Student Health And Safety
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The safety, security, and well-being of study abroad program participants are of utmost importance to ISA. While neither ISA nor ISA's host institutions can guarantee a risk-free environment, all efforts are made to best ensure the safety and well-being of our participants throughout the duration of the program. ISA follows prudent measures to verify that all transportation, lodging, medical facilities, communications, and emergency procedures are in place to reduce risk for study abroad participants.
While ISA is firmly committed to the provision of this support, we also emphasize to students, faculty, and parents that all program participants must take responsibility for their own safety and security. This is highlighted during pre-departure preparations, on-site orientation, and throughout students' stay in the host country. Points of emphasis during the orientation include students using common sense, being aware of their surroundings, and not putting themselves in compromising positions with the abuse of drugs or alcohol. The same precautions anyone would follow in their home communities in the U.S. should be maintained when traveling abroad.
The information below describes ISA infrastructure, procedures and guidelines that will help ISA reduce students' risk while abroad.
ISA Staff Support
ISA employs local personnel at the majority of our international sites. Most were raised in the program city and all, without exception, are highly knowledgeable about the available facilities, customs, support services, and local people. A staff to student ratio of 1:20 is maintained with few exceptions on all ISA programs, and staff members are available 24-7 to respond to the needs of the program participants. In addition, each main ISA Resident Director has a cell phone, at least two land-lines (home and office), and email services at their disposal.
Stateside ISA support is available to students, faculty and parents 24-7 as well. The U.S.-based ISA offices may be contacted during regular business hours (Monday-Thursday, 7:00 AM . 7:00 PM CST / Friday, 7:00 AM . 6:00 PM). During the weekend and evening hours, ISA's telephone answering machine provides the number for the U.S.-based ISA emergency contact that is on duty 24 hours per day, 7 days per week. The ISA Director of Health, Safety and Security and ISA staff work together to answer emergency calls and respond appropriately by following the ISA emergency guidelines.
ISA on-site staff provides support to students in the event that a program participant must go to the hospital or to a doctor. The on-site staff will assist in scheduling the appointment, accompanying the student on the visit, and aid the student in any other way necessary. Additionally, they will ensure that the student is aware of all procedures required to file a claim for reimbursement for medical services.
We begin sharing safety information with students prior to their departure, as soon as they are accepted to the program. Students will receive even more information through their online orientation following the final forms and payment deadline for their specific program. ISA's on-line pre-departure orientation covers a variety of valuable information and provides recommended safety precautions, links to a number of health and safety resources, and important ISA information for emergency situations.
Prior to their departure from the U.S., students are provided with the names and photographs of the ISA on-site staff or drivers who will be meeting students at the airport (if applicable). Students are given detailed information regarding their airport pick-up and transportation (if applicable) and are advised to only accept rides from the specified individuals. Upon the students' arrival to the program site, the on-site ISA resident staff facilitates an orientation meeting to provide useful information on acclimation to the host culture as well as emergency situation procedures. The staff provides all students with instructions regarding the protocol to follow in the event of a political crisis, terrorist event, natural disaster, or other emergency. Each program participant is provided with a Contact Card upon arrival in-country that contains the names and cell phone numbers of all on-site ISA staff members, the appropriate U.S. embassy phone number and address, the recommended local medical facilities, and the local equivalent to the U.S. emergency "911" number. Students are strongly encouraged to carry the contact card with them at all times while on the program. During orientation, students also receive names, addresses, and phone numbers of medical facilities at the program site. Medical facilities are recommended based on the quality of their services, proximity to the areas in which students live and/or to the university or classroom facility, and their experience providing services to American students.
A Blanket Accident and Sickness Policy is included in the program price and covers the participant for the official on-site period of program. This is not an optional benefit; every ISA participant will be covered by this plan. A detailed description of the coverage may be found here.
We recommend that all program participants maintain comprehensive health insurance while abroad. This is particularly important for pre-existing conditions, but is also beneficial if the participant has an injury or illness while abroad and requires further treatment upon return home.
While there are no risk-free residential areas in any American or foreign city, ISA's student housing accommodations are located in areas deemed to be of lower risk. The same attentiveness is given to the arrangement of lodging during ISA-organized excursions. Hotels are selected based on the security of the area in which the accommodations are located, and also on their proximity to the sites to be visited. Furthermore, all students are provided with a description of their host family or housing arrangements and a contact telephone number prior to their departure in the event that a family member in the U.S. needs to contact the student abroad.
ISA is consistent in utilizing the safest and most reliable transportation (bus and plane) for ISA-sponsored travel. The companies are selected based on their prior safety records, insurance coverage, their administrative responsiveness, and the mutual trust that has developed as a result of the well-established relationships with ISA. In the selection of a transportation company, ISA also takes into account the recommendations from trustworthy external advisors.
Monitoring Worldwide Security Levels
Monitoring Worldwide Security Levels
ISA stateside and on-site staff closely monitor U.S. State Department (DOS) Travel Advisories and Country Specific Risk Indicators at all times. ISA also regularly reviews reports by the Overseas Security Advisory Council (OSAC), the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) and World Health Organization (WHO), as well as information provided by trusted security analysis services, local governments and media outlets.
U.S. State Department Travel Advisories
In January of 2018, the DOS replaced existing guidance and implemented a new system for U.S citizens to understand important travel security information. Under this new, 4-tiered, color-coded system, the DOS has issued an advisory level for every country in the world. The advisory levels are as follows:
Level 1 - Exercise Normal Precautions (blue)
Level 2 - Exercise Increased Caution (yellow)
Level 3 - Reconsider Travel (orange)
Level 4 - Do Not Travel (red)
In addition to its advisory level, the DOS provides specific information on any risk indicators affecting each country and specific advice on what travelers can do before they leave and once abroad to provide for their own safety. ISA encourages all students and their families to review the DOS country specific information for their program country and any countries where students intend to travel independently while abroad. This information can be found on the Travel.State.Gov website. Additionally, ISA advises students to thoroughly read the Health and Safety sections of the Online Orientation in their ISA Student Portal in preparation for their program.
All students are required to enroll in the DOS' Smart Traveler Enrollment Program (STEP) and encouraged to register all independent travel with STEP in order to stay aware of important information released by the local embassy or consulate office and to help the embassy contact students in case of emergency.
Helpful resources for students include:
Department of State, Students Abroad:
Department of State, Smart Traveler Enrollment Program:
Department of State, World Map
U.S. State Department Alert Issued for an ISA Program Country
If the U.S. State Department issues an official Alert for an ISA location, and the message includes an official State Department recommendation that all U.S. citizens evacuate the country, ISA's default action will be to cancel the program and proceed with evacuation procedures. If the program has not yet started, ISA's default course of action will be to suspend the program. Exceptions can be made if the language in the Alert gives ISA management clear reason to believe that the warning is the result of dangers that exist in areas well outside of the city/cities where our program is operating. If we do suspend the program, we will work with students to transfer them to another ISA program. During this process, we will ask students to obtain written approval from their home institution.
ISA Region-Specific Travel Restrictions
In order to maintain the highest level of safety for all ISA participating students, ISA has restricted independent travel to certain areas of the world.
ISA participants are not allowed to independently enter or travel within the following regions during the participation of an ISA program:
- Burkina Faso
- Central African Republic
- Côte d'Ivoire
- El Salvador
- Israel and the West Bank
- North Korea
- Sierra Leone
- South Sudan
- The Gambia
- The Gaza Strip
There are a wide variety of criteria that ISA uses to determine whether or not to restrict travel to a specific region. The restriction may be based on an ongoing situation which poses an immediate threat to ISA participants, significant regions of the country that are dangerous for ISA participants, the lack of services for US citizens, or other factors.
This list of restricted locations is continually updated based on ISA direct observation, US Department of State recommendation, Overseas Security Advisory Council, WHO reports, and expert consultation.
ISA reserves the right to add countries/regions to this list, without notice. Please contact ISA for more information on specific travel restrictions if you are planning to visit any location outside of your host country while participating on an ISA program.
All ISA students are made aware of the regions that have travel restrictions when they sign our Code of Conduct which states that they will abide by all travel restrictions established by ISA. It is the ISA student's responsibility to be aware of the most current travel restrictions, which can always be accessed on ISA's website here. Violation of any ISA travel restriction is cause for automatic dismissal from the ISA program, and participants will be required to return to the U.S. immediately.
*Only students enrolled in an ISA Cuba program are permitted to travel to Cuba. All other ISA students are restricted from traveling to Cuba due to US regulations on tourist travel to the country.
** For travel within or to these countries/regions, before finalizing any travel plans, students should submit their travel itinerary to their Resident Director at least two weeks in advance of their intended travel dates. Students may be asked to provide additional information. ISA reserves the right to prohibit travel within or to these countries/regions.
Potential Evacuation of Students from Program Site
Any decision to evacuate participants from an ISA program site will be based largely on the advisories and warnings of the U.S. State Department, but also on information gathered from OSAC, news media, local government, law enforcement agencies, and trusted friends/colleagues residing at the affected site. In the event the U.S. State Department updates a Travel Advisory for an ISA location after the program has started, and if the warning also includes an official State Department recommendation that all U.S. citizens evacuate the country, ISA's default action will be to evacuate students. Evacuation efforts will include the following:
- ISA resident staff at affected ISA program location will work to help students make necessary changes to their return flights back to the United States. Students will be responsible for any fees charged by airline to change flights. ISA is prepared to temporarily cover these fees for participants who cannot pay. A detailed accounting of the expenses incurred by ISA on behalf of students will be maintained, and participants will be invoiced for the costs accordingly.
- ISA office(s), computers and phones at the locations will be made available for students to contact airlines and/or interested parties. The ISA on-site office(s) would serve as the main communications center(s), although ISA student housing in most sites are also equipped with phones, and some with internet.
- Another key resource is ACE, ISA's insurance provider. ACE can provide information and coordination of various resources as necessary in the event an emergency evacuation is deemed necessary by ISA Management.
- ISA's host university(s) will be ready to offer assistance. All of our host universities are prepared to provide various resources in the event of a political unrest, and these resources would include meeting spaces, communications infrastructure, and temporary safe havens, should the entire ISA group need to remain in one place at one time to coordinate the evacuation response.
- Per the U.S. State Department web page on section regarding evacuation (www.state.gov): "Sometimes commercial transportation entering and leaving a country is disrupted during a political upheaval or natural disaster. If this happens, and if it appears unsafe for Americans to remain, the embassy and consulates will work with the task force in Washington to charter special airflights and ground transportation to help Americans to depart. The U.S. Government cannot order Americans to leave a foreign country. It can only advise and try to assist those who wish to leave. By law, an American receiving evacuation assistance is required to sign a promissory note, Emergency Loan Application and Evacuation Document agreeing to reimburse the government for some of the evacuation costs." ISA will help students with the arrangements to utilize this assistance.
- ISA will arrange for ISA participants' ground transportation to airport(s). Evacuation by ground transport to neighboring cities or countries may also be necessary due to airport closures, overbooking of flights, or loss of access to nearby airports. ISA will arrange and cover the expenses for this transportation. ISA's agreements with providers of ground transportation will facilitate these efforts.
- ISA on-site staff in nearby ISA program locations can assist students who may need to be rerouted through those locations.
- If evacuation is delayed due to circumstances beyond the students' control, ISA will arrange for students' extended housing in the host country. Students will be responsible for covering the costs of the extended housing and related incidental expenses. For students who are temporarily unable to pay, ISA is prepared to offer temporary financial assistance. Detailed accounting of the expenses incurred by ISA will be maintained and the participants will be invoiced for the costs.
- ISA will use its resources and communications network to try to keep interested parties (e.g. home institution, parents, embassy etc.) informed, as necessary and appropriate, of the students' whereabouts, status, and wellbeing.
- ISA will work with students' host institution(s) to salvage the work they've completed during their time in the host country. ISA cannot guarantee that these efforts will be successful. ISA will explore various possibilities, including the completion of coursework at remote locations. The possibility of completing the cancelled program at an alternative ISA program location will also be explored.
- If ISA cannot provide students with a reasonable means of completing the academic coursework for the affected program, ISA will make attempts to recover and refund tuition plus any other recoverable program costs.