Global Programs workshop prepares faculty for students' travel abroad

February 13, 2012

UNIVERSITY PARK, Pa. – When traveling abroad, experienced globetrotters know to expect a few glitches along the way. When a professor is traveling abroad with a handful of students or more, the Penn State Office of Global Programs knows all too well anything can happen. Last year alone -- with Egypt’s political turmoil and natural disasters in Japan, New Zealand and Bangkok -- Global Programs' plans to ensure the safety of University students abroad were tested in a variety of ways. Several times a semester, Global Programs staff hold workshops to teach faculty what they’ve learned from these experiences. They also hold a a workshop focusing on issues traditionally handled by the Office of Student Conduct, held this year on Friday, Feb. 17.

Covering topics from crimes to personal injury and medical treatment, the Emergency Preparedness & Response for Faculty-Led Programs workshop is offered about 10 times a year as a tool to help prevent emergency situations abroad. It also educates faculty on what to do in case there is an emergency and to familiarize them with Penn State protocol and services.

“I think it’s sobering for them, knowing anything can happen while they are traveling, but overall they’re happy to have the workshop and thank us for telling them what to do during an emergency,” said Janet Murphy, director of operations at Global Programs. “They also value knowing that while they are traveling abroad with students, we are here to support them.”

One of the most important components Global Programs requires is that every student traveling abroad has insurance coverage from HTH Worldwide, a traveler’s insurance company Penn State contracts to cover its students and staff while overseas. Faculty members leading the excursion abroad must submit a group insurance form with HTH. Each student traveling then receives an email with a secure link to the website where they log in and complete their enrollment with HTH, including payment on a credit card. The cost is $0.77 a day. The service includes medical coverage and evacuation assistance during emergency scenarios such as political unrest and natural disasters. Barbara Rowe, Penn State executive director of education abroad, recalled a 2009 situation when a student nearly drowned in China. HTH Worldwide guaranteed payment to the hospital, monitored the student's situation and decided he needed to be transferred to a better hospital. The company also paid for his transport and sent a translator to help his parents speak with Chinese health care workers.

During the workshop, which is a requirement of faculty leaders of education abroad programs every two years, participants also are reminded how to locate safety and security updates on the regions they are visiting. Global Programs staff also monitor daily country-by-country security and health reports to look out for possible issues. One of Penn State’s resources is World Watch, an intelligence database that provides country background information and daily updates regarding health, safety and security. The site is available to students, faculty and staff.

Kristi Wormhoudt, associate director of education abroad, stresses that faculty should also be familiar with Penn State's Code of Conduct, and students should know they are held to the Code of Conduct even when traveling abroad.

Unfortunately, some situations extend beyond Global Programs' ability to assist. In Japan, once individuals are arrested, they are on lockdown with no contact with the outside world for two weeks. One student found this out the hard way after drinking too much and displaying unruly behavior. Being respectful of other cultures and aware of one’s demeanor are crucial while traveling abroad. Faculty who supervise student travel need to remind students of this often, Wormhoudt said. Once a year, Wormhoudt and a staff member from the Office of Student Conduct hold a workshop focusing on issues traditionally handled by the Office of Student Conduct. The workshop informs faculty members that they need to enforce University policies and protocol with their students who are studying in foreign places. The Office of Student Conduct, she said, assists with handling Code of Conduct violations overseas during the program and can follow up upon a student's return.

Although last year was the toughest year the Office of Global Programs staff experienced in ensuring student safety, it also was a year that taught them a lot more that they can share with faculty leaders of programs and it reassured them that mandating the HTH travel insurance was a smart decision.

For more information on the workshops offered by Global Programs, please visit online.


Last Updated February 21, 2012