Get Ready: Program Choice
1. Define Youth – If you are younger than fifteen – you might want to consider playing it safe. Go with people you trust with your life and future. Could your family take you?
The United Nations International Youth defines ‘youth’ as 15-24 years of age.
2. Skills: Chaperones, leaders, guides, teachers, etc. on abroad programs should be first responder certified through an accredited course, such as the American Red Cross, or Wilderness first responder certification by EverGreen. (ClearCause is working on a SafeTy SOS training app for youth and students. There should be an “App for that” – thanks for donating. You may want to check out the Center for Global Education’s Study Abroad Handbook.)
“You really do have the power to move mountains but you have to be careful who sells you the equipment.” Jocelyn Brady, Associated Content, Yahoo 2007
3. Program Background Checks: Research your program in your state and the state the program operates out of before you sign up. Ask your state’s attorney general for complaints against the program. Check the BBB rating for the program and the parent company operating the program.
Universities are required to conform with the Clery Act, Student Right to Know Security Policy and Crime Statistics on Campus. Ask for it.
Other programs do not have to disclose their safety record or statistics with you. The noteworthy ones do, especially in secondary education. If your program won’t report the number of accidents, deaths, rapes, illnesses – in entirety – caution!
Be aware that no one authenticates the data. Programs can cleanse the reports if they want. Google the name of your program with “lawsuit, injured, death, died, rape, fire, fraud…’ You get the idea.
“When we looked at 7,000 applicants, we didn’t think it would uncover 700 people that have criminal histories.” ~Jim Samuels, Senior Official, The National Center for Missing & Exploited Children 2011
4. Qualifications & Background Checks: Ask the individuals chaperoning and instructing about their safety record, first responder (CPR, Wilderness, Red Cross et al) training and qualifications to teach course topics you’ve signed up for. It’s good to have it in writing. Homestays should also be fingerprint background checked. Require background checks of every chaperone and a history of their safety and driving record. Sad to say, but trafficking is very much a reality in America and abroad. Know if you are being handed off to third parties abroad in advance. The FBI Identification Record/Criminal Background Check is available for Americans. The International Criminal Police Organization- INTERPOL is also an option. Names can change – fingerprints can’t.
“It is very common for us to desire most what we are least qualified to attain.” ~Samuel Johnson
5. 3rd Parties: Many programs outsource to third party companies abroad. Ask if this is the case for your program. Ask what your program does to investigate the safety reputation and practices of the third party company contracted.
“It is better to be alone than in bad company.” ~George Washington
6. Ratio: How many students to each chaperone or instructor are ideal? Study and exchange programs integrate students into schools and colleges. Voluntourism and travel abroad programs are different. Low student ratios help the chaperone instructor enforce good behavior and stay on schedule. Small groups have closer intimate interactions with locals. It also provides for downtime to give the chaperone instructor a chance to take a break and regroup. Combining tour groups in a summer camp like experience will diminish your opportunity to experience the culture more intimately.
“One instructor for every four students is solid, one for every six is risky, and one for every 10 is dangerous and irresponsible.” ~Matador Network
7. Bad Behavior: Does your program have a code of conduct? If chaperones or teachers are making poor choices do you know what to do? There are poor leaders out there who just want a trip abroad and don’t really want to be bothered with issues from children or students.
If students or kids in a group are doing illegal drugs, becoming intoxicated, bullying, hazing or worse, what is the program’s policy? Do they ground them and let them stay to work out a second chance? Do they notify authorities? Do they expel them and send them back? Do you know what to do if the code of conduct is not enforced?
What might be considered sexual abuse in America may not be considered the same in a foreign country. Inappropriate sexual advances should be dealt with promptly. Don’t ever leave foreign soil without your humanitarian right to police protection, healthcare, legal counsel, embassy consular and access to your emergency contact. Once feet leave foreign soil there is no jurisdiction. The FBI may be a resource in countries where police protection and healthcare are sketchy.
“Programs have blamed the victim, demonized the whistleblower, and protected the perpetrator.” ~Danielle Grijalva, Committee for Safety of Foreign Exchange Student
8. Credits – The FBI advises students to authenticate transferable credit before they enroll in study abroad programs. You may get a pitch for course credits. You can spend a semester or weeks abroad, study, achieve and walk away poorer without progress because your earned credits are not accepted at your high school or college.
If your travel or volunteer abroad program is pitching your trip as a placeholder to get into the college of your choice – phone the university and ask if they care.
Study A-fraud – “…going abroad could be a four month bender with a few field trips on the side.” ~The Yale Herald, April 21, 2011
9. Safety Reputation – The Jeanne Clery Disclosure of Campus Security Policy and Campus Crime Statistics Act mandates that secondary education publicly report crime statistics on campuses. You might check out your university’s reputation at home before you trust them with your future, health and life abroad. College’s and Universities do not have to report crime statistics of campuses they do not own or control, although the best programs will provide their safety statistics to keep you informed and protected abroad.
“College life can be dangerous. It shouldn’t be, but it can be.” ~ Security on Campus 2011
10. Safety Nets - ClearCause advisor Dr. Stephen Ferst recommends, “Programs that employ risk managers, provide multiple layers of insurance coverage and invest in health and safety training for on-site staff.” You might want to check out the quality of the safety training – Internet CPR or skills based requirements? You can read a book about how to fly a plane, that doesn’t make you a pilot.
“Every society, all government, and every kind of civil compact therefore, is or ought to be, calculated for the general good and safety of the community.” ~George Mason, American Patriot