When to Cancel or Alter Study Abroad Programs
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:
- State Department
- Overseas Security Advisory Council
- Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC)
- U.S. embassies and consulates
- Law enforcement at the destination
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:
- Michigan State University’s (MSU’s) policy includes an emergency assistance phone number.
- Loyola University New Orleans’ policy includes a detailed emergency abroad protocol
- Iowa State University’s policy outlines committees that analyze risk management and safety concerns when making program cancelation decisions.
- North Carolina State University’s policy explains the difference between recoverable and unrecoverable costs to travelers.
About the Author
Joe Vossen, JD
CPCU, Resolutions Counsel
Joe is a member of UE’s Resolutions department, where he handles bodily injury and education liability claims. He is a former member of UE’s Risk Research team and, prior to that, practiced insurance defense law. His areas of expertise include LGBTQ protections, use of force by campus police, athletic injuries, and study abroad.