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When to Cancel or Alter Study Abroad Programs

Joe Vossen, JD
October 2020
Factors to weigh as you decide whether to cancel a study abroad program

When deciding whether to modify, suspend, or cancel your international program, don’t consider sensational media accounts or unsubstantiated perceptions. Instead, rely on an objective factual analysis and the risk tolerance of your K-12 school, college, or university.

To research concerns about health, safety, or security issues, consider information from these sources:

Some institutions recognize certain events as bellwethers of dangerous conditions, such as:

  • State Department Travel Warnings
  • CDC Level 3 travel health warnings
  • Peace Corps activity, such as countrywide suspensions

When conducting a complete risk assessment, include interviews with individuals and programs “on the ground.” With programs run by third-party providers, talk to the providers’ health, safety, and security liaisons. Also contact peer institutions with travelers in the area to learn what they are experiencing and share intelligence.

Consider Risk Mitigation Options

Based on your institution’s risk assessment, consider risk mitigation strategies such as travel and curfew restrictions, requiring use of bug spray or nets in areas with mosquito-borne health concerns, consulting the country’s national security apparatus, or requiring travelers to carry a phone or contact card with important emergency numbers.

Remember that canceling a program is just one option when security conditions change. Program administrators may decide to:

  • Alter the program to mitigate risk
  • Alter the program but prepare to leave
  • Make no changes

Communicate Policies and Decisions

It’s crucial to post policies on your institution’s website and clearly communicate before and after international incidents occur.

Travelers and their families value proactive communication, transparency, and consistency from home institutions and host providers in the event of an emergency.

Ensure information is easy to find and understand.

Consider the following information universities post:

Additional Resources