Encourage participants to complete the online OSA General Pre-departure Orientation, which usually opens in November for Winter Break and Spring semester programs, in February for Spring Break Programs and in April for Summer, Academic Year and Fall programs.
In addition, plan, schedule and lead an orientation addressing the key program-specific details your students need to know. For example, it should include information (to the best of your ability) on safety; health; legal, environmental, political, cultural and religious conditions in the host country; potential health and safety risks; and appropriate emergency response measures. (Major causes of death abroad include injuries, primarily auto-related, and drowning.)
Make every attempt to communicate all necessary information to students prior to the completion of the previous semester. If you plan to email students between or after semesters, alert them so they can regularly check their MSU email accounts. If you create a Web site for your program that is not protected by a password, please refrain from providing identifying details regarding housing, such as street addresses.
Also, whenever possible, arrange for a get-acquainted party for participating students prior to departure. Please note that the expenses associated with such a party need to be included in the budget.
Below are specific subjects to address in your pre-departure orientation: (See the section about on-site orientations for tips on what to address once the group is abroad).
Contact Information/Program Itinerary
Inform students that you will be carrying a cell phone during the program and will inform them of the phone number at the on-site orientation. Explain to students that this is meant to be used in case of an emergency. Consider setting limits on how early or late students can phone or text you for non-emergency purposes.
Also, provide students with a complete program itinerary during orientation to help prepare them for the on-site academics. This itinerary should include the full name, address, phone numbers and URLs (if applicable) for any overnight accommodations. Review examples.
You must refrain from providing advice about medications, vaccines, or over-the-counter medications. This advice is certainly well-intentioned and given out of concern for students; however, travel recommendations change frequently. The best recommendations are connected to a student's own personal health history and it is important all program leaders avoid giving medical advice to their students. Rather, this advice needs to be given by qualified health personnel, or from national or international reputable health agencies such as the CDC, WHO, etc. In addition to frequent changes and the need to tailor personal medical advice, there is significant liability both to the leaders and to the University that can result from giving incorrect medical advice. Practicing medicine without a license is not a good idea. There are links on the MSU Travel Clinic's Web site to reliable sources for travel recommendations, including the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention Travelers' Health site. For your own sake, and for the sake of the University, please rely on these sources for health and medical recommendations for students.
In general, students traveling to Australia, Canada, Europe, Ireland, Japan, Mexico, New Zealand, Scandinavia and the United Kingdom do not need to make an appointment with the Travel Clinic. However, such students should be advised to see their personal physician if 1) they are not up-to-date on their routine immunizations; 2) they are on prescription medications (to ensure they will have an adequate supply for the duration of the program); or 3) they have a pre-existing medical condition that may require extra attention in the new environment.
Students traveling to higher health-risk locations, such as Africa, Central/South America, Russia, Ukraine, and Southeast Asia, are likely to need a clinic visit. Help students prepare for this meeting by following the guidelines for preparing students for the Travel Clinic.
Also, the MSU Travel Clinic can provide half-hour health presentations for program-specific orientation located in countries posing higher health risks. Alternatively, program leaders have used the Ingham County Health Department, which gives group consultation and country-specific presentations, followed by one-on-one consultation and administering of immunizations.
U.S. Department of State Resources
OSA's online orientation devotes a significant amount of time to health and safety. It also refers students to a special U.S. Department of State Travel Abroad page for students.
As a program leader, it is your responsibility to read the relevant Country Information Sheet(s) for each country on your program's itinerary. Using this and other information provided by your on-site contacts, advise students to avoid travel to or through any location where tensions exist and travel may be dangerous. Experience has shown that students may benefit from a security briefing offered at U.S. Embassies abroad. Such briefings help you to reinforce your message to students that travel to dangerous areas should be avoided. OSA also asks students to read a Country Information Sheet for every country/countries your program will visit.
You must also periodically review the U.S. State Department web site for updates between the time of orientation and the group's departure. Once your program has started, OSA will notify you of any significant updates while you are abroad.
If you believe there are regions of the country/countries to be visited that present undue risks, contact the Office of Study Abroad. This includes program-sponsored accommodations, events, excursions, and other activities. Students enrolled in programs located in countries with U.S. Department of State Travel Warnings (and operating under a waiver of the OSA Travel Warning Policy) will be asked to sign an additional release as well as adhere to additional security measures.
Travel Registry with the U.S. Department of State
OSA will register you and your students with the U.S. Department of State's Smart Traveler Enrollment Program (STEP) prior to departure (and for all countries on your program itinerary). Students and leaders should register themselves with STEP for personal travel before or after the program or for countries not on the program itinerary.
Seasoned study abroad program leaders report their biggest challenges abroad are not emergency situations, public transportation strikes, fluctuating currencies or language barriers, but student behavior problems. Those who have successfully traveled with students for many years advocate discussing appropriate student conduct and behavior-related problems in the pre-departure orientation as well as upon arrival. See the section on Community Building for more information.
Other Information Resources
MSU globalEDGETM is an excellent resource for student reference and orientation preparation.
Additionally, if your program includes foreign language preparation and instruction, you are encouraged to make maximum use of the Language Learning Center (LLC). The LLC provides media services, computing and audio-visual facilities, and consulting in the use of technology to support language teaching and learning, and research.
For comparative purposes, you may also wish to review safety and security advice from other countries foreign affairs departments such as: