USF evaluates safety of study abroad trips
As students begin to enroll in spring and summer education abroad programs, USF program coordinators are re-evaluating safety measures, including the number of supervisors and information sessions.
Starting this spring, students who enroll in study abroad programs can expect to see changes to the program’s preparation procedures and safety protocol, said Patricia Smith, safety and risk coordinator for the Education Abroad and International Affairs Office.
In the past, one USF faculty member would travel with a group of 12 to 80 students and was met by program partners upon arriving in the foreign country, Smith said.
“In 2010, we are trying to enforce one USF faculty member for every 12 students,” Smith said.
The heightened safety measures were triggered by the death of USF graduate Aly Lakdawala in May, Smith said. Lakdawala went missing after he was caught in a rip tide off the coast of Costa Rica.
Lakdawala was on a study abroad trip with 14 other students and two USF faculty members. After two days of search efforts by the American Embassy and local authorities, his body was found in the Pacific Ocean, one nautical mile from the shore.
“We’re really intensifying our pre-departure orientations this time around, and that has been a result of the conversations about this incident,” Smith said.
She said that since the accident, safety, security and the overall well-being of the students has become a major priority.
“It really made us pay close attention to the minute details and every little thing that could go wrong,” Smith said.
Other changes include a biweekly update of the safety section on the Education Abroad Web site, where safety tips are added.
In the past, those on study abroad trips had to attend weekly information meetings before traveling. Trip coordinators discussed preparation for the trip and what students should expect.
If a participant missed a session, it was not held against them, Smith said. However, attendance at the sessions will be mandatory and strictly enforced this year.
Students can expect four or five new mandatory sessions focusing on how to prepare, behave and take care of themselves while abroad.
Smith and Rene Sanchez, a program coordinator for Education Abroad, said other specific changes to safety policies and procedures are “still in the approval process.”
The University has partnerships with 25 different countries for study abroad trips. The number increases as faculty and student interest grows, Sanchez said.
Students have the opportunity to enroll in exchange, semester, dual degree, summer, short-term, volunteer and service learning Education Abroad programs. USF sends 90-100 students each semester to foreign countries and over 700 students during the summer, Sanchez said.
Sanchez said studying abroad is beneficial to students who want to stand out when applying for graduate school, internships and jobs. She said it’s safe for students as long as they take the necessary precautions and attend the orientation sessions.
“There is no better way to expand your boundaries, to learn about yourself and learn about the world around you than to study abroad,” Smith said.
The Education Abroad and International Affairs office is hosting an informational fair for students interested in studying abroad today from 10:30 a.m. to 3:30 p.m. in the Martin Luther King Plaza.
For more information about study abroad programs, visit global.usf.edu/educationabroad.