As a presentation on September 12, 2022 from the URMIA Annual Conference in Indianapolis, presenters Shaun Jamieson, Patrick Morgan, and Eryn Kudzinski, as well as moderators, Jessica Hessler and Christina McKnight, bring you a panel discussion on studying abroad and site visits. They address successful education abroad programs that rely on trusted, reliable partnerships. At a time when global dynamics have grown more complex and we lean heavily on our partners abroad, panelists answer the question how do we adequately assess these partner relationships? Skilled panelists from varied backgrounds share their experiences and best practice recommendations about working with providers and conducting site visits to evaluate institutional partners. The podcast is introduced by URMIA’s Executive Director, Jenny Whittington.
Note: The recording took place in a larger space than usual. We apologize for the inconsistency in audio quality but thought the panel discussion was worth hearing!
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Jenny A. Whittington, CAE, Executive Director, URMIA
Jenny: Hello out there in podcast land, this is Jenny Whittington coming to you from the URMIA National office. We are just back from the 2022 annual conference in our home state, Indiana, and our capital city, Indianapolis, and we had a really great time together. With the JW Marriot serving as a great host, featuring terrific meeting and we had a lot of natural light this year, which is nice. The ballroom foyer looks over the AAA baseball team, the Indianapolis Indians and we even took in a game right as the conference wrapped up. We had terrific general sessions each day and the events were super fun. Closing event at the Indiana State Museum even featured Gondola rides- that was memorable. Thanks to all who attended in person and virtually and all the sponsors for providing the underwriting. Because the session content was so good, we have decided to share some of them again either here in the podcast or in webinar format. We did a “Best of” series last year that was very well received. Additionally, you may have seen the URMIA Insights Article on safety and security related to social media. The content shared was to give you the tools to learn how to assess potential threats and to spot warning signs that may lead to violence. So, please check that out. So, as you can tell, URMIA continues to be a great resource for a variety of topics of concern for higher education risk management.
Speaking of this podcast is a recording from the conference about study abroad. The session titled "Managing Risk in Education Abroad: Vetting Program Providers & Site Visits" is a panel discussion and while there are some gaps in the audio, the content overall we felt was worth sharing. A shout out to the presenters who went above and beyond putting this together. Our international committee helped curate this session as well. So, a big shout out to that group as well. Thank you, everyone. So, sit back and enjoy this podcast and enjoy your walk, or your drive, or really whatever you are doing while you listen to this edition of URMIA Matters. And learn more about Higher Education Risk Management.
Jessica:. So, we're going to go ahead and get started. The panelists today are Shaun Jamieson, International Risk Manager, Iowa State University. We have Patrick Morgan, Chief International Safety Officer from the University of Michigan, and Eryn Kudzinski, the director of health and safety from CEA Study Abroad. So, what we'll do is we'll go ahead and start off with a question set. We're going to spend about 45 minutes with the panelists today as we ask those questions, and then we're going to spend 15 minutes to the end for a Q&A. So, with that, we'll go ahead and get started. How is it to, actually you know what? Before we do that, why don't we give you all an opportunity to introduce yourselves and talk a little bit about your universities and Eryn, provide a little bit of insight on your end as well.
Shaun: So, I'm Shaun Jamieson from Iowa State University. We are a flagship state university, about 35,000 students. We typically pre-pandemic have about 3000 trips a year abroad of about 1800 of those being study abroad. And those are a combination of faculty led programs, exchange programs, and working with third party providers, both national organizations here in the U.S. and foreign providers as well. In my my role is within the Office of Risk Management. So, I serve the entire institution.
Eryn: Hi. I'm Eryn Kudzinski, the director of health and safety at CEA Study Abroad. And we are a third-party study abroad provider. And what that means is that we're a private company and we work with over 300 US universities and colleges, also some Canadian universities too, and sending students abroad for a study abroad or an internship abroad experience. And we work in about 20 countries around the globe. And in each country, we have we have an onsite team and we either have a center or an office in each location. And our onsite team is really there to help support our students with their academics, with any health, wellness, security issues that may come up or really anything the anything that could happen. But we send, I would say, approximately 5000 students abroad a year that tanked pretty much with COVID, obviously. So, we're building up our numbers and building up the number of students that we send abroad every year. And then we partner very closely with universities like Shaun’s university and Patrick's university. And we have very close relationships with our partners so we can provide a good experience for the students who seek out abroad programing with us.
Patrick: Great. And my name is Patrick Morgan. Good morning. And I'm from the University of Michigan and I'd gone along with this theme pre-pandemic, we sent about 13,000 trips abroad, about 6000 of those being for students. Currently, we're about 50% about 6000 travelers going abroad this academic year. In terms of footprint, students typically go to between 150, 270 countries each year, depending on which at which it is. And I'm positioned within the provost office. And so, I've purview over our three campuses, Goulburn, Flint, and our flagship Anantara.
Jessica: Thank you. Thank you all, to kick off our questions. So how is it determined which third-party providers, sites that would require a visit? And I'm just going to ask a few questions that go along with this first one and then and then you guys can take take it from there. And then in addition to that, which internal internal stakeholders are involved in this decision? And then we do understand that physically vetting a site is not always possible. So, for those sites that you are unable to visit, how does your organization assess those risks within these sites? So how do you just how do you determine which sites require a visit, which internal stakeholders are involved? And when you can't be there personally, how do you how do you manage that process?
Patrick: I think there's for us, there's about five different items that could determine whether we have a site visit and some of the obvious stuff like there's a new partnership in a study abroad office or internship office. But also ending a partnership sometimes might require a visit. There's also following up on an issue, and I think this is also pretty common, whether it's an academic issue, logistic or a health and safety issue, whether it's a critical incident that reached my level or it really drew a question into whether or not the provider is providing the support that we need and we need to rectify that situation. But other parts are more, I would say, organic, where if there's a critical mass of sites in a certain area and we're going for business to that area, maybe we'd be like which offices in which units have types of sites in that area? I think a good example, Shaun and I are going to London in fall for the OSAC Health and Safety Institute at the Northern Gateway in London. And so, I pulled all of our directors together and said, hey, we're doing this. You know, who who needs a certain site assessment, or you're interested in a new partnership in the university and basically build a template of, you know, these are the locations that my units need to visit and that I can pass that information on to them. Michigan is really, really decentralized. So, I think like how we determine who goes to such a site really depends on the purpose. So sometimes if it's an academic issue, I am thinking about that, that following up some kind of problem that goes around, it might be a faculty member who's going. And so, in that case, maybe the faculty is visiting a site in Argentina, and they want to figure out, hey, do we have this certain class that would meet the course requirements? And if we know that faculty is going, we could actually coach them to say, okay, while you're doing this, can you do these things? You're there to maximize that visit so that, you know, we get some information from the health safety side. They get the information they need from like logistics side and academic side. And then we can catalog and document that information somehow. The fifth one that we look at is assessing a site that we own or control. And I think this is really big. And so, with the other ones, it's mostly circumstantial, like something happened, so we should visit. But the things that we actually control, we just have a duty of care to make sure that since we since we are in control of all aspects of that, whether it's housing, logistics, we have the PI or director on site. We need to make sure that they have the protocols needed to make it a make it a safe and secure experience and meet our standard of care. And so those ones require more routine visits and assessment versus the other ones that are more circumstantial.
Shaun: I would say for us, it's it's similar, you know, having a mass of students responding to incidents, but even minor incidents, you know, we've had situations where a several students have complained about housing at a particular site and that may not warrant a site visit in and of itself. But if some of these other factors are at play as well, you know, there's already business in the area, etc., etc. I would say the other aspect of the already business in the area piece is I think it's a nice courtesy to have some face time with a partner in a location if you're going to be there anyway. So, you know, this summer I did a site visit to one of the sites that we operate as our university and the same city. We also work with a third-party provider in that city. So, I used the opportunity to visit with that third party provider and that was less of a we're here because there's a problem and more, we're here and we already do business together and it's nice to have some face time.
Eryn: And to add on to that, I think it's nice also to do visits when budgets allow to see what's going on. And that gives you a benchmark for trying to decide, well, which providers are we going to use? Some may be a little more reliable than others. And so going abroad and visiting those locations and seeing what the staff are doing, what their facilities look like, what the housing is, and participating as much as you can and seeing how it's done really well helps helps you set those benchmarks for what you want all of your providers to live up to when you're in that approval process. And then just so you know, also on the provider side, we're doing site visits also. So not just on the university side, but that's something very important that you would want to look at. Also, when you're trying to decide on providers or continue working with providers, is their administration here in the US going abroad and are they checking things out on a regular or semi-regular basis, especially if problems arise? But then just you know, if you're opening new program sites, you want to make sure that people have set foot on the ground and have seen with their own eyes what is happening and what those services are going to be or what they're going to look like, or if they haven't been sending students for a while and are now reopening again to go back and see what's changed in the past few years. So, it's really important to know that the providers that you're relying on are also going abroad and doing these important site visits, especially in those nontraditional locations or locations that may be seen a bit more as to have more security threats or be at a higher level of that State Department warning. So, some other things to look for.
Shaun: And in terms of the the part of the question about internal stakeholders, that I think that obviously they have a lot of input in the the incidents that you're responding to, the potential programs you're looking at, things like that. But one of the things that I've sometimes done in a bit of an informal way is also bring them into the discussion about funding site visits. So, I you know, I am in the central administration, so I'm I'm not relying on individual academic departments or study budget offices to fund my site-visit travel. But sometimes it will be a situation where if I'm in a region already, I have conversations with our study abroad offices to say, is there anything you're interested in in that region? And they say, oh, well, we are considering working with a partner in this city that's 2 hours away. Would you be willing to add on a day to your site visit? We'll cover your hotel in Padiham for that day since you're already in the country. So that's a way for them to to help shoulder some of the cost as well.
Patrick: Yeah, I think the last question is important as well, because we recognize that site assessments are incredibly important, and it gives us information that we just can't have without physically being there. But we also recognize that it's impossible to be in 165 countries every year. I'm just, I would love to do that. But the budget the budget doesn't align and so time doesn't allow it. And so, trying to think of strategies to have these proxy assessments, either whether it's visitors or professors going or if it's just communications with those who are in that country, whether it's your provider. So if we knew there is a resident director and just say, CEA is opening up a new program in Bogota, which they were thinking about at one time, and we weren't able to put boots on the ground and be there, you know, being able to send I have a communication with that director, with our scientists, I think questions but but do it through email and have a Zoom and a Skype and get an understanding of what it is. And then we can use that information based on our experience with having a good relationship with somebody and put it together and say, Oh, we're comfortable with this. So, I think that it's important to think about, you know, what are those areas that you can't do that? And that also prioritizes it being a site assessment. And so, for me typically ends up being place that since I'm also not in the study broad office supplementing what our study of our office can't do. So, I typically don't do a study of study abroad site. I would work with something that's more like a graduate research project, maybe something in a clinical health care setting. Maybe it's a high threat location where we can't send undergraduates. We have a lot of graduate students going, so trying to prioritize, like where are the gaps? And I try to fill in those gaps when I put my proposals for first time assessments.
Jessica: Thanks. Thank you. So, when you think of a site assessment, what is included when you do these site assessments? What kinds of areas of focus do you have? Shaun. You want to kick us off?
Shaun: Yeah. So. Patrick and I were talking about this a little bit at dinner last night. I think that there's a balance that. You need to strike between making it a site inspection where you're literally going through an exhaustive checklist and then taking advantage of the things that you can only get when you're, when you're there in person. So, a lot of personally, what I try to focus on, you know, a lot of those checklist things I can acquire via email, you know, do you have a policy for natural disaster evacuations? Do you have a, you know, sexual assault response protocol? But having those conversations when I'm on site with particularly with a site that has staff, full time staff in the location, having those conversations is sometimes about just understanding how that staff approaches problems in the context of those policies that they can send me over email. Um, I will say slightly related is, for me, part of the site assessment begins before I even arrive as well. So. You know, if I'm working with a third-party provider to arrange a site visit and their communication is really poor, they're not recommending a hotel. They're not, you know, those sorts of basic things. It's not a, you know, a deal breaker necessarily. But I think that begins to begin to give me an idea of what their infrastructure is to be able to support our students who are also going independently and working with these organizations to visit is, you know, do they have those that sort of mindset of being able to support travelers. That starts early on.
Patrick: Yeah. I couldn't agree more in terms of like the pre site work. I think though in addition to just trying to do as much as possible beforehand, the site visit really is dependent on how much control we have of the visit as well. Sometimes it might be an acclimation tour, or you're being invited by somebody to visit, and they have other objectives. And so, you may not be in control of those objectives. And in that case, you kind of have to make the most of it. But but if you go specifically for a safety security review, you can control it in terms of, you know, who are you meeting with and what are you seeing and what those relationships you foster while you're there. And you can set those clear objectives to meet those. And in terms of the pre-site work, to add to that, I think that a lot of the the macro stuff we always do beforehand in terms of thinking about the safety of the location, you know, what is the transportation like? What is what are the OSAC resources saying in terms of like country security airports? What is the country information page say about that country? What is assistance providers information? We use Crisis 24. So, what would Crisis 24? What information would they have about that location? So doing that all first so that when you get down to the point of now, we need to communicate with the provider and ask specific questions about the housing or how students get to and from the airport or what kind of emergency support they have. You're informed by what kind of things you need to think about based on that macro level understanding. And then you can supplement that again with the onsite work. And I made I made a, I know there's a question later about pitfalls. I made a mistake years ago in terms of trying to document every little thing you can do. And then I kind of kind of understand what I mean. They're like what I need to focus on. But when I give that to my study abroad office and an advisor who's doing their very first site visit looks at this 18-page document. They just like they're just totally exasperated, and they end up coming back with nothing. And so, it's much more important to get the critical information you need to make decisions versus trying to capture every single thing possible in that country. Because if you can't document it and pass it along to somebody else and put it into some kind of report that lives somewhere so it can be referenced later on, the site assessment was useless, right? And so, I think the feasibility of it is the most important part. And so, in terms of the feasibility, we try to really focus on the things that they know and it's in their wheelhouse in terms of like housing, transportation, student services, emergency support, like the very basic stuff that you need to be able to say, this is a competent provider, we're comfortable with this versus like, oh, we need some tweaks or go somewhere else, right?
Jessica: I also Shaun and I were talking before the session. I thought it was also interesting that it's about the partnership that you are you are feeling out during an incident. How is that partnership going to feel when you're in it and making sure you're comfortable with that communication, with the feeling that you trust the situation and that trust within that partnership, which I thought was interesting, as Shaun mentioned before.
Shaun: One more thing on what I'm doing when I'm there. I would say the guiding principle is out there. I am I'm kicking into the microphone now. I would say in principle, I try to think about is seeing what the students experiences. So, if the students take the subway, I want to take the subway. If the students eat in the dining hall, I want to eat in the dining hall. I want to see where they live. I want to see where they spend their free time. And sometimes that can be a tension because if you're coming from the institution, sometimes the the host will want to roll out the red carpet. But I don't want the red carpet. I want to know what the students do.
Eryn: That's glad you said that, because that's when I was going to mention is to have the experience. It's one thing to read about public transportation on the State Department website or on a travel guide or whatever you're reading before you go. But when you get on the bus and you're jam packed with people and there are chickens and babies crying, then you really get that experience of what students may be experiencing depending on where they're at in the world or housing. Also, I'm that type of traveler also where anytime I do a site visit, I'll try to stay with a host family if we have host families in that program location. And that's been one of the neatest experiences to get to know some local people also get to hear about their family, have an experience with them, but then also experience what our students are experiencing somewhat while they're living with a host family. And understandably, some people's tolerance for that type of travel is different. My husband makes fun of me because I'm that shoestring, like travel on a shoestring type person and my husband likes Condé Nast. And so, there are definitely differences there. But the more you can get into the experience of what the student is experiencing or the faculty participating in activities or excursions if they're available, going to the center, talking with students one on one and hearing what their concerns are, or challenges have been or what's been really great is also great insight.
Jessica: Thank you, Eryn. What are the different variances that come up from provider to provider? What types of providers are out there today? Patrick.
Patrick: Oh, wow. That's absolutely correct. That last one, Eryn and I can travel with each other because I'm just like her. And in terms and in terms of like like best practice is really quick, I think, to not only staying like where the students will stay during the program, but also, I always ask the the partner, like, what, what are the instructions that you give to the student for arriving early? And typically, they'll tell you exactly who you're meeting, how to get off the airport. You know what transportation to take. Perhaps I'm asking for if they arrive early before they get to their dorms or homestay. Where do you suggest that they stay? And in staying in that location? And so, I end up usually staying in hostels when I go to education, just like in in Cape Town, it's like, oh, these students stay at the Green Elephants. I'm staying at the Green Elephant and in with the other, you know, 14, 14 young people in the hostel dorm rooms and really trying to be like, if they're recommending this, I want to see what it's like. And and so I think that's really important, too, in terms of the other pitfalls. You mentioned students. I always, always arrange a lunch with students like you get more information from the students than the provider because they are rolling out the red carpet and they want everything to seem really, you know, like they're the best in class for every single thing they do. And this place is the safest place, and their students are your students will be taken care of and all this stuff. And I remember this one lunch I had with several female students in the University of, the American University in Cairo, and just after meeting with their security professional who was telling us that basically sexual assault doesn't exist in Cairo, you know, the students are telling me how they're basically harassed when they go downtown on a regular basis. And and, you know, where to stay, where to avoid staying, because those areas have increased chances of being harassed. And and that was actually what we learned was where those students were telling us not to stay is where our faculty were telling students to stay because they would have a more robust experience, be able to practice their Arabic better if they lived off campus in this area. And we're like, no, you're living on campus. That's not a place where we want you to stay based on what we heard from these students. So, you can learn a lot of information from that. That might be counter to especially, I would say direct enroll, I think study abroad office or study abroad providers have a better understanding of that, which brings me to your question.
So, I think that there's much different ways. Eryn and CEA, as a study abroad provider, I think of them as the most really in tune with student needs. I mean, that is their bread and butter. They they want us to be secure to know that if you use one program site in one location and you're happy with it, that there's a there's an equity equity and continuation of service and in another every location. So, if we do a site visit and in a location A, we feel comfortable that we have the same level of service in location B. And so, I think that that's one of the reasons that people are comfortable with that, because they have these preferred preferred providers that can provide that kind of continuity of care. But then there's others that are just like, not that way. And I would think of the direct enrolls as one in terms of universities and just our universities. Some are really good at working with international students, some are not very good at working with international students. So, the level of variance is huge in terms of care they can provide is really just independent of what their local students expect culturally from from their host institution and other ones are even have even more variance. And I'm thinking of students who work with NGOs, students who work with they might just have a contact from they know a professor who knows somebody in this country. And that's who they're relying on in choosing housing and transportation and they're providing, you know, emergency support. But then when you dig down, it really is just an office number they give them. And so, I think that when we control something and are making our contracts, we need to make sure with these robust organizations that are very credible, like CEA and other providers, and if we are not choosing something and say a student is choosing their own experience, our duty of care actually goes out of their deciding to partner with somebody, telling them to partner with somebody. So maybe we don't have to do a site visit, but we definitely have to verify that they have thought about these things in terms of like their housing. Does it have locked doors, you know, how are you getting from point A to point B? Where is your housing in relationship to your internship? How are you going to get there? You know, if something happens, can you call somebody 24-7 after hours? So, we have these assessments that we work with individuals to ask those questions if they choose their own provider. And similarly, we give them handouts like how do you choose your NGO? What questions do you ask student to them to have a good experience? How do you select safe housing? We have a plan for the land module where it's like that first day we find is where most things can go wrong. The students are just not acclimated to a new location, so they're giving them advice on how to get from the airport to the housing and get through. Those first three days are really critical thing.
Shaun: And I think that when you're thinking about providers, thinking about what what is actually being provided, right. So, there are there are full-service providers like the CEA where, you know, it's the entire lifecycle of the student experience when they leave their home in the US, when they return to their home in the U.S. But there we are. Sorry. I'm having trouble. There are other providers where, for example, we, I recently did a site visit to a a clinic in a in a country that accepts volunteers. But first and foremost, they're a they're a free clinic in the country. And they have a volunteer program where they accept volunteers, and they have a volunteer coordinator that helps students with transportation to the site and things like that. But students have to identify their own housing. Students have to take public transportation to the site. Students have to identify their own, you know, travel to and from the country. So that doesn't necessarily mean that that is a provider that we won't work with, but it does mean that it's a provider that we want to think about what type of student that's going to be an ideal fit for versus a student that might need a more full-service approach.
Eryn: And I think in the provider world to COVID really opened a lot of people's eyes in terms of how well their providers actually provide what they say they're going to, how well they responded to that incident and then how well they're bouncing back. Also, once we're getting into this post-COVID type world, but then it's also a lot of new providers are popping up. And so, you see in the study abroad field, I mean, it's starting to explode again. More students want to go abroad. They feel like they have to go because they weren't able to go their freshman or sophomore year because they weren't even on campus. And so now we're seeing larger numbers of students showing interest in studying abroad or interning abroad or doing whatever type of experience they want to do. And so, to meet that need, a lot of providers are now popping up. So, it's definitely important to do your due diligence when looking for a study abroad provider or any type of abroad provider, you know, know your campus, know your students and what your administration is comfortable with, what their risk tolerance is, and what types of programs they want the students to go on. And then what are those services that you definitely want a provider to provide and look into that organization and find out, well, how long have they been around? What is their what is their structure? Who do they have working for them? What is their experience? How long have they been there? What's the turnover looking like? I mean, this is a big investment for a student. It's a big investment for the university. You know, we definitely want to make sure that the health and safety of the student is a top priority. There's also that institutional risk that, you know, if a student goes abroad, if a Michigan student goes abroad on a CEA program, if that student hits the newspapers in Italy, it's always the University of Michigan student. It's barely ever the CEA student in Italy. It's usually the University of Michigan. So hopefully we won't have that. But you know, just to reiterate there, that variance of providers is it's very wide. There's a very wide range of study abroad providers out there. So just do your due diligence before selecting providers to work with.
Patrick: To be mindful of benchmarking, because often if it's a new provider, I'll ask them What universities are you working with and get this list. They don't contact the university, you know, like, I don't know, we work with them. And very similarly, I might get an email from another colleague and say, oh, we heard that you're working with this provider there. And I'd just say, no, actually we have it. And a lot of times what that might be is like maybe a Michigan student participated on that, but it's totally independent. And now they're using that as like, oh, you know, we work at the University of Michigan, and they had one student go just independently.
Shaun: Yeah, the amount of times I've gotten the question, what do you think of this provider? Do you think we should be able to work with it? And I go to the provider's website, and I see our university's logo on it, you know.
Jessica: And they can come out like unconventional ways, right? Marketing on campus without anybody's permission. There's so many things that can happen that bring these to you where you really have no idea. So, insurance assistance packages. So, in most circumstances, study abroad providers will have their own insurance and assistance type of package, which is different than the university's package. So how does your institution overcome this obstacle in an incident? Does the approach vary by that type of incident? If it's just simply somebody needs to go to the doctor for an ear infection versus an evacuation and what communication is provided to the students prior to departure about who to contact in these incidents? It's a big one.
Shaun: So, I think this is an area that, you know, we both we Iowa State and we I think universities in general could do a better job at communicating to students and partnering with providers. I think that there's a lot of assumptions going back and forth that neither side are aware of. And I think it's a it's a huge room for for growth. So, I would say that the functional status quo is that, you know, we have a blanket insurance policy. So, our our students are going to be covered by our insurance no matter where they go. And that gives that gives me peace of mind and my colleagues peace of mind on a, on a more tactical level, if we were sending a student to a provider that that had their own insurance that they also required. Typically, we would advise the student to utilize that first and foremost, particularly because they're going to be going through the the provider's staff when they need assistance. Right. There's there's going to be staff on the ground that they're going to go to them when they need assistance. I think where it becomes more complicated and in many ways is if it gets to be a critical incident where you might have a repatriation, either living or not after the fact, when you get to those sort of the the extremes of your coverage and the extremes of your incidents, there's going to be a lot of collaboration that needs to happen with that provider. You know, Eryn mentioned that it's never going to be the CEA student. It's going to be the University of Michigan student or the Iowa State student, which means that if it does become an extreme incident like that, somebody from the university is going to want to be probably in country and involved and helping respond to that incident. And, you know, if I were in that position, I would be much more comfortable using our provider. But it might be more practical to use the the, I'm sorry, our assistance provider, but it might be more practical to use the study by providers assistance provider. And I, I think we need to do a better job of having those discussions before those incidents happen.
Eryn: I agree with Shaun on that. I feel like communication is the key in these types of situations because like we said, most providers will have their own insurance, an emergency assistance package. And most providers will not waive that insurance coverage or the emergency assistance coverage because of those practical reasons where if they have support on site, then they are the ones who are coordinating that response. They're you know, they're the ones working with the assistance provider. They're the ones on the ground with the student. And then limiting that coverage or excluding that coverage then severely limits how much the provider and the onsite team or any crisis management team can do for the student or group of students. So, there is I mean, I work with several universities where we have, we do have a waiver program where the university will have us spill out a sheet to compare apples with apples to our insurance and our emergency assistance coverage to see if it's comparable and if it's comparable and the university is happy with it, the university will waive their coverage for the student knowing that they have to have ours. And this happens with small private universities, big public, large universities, just so the student doesn't have to pay double for that insurance coverage. But it's the communication that is key, because I know there are a lot of universities who do really want to be involved in that crisis management, especially for the bigger type situations like Shaun was referring to. But the providers that you're working with that you've already vetted, and you already know that they have a crisis management team, or they have onsite staff that are capable of handling the situation, too. There has to be that fine balance of who is doing what. Who is in charge. And sometimes you have to be willing to let go a little bit because the provider may have that local expertise to be able to handle this situation and then definitely work in very close conjunction with the university. So, the more communication you can have with the provider before you start working with them or before you start sending students on their programs, the better because it makes that go so much smoother in the end for the student, for the families involved, and for the organization, the university, and the provider together.
Patrick: Yeah, I couldn't agree more, Eryn. And what we do before our, our heavy travel periods, like right before our spring summer period in April, we send a message to all of our providers that share what our insurance is for the students. They also know, like their double coverage, we require them to have our insurance, plus the provider's insurance, and so that the provider knows what's available to them. But also, we give the provider what the messages we have for our students in terms of emergency protocols, retail you know, tend to your immediate care call 911, you know, go to a hospital. Number two is like if it's if it's a you're working with a provider, work with your local contacts. Like you said, they're the ones who are they're physically able to help you. And the third step's contact the university. We're just we're just we're just managing from a distance. And so, if they called us first, we would just we're have the student work with them anyway. And so, we really don't want to get in between that and want the student to do what they can do for themselves before trying to rely on us to to provide support from a distance. I think that what Shaun mentioned in terms of the major events is one of the major reasons we require them to be double covered. In terms of I mean, speaking of equity, if we did wave an insurance and we had a bunch of students in the same location and we were able to evacuate some and not able to evacuate others, we just opened ourselves up for lawsuit in liability. And so, we need to have that that level of care so that we're not some some don't have more assistance than others. And the other aspect is our relationships. We all have really good relationships with our providers. And so, if a student has an issue with getting care, you know, I can call somebody on their cell phone and fix that. But if I didn't have that relationship, I would be in the dark and have to rely on the student having those conversations, which sometimes it's more difficult for them, whether it's because they're under stress or there's a power dynamic with them being a student versus somebody from an institution. But we find that that ability to provide support in the back end is another critical reason for having them have our insurance.
Jessica: Thank you. We're going to shift the focus a little bit to Eryn when partnering with an institution with the state assessments and incident responses. What can an institution do to ensure there is that strong partnership, that communication is strong? What what types of things can that institution do in that regard?
Eryn: Yeah. I'm going to go back to my communication is key point because I do really feel that is important. The communication between whoever the stakeholders are on your campus that are making decisions about international abroad programs, whatever program that may be, and then with your partners, with the different providers, it's so important to really get to know who these people are, who you're working with. Kind of like what Shaun was saying before you go on a site visit, see what information they're giving you, how are they treating you? Are they treating you like they want you to be a partner with them or are you kind of an afterthought? And I think you do find a lot of you do get a lot of information from that. But but having those conversations with the partners before anything ever happens is so important because you really can iron out a lot of those details and get to a point where you feel comfortable with that partner to continue to continue pursuing that relationship. We do a lot of custom faculty led programs with a lot of different universities around the United States. And there's always that I don't know, I kind of call this speed dating blind date type conversation where you have somebody from the university and then you have our custom programs team and they're talking just about what they want, what they want to get out of this program, what type of experience they want their students to have, and then all of the fine details. And then our custom team will start talking with them about, okay, well what can we do? What can't we do? And a lot happens within that first meeting to find out like, oh, this is somebody that I can work with or, you know, maybe their priorities are a little different than mine, or maybe they can't meet me where I want them to be or provide the services that that we want. But I mean, not to just continue saying this, but to continue saying this, I really do think that communication point is very important and not just with, say, the institutional relations folks. So, you know, a lot of us providers, we have our sales people, even though we're not supposed to call it sales. Right. But we have our representatives who are out doing study abroad fairs on your campuses and they're talking to faculty and they're talking to your study abroad office. They're fantastic representatives for all of the study abroad providers, and they do know a lot about the organization. But get into the the deeper part of the organization. Talk with the health and safety team. Does the provider have a health and safety team? They may not. Health and safety within study abroad, that's more of a niche that has really developed within the last 10 to 15 years. So, it's good to speak with those people and try to speak with the people who are on the ground to really get those detailed questions. And if you're not able to get through to those people, you know, maybe you might want to think of a different provider, but you want to make sure you're comfortable with who you're working with. Because like I said, it is it is a big decision. So, it's good to ask lots of questions.
Shaun: I would say that something that you said, which is do they have a health and safety team? Am I being heard? Do they have a health and safety team is really important coming from a university that also has a health and safety role. That helps. In fact, I have a bias towards providers that have that because I can have a relationship with their health and safety prior to an incident. So, you know, I know, Eryn, if one of our students on a program was having trouble, that's that's a professional relationship that is already established that I can utilize without having to go through an institution relations person or somebody who does, you know. Just a client representative person at the same time. I think that doesn't forego the necessity of good prior communication because even if they have a health and safety team, they may have protocols that justify how they want to be contacted in an emergency. And it might not be me calling here. And so, you know.
Jessica: Thanks, Shaun.
Eryn: Only special people get my cell number.
Patrick: No parents.
Jessica: So, I know, Patrick, you mentioned a couple of best practices that that you have. I want to open that back up before we go to the questions potentially in the air. And Shaun, any best practices that you'd want to share or any pitfalls that anybody's experience when going through a site assessment process?
Patrick: I would say another pitfall really quick is just the perception of a side assessment. I think that a lot of folks, institutions who might not be in education abroad, might assume that it's a site visit or a tour. And I know that I've so my supervisor is always on a term limited basis. They're a faculty member for you rotations. And so, every four years I need to coach them basically to say these are really important things that are not just visiting a place to have like cultural activities. These are these are very serious professional activities. And being able to demonstrate like what your site is, that template is look at some finished products in terms of these are this is what I brought back. This is how it's been utilized by our at abroad directors and then using language very intentionally in terms of we are assessing a site we're not just visiting. And so that's one aspect. And the other aspect is even if you do have those cultural activities, downplay them, because I think they are important. But we don't want to make that the focus because that's what everyone will fixate on, and it might be interpreted as like misappropriation of funds and not serious activity. So, if you really want to have more site assessments, framing it the correct way I think is really important. So, you can do it more frequency.
Shaun: And I think that what you've already said about, you know, doing what the students do. The stay in the home stays in the hostels to do. Riding public transportation, I think helps with that perception. I, I nodded when you started that answer because I was going to say something similar, but from a different perspective, which is that the site that you're visiting often also has different perceptions of why you're there, and that can be a pitfall if you don't clear up, clarify those expectations ahead of time. So, I've been on site visits where they think I'm there for a tour and they want to show me around the city. And I'm like, no, no, no, I want to see where the students live. I want to see the hospital that you take them to and that never even occurred to them. Or on the flip side, sometimes they feel like they are. I'm there to like give them a grade and an inspection and that they have to perform and pass a test. So, setting the expectations somewhere in a balance of those two is.
Eryn: I think another pitfall also to try to avoid is that there's still that balance when assessing risk abroad because you're in a foreign country and you're not in the United States. And as much as we want the rest of the world to follow the same safety standards that we do here in the United States, it's not going to happen as much as you try and as much as you advocate. It may not happen. And there are. Oh, gosh, I'm sorry. How embarrassing. I thought I turned that off.
No, it’s spam, and that's what stinks. I lost my train of thought. But, you know, there are definitely things that can be adjusted, you know, do it. Fire safety standards and Paris are not what they are here in the United States. And we need to put smoke detectors in our program, housing. That is something that could reasonably be done, but maybe in another location that is not going to be reasonably done. So, I think remembering that reasonable, what is reasonable and not risk is going to look different abroad than it is here in the United States. And then trying to translate that back to your superiors and to the university administrators to educate them that, you know, some of these things are okay, this is part of the experience of being abroad, is seeing the world in a different context, in a different light, seeing how things function and people think to open our minds, not just our students minds about our minds also. So, but it is very easy to have that checklist and see, okay, is there a smoke detector? Is there a fire extinguisher? Is there this? Is there that? Maybe and maybe not. And how can we either mitigate that? How can we come to a compromise or how do we just say, okay, we're okay with this and we're going to continue? Or That's a dealbreaker for me, so we need to go a different direction. Yeah.
Jessica: Great points. Thanks, Eryn. And before we go to the Q&A, what type of tools are available today that can be utilized to help with site assessments?
Patrick: Yeah, I'm going to make a quick, shameless plug. And so how many folks here have heard of OSAC through the Department of State? Okay. For for those who have not, OSAC is the private sector arm of the Department of State, where the government works in partnership with academia, hotels, aviation, a whole bunch of different sectors. And it is easy access and free to all the information through analysts that they have and also reports through OSAC and also in conjunction with the Academic Sector Committee. We help them fashion the types of tools and resources that we need to make decisions. And so one of those that we're working with is we're creating a site assessment tool, and it is a tool that's going to have a basically everything under the kitchen sink. So the idea is, is, yes, you could take into the field and complete all seven modules if you'd like. You'd probably need a week long site assessment. But what it really is, is it gives you all the options and you can look based on your institutional needs, the needs of that specific visit, and take it to your team to say what's important here? What do we need in our assessment? So it serves as a gut check and a benchmark to see what's out there and what might fit your needs. It's also this site assessment tool is fashioned so it can be done remotely. So, most of it is yes and no questions so that you can very easily put in an email and send it to folks. So, if you couldn't physically be in a location, you could do that virtually. And this is different matrix or the different modules they have are there's an OSAC risk matrix, which is a Department of State tool. There's a housing module for hotels, one for home stays, one for apartments, one for dormitories. There's a neighborhood safety module, a transportation module, emergency services and site security, evacuation planning. And there's an activity specific modules one for clinicals, work, internships, and volunteer third party providers and then faculty led programs. So, this is going to be released at the end of the month. So, it is new. And if you're interested, you can come up. I can give you a card. I can tell you how you can join OSAC and have access to this. And if you're already a member of the Academic Sector Committee, you can just wait for the email to come up and tell you that it's it's like.
Shaun: But piggybacking off of the OSAC plug is one of the other things I like to do when I do a site visit is connect with OSAC to the regional security officer in the embassy or consulate in the location that I'm going to and have a meeting with them while I'm in-country. That that helps me understand what some of the broader security concerns are in the country from the State Department's perspective. But it also gives me some face time with them, and they understand what our operations are in the country. And so, I think it's a mutually beneficial exchange. And I've always found those to be good meetings.
Jessica: Great. Thanks, Shaun.
Eryn: This isn't a tool, more of a resource, but the Forum on Education Abroad plug for them. It's forumea.org. I believe that they have a set of guidelines and standards for the field of study abroad and. I think that is a great resource to go to, to look at, to see what these guiding principles are for the field in general. And there are some health and safety risk management questions built into that in any study abroad provider. A lot of the study abroad providers are members of the forum. If they're not members of the forum, they probably should be members of a forum. But they're also a fantastic resource to look at, to see like, well, what you know, what are those guiding principles that study abroad providers are trying to aspire to while they're planning their programing. And now they're also there. It's the International Education Organization. They're also big, and they have a health and safety committee and also their own standards, too. But so, the forum are good resources for additional information and questions.
Shaun: And Mandy is from the forum if you have questions.
Jessica: Thank you. That's terrific. We have about 10 minutes left, so I'm going to go ahead and ask Christina, do we have any questions through the Q&A? We do not. Okay. Yes?
Audience Member: For those of you who do labor at institutions…. Do you apply those same kind of site visits to your 4H program abroad? [partially unintelligible]
Shaun: We don't currently have any 4H programs abroad, but if we did, we would apply them. Similarly, we do have a our for each department has done some exploratory trips abroad and I've supported those of staff going abroad, but we haven't done it. We haven’t opened any sites yet.
Audience Member: And do you have any faculty and staff that do like your summer programs that take minors abroad… and do they come to you for their outreach abroad… [partially unintelligible]
Shaun: We don't currently have any minors abroad programs, but if we did that, I have a counterpart in my office who works with youth programing, and we would work in collaboration so they would have to go through both approval processes. We have an approval process for youth programs, and they would have to go through the international travel process.
Patrick: Yeah, the same here. And we have a special module for working with minors in terms of, of course, anything that treat them as a minor so they can't complete any signature documents. We couldn't sign anything. We involved the parents in a way with the minors in a way we wouldn't do with the other students.
Shaun: Unless the minors are matriculated full time students. And then we have separate processes for.
Jessica: Any other questions?
Audience Member #2: School having insurance… Never planned for such. How does that look? How do you guys coordinate? [partially unintelligible]
Patrick: It's case by case here because it would depend a lot on, you know. Oh, repeat the question. Oh, yeah. So, if we had to two assistance providers in two insurances, you know, how would we coordinate with those insurance providers to have, you know, the outcome that the institution wants? For University of Michigan? We would always want the evacuation to be under a cohort. So, we wouldn't want some students to go in, some students to say, and so if this is something that we have a trusted provider who's managing the logistics of arranging that evacuation, we would defer to their assistance provider because they're the ones who are organizing the logistics. If we lack that, we would definitely want to use our own assistance provider since we can control the logistics of that. If there's something in between, like perhaps their provider didn't call an event, but ours did and we want them out. We would go to our assistance provider. So, it really depends on the scenario. And as long as we have our clear objectives, if we want them out, we want them to be in a cohort, we want them to be organized. Using those three principles, we would decide which option is best.
Jessica: Right? You'd probably have to choose an option at the onset and go with that option.
Patrick: And then we would inform the other instance provider that we that are travelers are not going through them. So, we will let Crisis 24 go, oh, we're going with ISIS on this program because that's the insurance their partner has.
Eryn: And a lot of times there's overlap too, where like this one particular institution that we work with, we have the same insurance provider, we also have the same emergency assistance provider. So that helps them feel more comfortable with waiving their insurance because they know the company, they know both companies, they know the policy, the benefits. And so, they're okay with saying, all right, you don't have to have our insurance, you'll go ahead and have theirs. And then that helps too. In these types of situations where, you know, there is a major event, they're talking to one another anyway. And so, a lot of times, or even if it's a smaller ordeal where, say, maybe the CEA health insurance doesn't have a benefit for X condition, but then the Michigan policy does. If you use whatever insurance, then that policy will pick it up. So, they do work hand in hand that way, which is nice. And then we will defer to the secondary insurance for a lot of those minor claims because some institutions do prefer that their insurance is the primary insurance. Do you guys do that? Yeah, and we're fine with that. That's okay. And then they leave the bigger evacuation accidents to us. So, we get to pick up the tab and raise our premiums instead of yours. Because of the assistance.
Jessica: I think that's a really good point that you make, Eryn, in just doing that assessment of the actual policies and those coverages and maybe some of the gaps that are in the travel insurance policy that you have maybe to study abroad provider has that coverage. So doing that assessment ahead of time so you know which door to open beforehand is a key. So, we do have a couple of minutes left. So, I'm going to give you you all another question. When it comes to the internal stakeholder process, we talked a little bit about that. You know, who gives the final sign off on moving forward with a study abroad provider? Patrick.
Patrick: Depends. It depends. And so, it depends on where it is. So, we do have like master agreements that are institutionally based and so that would be based my office. Office of the Provost. I work very closely with the academic side of the house, our assistant vice provost, who is a signatory for for those master agreements. And so, if there is information that way to suggest that a site was not meeting our expectations, we would be able to influence that. So, we'll be able to go forward. But at the same time, think all of these are bottom-up processes. They come from our units. Our study abroad offices are academic chairs, internship office, career services. They're the ones who want these agreements. So, they're they're they're doing the legwork and we're verifying that it meets our standards. So, it really it really is a twofold process. First, like they need to want it and then we sign off.
Shaun: And for Iowa State, it would be similar. So, you know, the individual units would bring it out. They would go through a different procurement process. And before an agreement was signed, the risk manager would have an opportunity to weigh in. But nobody no one single person actually approves it. It's sort of in the process.
Patrick: I think there's a lot of control, too, because the process is defined by risk management, general counsel, and the provost office in Michigan. So, we can decide, you know, what that process looks like and what units need to do. And so, we can build the handrails that that really guidance that a good decision making they need to do. And then the process, once that's nailed down, it becomes pretty smooth, I would say.
Shaun: I will say that it. It sometimes gets a little gray because we may have an agreement with a provider to send students to their location in X country. But that doesn't mean that we necessarily. Can send students to any of that providers, locations that date. The way the legal agreement evolves over that relationship, if we had a site, is a little bit different than the way the study abroad proposal process works, where they would get approval to add a site through the study abroad process.
Jessica: Thank you all so much. I think this is a really valuable information and thank you for joining us today.
Jenny: Thank you for listening in with us on this episode. For those of you who attended the conference, a reminder that the recording for more than 30 sessions are available. If you missed the real-time conference and would like access to the recordings, please let us know and we can get you retro-registered. That really is a thing- retro-registered. Just send a note to firstname.lastname@example.org.
Thanks everyone. And have a great week.