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Student Life Abroad


Conducting Program Health and Safety Audit

The purpose of the SAFETI Audit Checklist is to provide a list of health and safety and study abroad issues that an administrator can use as a guide to look at the current policies and procedures at their institution. As issues of health and safety have become of greater importance in study abroad, the safety audit has been looked at as one way of reviewing study abroad programs to focus on health and safety issues.

As there are thousands of colleges and universities in the United States and around the world, there is no one way to effectively support all students on all programs. The SAFETI Audit Checklist is provided to give faculty and administrators a set of issues with which to start. The checklist is linked to the SAFETI Internet Resource Links which provide background information about each item and samples of policies and procedures from another study abroad programs as well as useful World Wide Web Links.

To respond to health and safety issues, some institutions have published their safety audit findings on the World Wide Web.

According to NAFSA’s Guide to Education, Abroad for Advisers and Administrators, the evaluation of education abroad programs and the assessment of activities and student learning are vital, ongoing tasks for every program sponsor and for every sending institution. Evaluations from faculty, staff, and students should include the following:
  • On-site orientation programs (arrival and pre-departure)
  • Field trips and excursions
  • Extracurricular activities
  • Academic programs, internships, grading practices/standards, credit transfer, the effectiveness of instruction
  • Academic resources, facilities, library resources
  • Homestays
  • Health and safety issues
  • On-site student program evaluations

(NAFSA’s Guide to Education Abroad for Advisers and Administrators, Third Edition, p. 445.)

The housing of a student on a study abroad program can sometimes make the student's experience abroad a comfortable and safe one, or an uncomfortable and unsafe one. It is important that student safety is taken into account when choosing the location of student housing as well as the safety of the building and local transportation to the program site from the student housing facility.

Accommodations during program excursions should also be safe. Institutions should take access for students with special needs into account when providing for students housing facilities.
Country-Specific Issues

There are some policies and procedures that are consistent for all study abroad programs (course syllabi, insurance policies, etc.). However, as each country (and city) around the world is different, it is important to provide background information that brings forward the realities students will face in their particular programs. In terms of health and safety, this may include language, medical facilities, experiences of previous study abroad students, health care, transportation, discrimination, communication, crisis response, support for special needs, accessibility, etc. Program administrators should consider what information to impart and how it is to be imparted to students during the pre-departure and the on-site orientation sessions (NAFSA’s Guide to Education Abroad for Advisers and Administrators, Third Edition, p. 261 and p. 479).

A critical step for college, university, and another study abroad advisors are to check with the U.S. Department of State's International Travel Information website. From this site, program administrators will find links to Country Specific Information and Country Background Notes, which provide important country-specific information. For some countries, there may be travel warnings in effect, so administrators must be sure to check the Department of State's current Travel Warnings site. Travel warnings are issued when the Department of State decides, based on all relevant information, to recommend that Americans avoid travel to a certain country. These travel warnings will highlight the potential for student safety problems; therefore, institutions should consider not offering programs in such countries, as this may put students at greater risk and possibly create future institutional liability. It may be important to cross-reference with country-specific travel information from different sources, such as the Australian Department of Foreign Affairs and Trade, the Canadian Department of Foreign Affairs and Trade, and the U.K. Foreign Commonwealth Office.

Part of a study abroad program administrator's responsibility is to provide student participants extensive information on health and safety issues. The "Web Links" section below includes resources from the U.S. State Department and U.S. Center for Disease Control and Prevention that can be starting points for research. Other resources include:
  • Program staff, faculty, and past participants
  • Other university staff, faculty, and students with experience in the program locations
  • Another study abroad program administrators
  • Health professionals at home and abroad 

As study abroad programs can literally take place anywhere in the world, communicating with students abroad can be challenging. However, with the advent of the Internet, faculty, staff, and students are able to communicate by e-mail as well as phone and fax. Administrators must be clear about explaining a student’s access to communication, as well as the cost of communicating from abroad. To ease communication, many administrators choose to go abroad with a cellular phone, or they get one abroad.

In the event of a crisis, effective crisis management necessitates effective communication. It is helpful if students are able to have someone to communicate with 24-hours/day while abroad, just in case of a real or perceived emergency. A 24-hour contact can be the program director, someone at the home campus, or support services provided by many insurance companies for international travel assistance.

Institutions should develop policies to assist students in communicating with parents, guardians, spouses, or significant others prior to the program abroad both on a regular, personal, basis and in case of emergencies.

In addition, the Center for Global Education developed a series of online interactive communication sheets as part of its Study Abroad Student Handbook. Study abroad students can use the communication sheets to help them navigate a non-English speaking culture. These Communication Sheets include: Words to Know, Phrases to Know, and Service Icons a student can print, cut out and carry with them. There is also a helpful Methods of Communication While Abroad section of the Handbook.
Support for Participants with Disabilities

It is as important to provide support for students with disabilities who participate in study abroad as it is to provide support for them on their U.S. home campuses. Each student’s situation requires review and an assessment of a program’s ability to provide support.

According to Ganz and Eastman in NAFSA’s Guide to Education, Abroad for Advisers and Administrators, 2nd ed., advisors need “special counsel and experience to advise students with physical disabilities” (p. 188). Administrators should consider consulting professionals with expertise in this area such as Mobility International USA and the University of Minnesota’s Access Abroad. They should be familiar with the legal requirements instituted by the Americans with Disabilities Act and be able to give students a fairly accurate sense of the realities abroad. There are also cross-cultural issues related to disability to consider. According to Building Bridges: A Manual on Including People with Disabilities in International Programs by Mobility International USA, "perceptions about people with disabilities vary from country to country... Each culture has different roles and expectations for people with disabilities as well. In many places, people with disabilities are not seen as vital, important members of society...It may take extra effort and preparation for a participant with a disability to adjust to cultural perceptions in a host country" (p. 37). University of Minnesota’s Access Abroad recommends that administrators attempt to find “persons with similar disabilities in that culture to see how they address physical, informational and attitudinal barriers.”

While some administrators may be used to arranging access abroad for their physically disabled student participants, many neglects to consider those student participants with learning disabilities. Eve Leons of Landmark College wrote an article entitled “Creating a Safe Environment for Students with Learning Disabilities on Study Abroad Programs” that administrators might find helpful.

Center for Global Education Home:
SAFETI Clearinghouse:
Student Study Abroad Handbooks: Online Courses for Study Abroad:
The Center for Global Education (UCLA Graduate School of Education and Information Studies) promotes international education to foster cross-cultural awareness, cooperation, and understanding. Living and working effectively in a global society requires learning from an international perspective.

We promote this type of learning by collaborating with colleges, universities, and other organizations around the world. Visit to view a vast array of international education resources for educators, students, and parents.