Rules of thumb, tips, advice and ideas for providers and administrators involved in study abroad

Risk Management Resources

Risk is inherent in travel and study abroad. While risk cannot be eliminated, it can be appropriately managed. This page is a resource for program providers, administrators, professors and others traveling with or leading groups abroad.

The materials and suggestions below are offered to the international study abroad community for use under a Creative Commons License.  That means you are free to use and modify the materials as appropriate. Where possible please note the origin, but we recognize that a lot of good ideas can — and should — spread naturally.  So use these ideas freely, and share them freely.

The focus here is on practical advice, not theory.  We are also assuming that you already have your institutional risk management act together, with appropriate oversight, waivers, legal issues, etc., already figured out and implemented.

Integrating On-and Off Campus Mental Health Support for Students Studying Abroad

Mental health issues are becoming one of the largest issues that study abroad programs are facing with their students, with increasing rates of anxiety, depressions, and loss of normal functioning. To deal with this well requires programs to honestly address what capacity they have to handle this, as well how and when to support students.

Below are our presentation slides from the 2019 Forum on Education Abroad Conference, as well as links to articles and other resources for learning more about the issues.

Forum 2019 – Student Mental Health  (PDF)

Articles related to student mental health issues:

iGen: Why Today’s Super-Connected Kids Are Growing Up Less Rebellious, More Tolerant, Less Happy

Have Smartphones Destroyed a Generation?

An expert on kids and smart phones explains why we should all be worried

Colleges Expand Their Reach to Address Mental Health Issues

Age, Period, and Cohort Trends in Mood Disorder Indicators and Suicide-Related Outcomes in a Nationally Representative Dataset, 2005–2017

As Students Struggle With Stress and Depression, Colleges Act as Counselors

Schools Grapple With Student Depression as Data Show Problem Worsening

The Mental Health Crisis Among America’s Youth is Real—and Staggering

Practical Risk Management and Mental Health

Here is the presentation on Mental Health and Risk Management from the Forum on Education Abroad, 2018 (PDF format)

Practical Risk Management Forum 2018

Key issues in Practical Risk Management


  • You already have institutional risk management taken care of — you’re on the same page organizationally
  • You have a good program release with appropriate disclosure of actual risks — your legal side is covered
  • You have good communication / oversight of institutional and partner programs

What is risk?

  • “Risk” the the loosing something of value
  • Risk = Probability x Severity x Time
  • Hazards are SUBJECTIVE (self) or OBJECTIVE (environment)
  • Funnel of decision making: Previous decisions will either OPEN up options or NARROW options — work to keep your options open and be careful of getting pushed down the funnel without realize it.
  • Risk can be MANAGED but not ELIMINATED
  • Watch out for non-event feedback (just because you got away with it doesn’t mean it is safe!)

What works in the real world

  • Study abroad is changing from the “grand tour” origins to more inquiry based learning. This changes the landscape of risk.
  • There are LOTS of services and options out there — not all of them work and some of them are a waste of time and money. Be sure to understand what an emergency response service can and cannot do in a real emergency!
  • “Retro vetting” — checking on everything you do as you do it and recording it — is a powerful way to record that you are checking on transportation, etc. as you go along. KEEP RECORDS AND WRITE IT DOWN.  If you’ve used a bus service for 10 years safely, you need to show you’ve done that and have records or entries in a log to prove it. Keep them simple!

Mental health

This is becoming a bigger issue and needs to be thoughtfully work through in terms of what you can realistically do as an organization.  Think through the following:

  • Screening
  • Policies/Essential Eligibility Criteria\On Program
  • On Program – Triage
  • Serious: Evacuate
  • Manageable with assistance
  • Home & Local Resources
  • Staff training
  • Emotional First Aid and CBT

Institutional needs

  • Evaluate risk realistically — what ACTUALLY happens?
  • Create specific checklists and templates for responses and conversations — take good notes
  • Assign roles in advance of an emergency
  • Be sure other departments are on-board in advance (adminstration, campus police, etc.)
  • Document what is important and require it
  • Review and update forms/applications/etc. regularly
  • Track what you are doing and refer to it
  • Don’t collect information you don’t need
  • Make sure access is controlled — you have access when you need it, but it is still protected

Emergency response

  • Have a written plan
  • Practice it
  • Revise it
  • Document it
  • Make sure all the people involved understand it and can implement it

Program/field practices

  • Good communication and trust with sending institutions
  • Link / coordinate paperwork and emergency response
  • Appropriate training for staff (TMFR / technical skills, etc.)
  • Screen participants once the arrive (intake interview)
  • Document appropriately
  • Set clear and consistent (and enforceable) policies
  • Written protocols for all activities AND briefings
  • Local knowledge is critical but can be limited or incorrect
  • Work with people with domain knowledge
  • Set up training and assessment to mitigate risk
  • Don’t get sucked into worse-case scenarios
  • Keep records to identify actual issues

Program Evaluation

  • Acknowledge inherent positive student bias to a program but take into account individual bias based on effort
  • Work with trusted local experts with solid bi-cultural skills
  • What community impact assessment / awareness is there?
  • How transparent is the organization/provider/leader?
  • What does the Consulate/NGOs/other organizations know?
  • How well-connected / fluent / aware?

First Aid/Medical

  • Train to an appropriate level
  • Don’t carry what you aren’t trained to use
  • Have a trusted medical advisor on call
  • Have written protocols that everyone knows
  • Recon/advance plans for emergencies

Gear (what really works)

  • Look to the outdoor industry and expeditions into remote areas
  • Delorme InReach Satellite communicators pair with your smart phone and can send/receive messages anywhere in the world — and there is less ambiguity than with voice communication
  • Equip students with phone if you can, but make sure the SIM cards work in the country you are in!
  • Apps (WhatsApp, Skype, etc.) allow communication over WiFi — but you have to install them first.  Get that sorted before you leave.
  • Plan on all your gear breaking and what you’ll do if the cell phone networks go down, you loose power, etc. Natural disasters or terrorist attacks will tend to knock out communications first — so prepare for that.


Here are some resources you can download or read.  The focus is on tips and practical ideas, not theory.

Handout on using scenarios

Summary handout on how to talk about risk and create effective scenarios for developing judgement and decision making.

Scenario Training Summary (PDF)

Course logs

Here is a consolidated PDF of daily record sheets, incident reports and other paperwork that should be a “Course Log” for a short or long term study abroad course.

course_logs_reports (PDF)

The Gift of Fear

A great reading and handout to be used and adapted for students for use when talking about potential assaults/robbery/etc.

The 7 Things Predators Do to Turn People Into Prey

Communication Tracking Form

This form can be modified and used by study abroad offices and programs to make sure that all communication is recorded and followed up on.

conversation form cip

Health and Safety Brochure

Here is an example form used by Kalamazoo College that can form a template for the sorts of information that can be written down and clearly communicated to students, parents and other stakeholders.


Application Deadlines

Semester Application Deadlines: Fall – March 15 / Spring – October 15

Summer Application Deadline: April 1

After the deadline we will accept students on a space available basis, so contact us at [email protected]

  • × Thanks for getting in touch!

Your privacy is important to us. Read our privacy policy.