

3) Rely on the wisdom of your NAFSA colleagues: Thankfully, through the list serv, we have received invaluable information that helps us to do our jobs effectively and with confidence.  Know that our colleagues around the country, and the world, will lend a hand when we are in need.  Take that hand and remember to be grateful after things calm down.

4) Don’t forget: about your international students and scholars, as well as immigrants from this region of the world. They need support too.  Remind your senior administration, Human Resource team and other colleagues of this.  Ask your counseling service to provide information directly to this population.  While they may not fall under your immediate “jurisdiction” we must not forget their needs as they are part of our community.

5) Educate others: Use this opportunity to document your learning.  Take notes about what you could have done to prepare better or what you’d do next time.  Bring this to your safety and emergency planning committee meeting.  Ask your boss if you can present the unique requirements of your work to faculty and staff during professional development opportunities on campus.  Write up a proposal for your next conference and share your learning. (And if you don’t have a plan in place and need help formulating one, feel free to reach out to me at Melibee via the contact form.)  Situations like these also create opportunities to develop programming around this region of the world.  Pull in your subject matter experts to create a teachable moment for your campus and community.

6) Your well being matters too: Being a study abroad adviser, program administrator, faculty leader – these are some of the most rewarding jobs in the world.  We believe in our work and are deeply passionate about it.  And we will give out our home and cell numbers and let people call us at all hours during times like these.  Our families know that we are “on call” and they expect to be a bit neglected or to share in the stress of the experience.  It is important work and sometimes we have to stop and acknowledge that it is draining to be on the hot seat, ultimately feeling quite responsible for the well being of another person who may be in harm’s way.  Remember that your well being is important during these experiences AND after.  Most campuses have an Employee Assistance Program (EAP).  USE IT if you feel that you are a little overwhelmed, shaken up, or simply need to share what you maneuvered through in a confidential environment.  Take a day off after you know that everyone is ok.  Treat yourself to that hot bath, good book, day with the family. Whatever helps you to refill your tank to be ready for the next adventure in study abroad!

I hope these reflections are of help to those of you in the trenches at the moment. Please do share your feedback, ideas, suggestions in the comments section of this posting.  (You do not need to register to comment.)

Needless to say, at times like these, I am honored to be part of such a caring community.  Thanks for reminding me, once again, why I love my job today!  And most importantly, we are all thinking about a peaceful and swift resolution to the situation in Egypt.