The Forum Focus - February 2018

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February 2018 | Volume 4 | Issue 3


Ten Years Since: Ethical Imperatives and the Field of Education Abroad Andrea Custodi, CET Academic Programs


t has been 10 years since the summer of subpoenas that jolted the field and brought us together around a large table in Carlisle, Pennsylvania to draft the first Code of Ethics for Education Abroad. As we arrive at the milestone of a decade passed, where does the field stand with regard to critical ethical issues that drive, inform, and sometimes bedevil our work? Do we grapple with the same things that we did 10 years ago? Are new questions, inconceivable a decade ago, now staring us in the face and demanding a response? Yes. And more. On several levels. As I surveyed close colleagues in preparation for this piece, it became clear that we as a field still struggle with sometimes competing priorCode of Ethics for Education Abroad, 2008 ities on the institutional and policy level. We are seeking to increase access to study abroad, for example, while at the same time wanting to ensure that students are qualified and well-prepared to go. We want to make study abroad affordable and inclusive, but must maintain certain baselines and benchmarks of quality in the programs we approve and run. We still struggle at times to determine how scholarships and other funding strategies can be deployed equitably and effectively. And, ten years later, we remain attuned to the importance of ensuring that partnerships between academic institutions and program providers maintain a level playing field, stay focused on students’ best interests, and avoid any appearance—or reality— of questionable business practices. These sorts of ethical questions— addressed at some length in the Code—continue to merit our ongoing attention and active debate. We also continue to focus on the ethical imperatives of our work with students and program operations onsite, overseas. Are we as educators offering our students the skillful framing, prompts to critical reflection, and nuanced understanding that foster their development as thinkers, future leaders and policymakers, and actors in a complex and ever-changing world? Do we offer our students training in how to move through different cultural contexts with an eye both to what we may feel is right—ideals of ∙2∙

human rights and gender equity, for example—and to the reality of difference? Do we strike the right balance between affirming the identity issues that our students care deeply about and leveraging the foreign context to interrogate and challenge them? What about the balance between sensitivity to and accommodation of emotionally fragile students and the opportunity to use education abroad as a springboard to cultivating grit and resilience? Are we doing right by our on-site staff and partners—paying fair wages, offering appropriate benefits, cultivating reciprocity, and ensuring professional relationships free of harassment, bias, or exploitation? These, too, are both established and emerging areas for attention and dialogue within our field and within our respective organizations. The first set of institutional, policy-oriented questions faces inward, I would suggest. They have to do with us thinking about our field and our ethical practices as professionals. The second set of questions turns our gaze outwards, to the actual work of education abroad—the learning of our students on-site, and our relationships with those who host them. But for the purposes of this article, and the upcoming Critical Dialogue on Ethics at our annual meeting, I wanted to pull our gaze still further upwards. What is this really all about? What defines our work as a field? If we are to have a shared ethical compass, do we not first need to agree on what drives and binds us? Is this even possible in a field that is so diversified, with countless education abroad programs driven by differing missions and goals? I turned to the Forum Compass to see if it offered an answer. Question Four—does it foster international understanding?—is the one that addresses the end goal. At the time we wrote it, I suppose we thought that could sum up the ethical imperative around which we as a field could rally, but now I’m not so sure it is reflective of the great diversity within our field, and the many possible worthy goals that define the many different kinds of programs that compose it. International understanding may be a laudable side-effect, but the aim of a study abroad program may well be focused around content delivery in a given academic area, or acquisition of particular skills, or defined student development objectives. ∙3∙

What is the differential for our field, then? If we have to ask ourselves whether we are delivering on our mission, our raison d’être, and then turn to the ‘how’ of the other ethical questions, what is that first one? What I would propose is that we as field exist because at our core, we believe that there are certain kinds of things—academic content, acquisition of critical skills, student development—that can only be done abroad, or can be most powerfully, compellingly done abroad. That there is a value—an added value—to sending students away from their U.S. campuses and into a foreign context. There are things that can’t be done by even the best internationalization efforts on campus. So I would posit that at its foundation, what education abroad—in all of its “...We as field exist because diverse forms—offers is an added value at our core, we believe that for students beyond what can be done there are certain kinds of on their home campuses. This might things—academic content, seem rather prosaic, rather obvious. And it’s not the most elegant formulation. acquisition of critical skills, But for lack of a better one at this mostudent development—that ment, I would posit that it is that conviccan only be done abroad, or tion of education abroad’s added value can be most powerfully, to higher education that binds us as a compellingly done abroad.” field, and that then becomes our own self-imposed ethical imperative. If we believe that that is the promise of education abroad, we are then ethically bound to do our utmost to deliver it. This then feeds into the other points of the Forum Compass: the promise of added value is linked to the ethical obligation that we put the interests of our students first—it is the added value of studying abroad that contributes meaningfully and significantly to students’ educational and personal growth (Compass Point #2), beyond what they could do by staying at home. In delivering upon this obligation, we commit to doing so according to the standards and best practices of our field (Compass Point #3). And then last but certainly not least—inverting the current order of the questions—the final ethical imprimatur on our efforts: is it true, fair, transparent (Compass Point #1)? I also like the idea of starting with the principle of ‘added value’—as transactional and pecuniary as it might sound, prima facie—because it reflects more closely what many of our students are, in fact, looking for out of their education abroad experience: something more than what they could do on their home campuses, something that gives them added value, something that can help to propel them forward in whatever path they choose to pursue. This allows for the multiplicity of program goals, and student goals. Whether the added value is learning Chinese, interning at a multinational in London, or participating in community-based agriculture ∙4∙

initiatives in Namibia, students determine their desired ‘added value’ from the education abroad experience, programs establish and reflect those values as their stated goals, and home institutions advise students appropriately towards them, help them find the funding to do it, and so on. This also ties in beautifully with the Standards, which start with the “The thing that all of our premise that each education abroad missions and goals share is program defines its own mission and simply that we do something goals. It doesn’t have to be international understanding, per se, though more, we offer something it could be. It could also include any additional, we add value to number of other worthy goals. The higher education by sending thing that all of our missions and students abroad.” goals share is simply that we do something more, we offer something additional, we add value to higher education by sending students abroad. All of our institutional policies, marketing and financing practices, and academic and experiential pedagogies are devoted to that guiding principle, and our ethical decision-making is informed by how fairly, transparently, and effectively we can fulfill that imperative. Those are my thoughts, ten years later. There is always drilling-down, refining, and refreshing to be done, and innumerable daily opportunities to think about our work in ethical terms. But as we as a field have gone forth and multiplied, I wanted to stop and think for a moment on what binds us together, and how we—as a field—can continue to pull together towards the same ethical ends. 


Your Guide to the New U.S. Department of State Travel Advisories Julie Anne Friend, Northwestern University; Jaime Molyneux, University of Pennsylvania; Kalpen Trivedi, University of Massachusetts Amherst Definitions and Descriptions


n January 10, 2018, the U.S. Department of State’s Bureau of Consular Affairs changed how it informs American citizens about the risks of international travel, particularly to destinations considered to be of heightened risk. The prior system of Travel Warnings/Alerts has been replaced by a color-coded, numerical rating system of Travel Advisories. Each country is given an overall rating from 1 to 4, described as follows: 1 = Exercise Normal Precautions (Blue): “This is the lowest advisory level for safety and security risk. There is some risk in any international travel. Conditions in other countries may differ from those in the United States and may change at any time.” 127 countries as of 1/10/2018. Examples include: Australia, Canada, Chile, Ireland, Japan, Morocco, Norway, South Korea and Qatar. 2 = Exercise Increased Caution (Yellow): “Be aware of heightened risks to safety and security. The Department of State provides additional advice for travelers in these areas in the Travel Advisory. Conditions in any country may change at any time.” These countries include several which previously did not carry specific travel advisories, many in Western Europe. [See graphic 1]. 3 = Reconsider Travel (Orange): “Avoid travel due to serious risks to safety and security. The Department of State provides additional advice for travelers in these areas in the Travel Advisory. Conditions in any country may change at any time. [See graphic 2]. 4 = Do Not Travel (Red): “This is the highest advisory level due to greater likelihood of life-threatening risks. During an emergency, the U.S. government may have very limited ability to provide assistance. The Department of State advises that U.S. citizens not travel to the country or leave as soon as it is safe to do so. The Department of State provides additional advice for travelers in these areas in the Travel Advisory. Conditions in any country may change at any time.” [See graphic 2]. ∙6∙

Graphic 1: Travel Advisories Level 2 (Increased Caution), as of


Algeria Antarctica Azerbaijan Bangladesh Belgium Belize Bosnia-Herzegovina Brazil Burkina Faso Cameroon China Colombia Cote d’Ivorie Democratic Rep. Congo Denmark Dominican Republic Egypt

Eritrea Ethiopia France Germany Guyana India Indonesia Israel, The West Bank/Gaza Italy Jamaica Jordan Kenya Kosovo Maldives Mexico Nepal Nicaragua

Papa New Guinea Philippines Republic of the Congo Saudi Arabia Sierra Leone South Africa Spain Tanzania The Bahamas Togo Tunisia Turks and Caicos Uganda Ukraine United Kingdom Zimbabwe

Bold print denotes countries that were formally under a U.S. DOS Travel Warning

Graphic 2: Travel Advisories 3 and 4,

Level 3 (Reconsider Travel)

as of 1/10/2018

Anguilla 1 British Virgin Islands 1 Burundi Chad Cuba Dominica 1 El Salvador Guatemala 2 Guinea-Bissau 2 Haiti Honduras Lebanon Mauritania Niger Nigeria Pakistan Russia 2 Sudan Turkey Venezuela

Level 4 (Do Not Travel) Afghanistan Central African Republic Iran Iraq Libya Mali North Korea Somalia South Sudan Syria Yemen


These countries are on the Level 3 list due to limited recovery associated with the 2017 hurricane season, and will likely fall to a Level 2 when recovery is complete. 2

These countries did not have a Travel Warning under the old system.


Furthermore, advisory levels 2 through 4 have clearly articulated risk factors such as: crime, terrorism, civil unrest, natural disaster, health, and time-related events (e.g., elections or demonstrations), which are further defined as follows:

Graphic 3: U.S. DOS new color-coded Travel Advisory system

C - Crime: “Widespread violent or organized crime is present in areas of the country. Local law enforcement may have limited ability to respond to serious crimes.” T - Terrorism: “Terrorist attacks have occurred and/or specific threats against civilians, groups, or other targets may exist.” U - Civil Unrest: “Political, economic, religious, and/or ethnic instability exists and may cause violence, major disruptions, and/or safety risks.” H - Health: “Health risks, including current disease outbreaks or a crisis that disrupts a country’s medical infrastructure, are present. The issuance of a Centers for Disease Control Travel Notice may also be a factor.” N - Natural Disaster: “A natural disaster, or its aftermath, poses danger.” E - Time-limited Event: “Short-term event, such as elections, sporting events, or other incidents that may pose safety risks. O - Other: There are potential risk s not covered by previous risk indicators. Read the country’s Travel Advisory for details.” The new system allows for a more nuanced description of risk factors, which is helpful in calculating real versus perceived exposure to risk based on the specific destination and purpose of travel. Furthermore, certain areas within a country may also be assigned a different rating if the risks in that location do not align with the overall rating. For example, Mexico has an overall rating of 2, but travelers are advised to avoid specified states, such as Colima, Guerrero, Michoacán, Sinaloa and Tamaulipas where ∙8∙

serious crime is prevalent. Advisories also include interactive maps that assist in evaluating risk; however, the maps only include overall country ratings and not sub-regions. Travel Alerts and time-sensitive embassy announcements such as Emergency and Security Messages have also been replaced by an Alert plus a one-word descriptor of the concern, such as “Alert: Hurricane” or “Alert: Demonstration.” The best way to ensure a traveler receives alerts is to register their travel dates in the Smart Travel Enrollment Program or STEP. Graphic 4: Sam ple Health Alert

Travel Policy Revisions Now Required For any institution or organization that links its travel policies to the list of countries under the Travel Warnings, revisions are now necessary. First, you must decide what Advisory Level will require review and approval (or blanket prohibition). Secondly, you will have to revise all releases/ waivers, student agreements, emergency management plans, criteria for traveler outreach, orientation materials, website and faculty/staff training, ∙9∙

etc. to align with the new language. Finally, you should contact your security information, insurance, and assistance provider(s) to understand how coverage may change in light of these new descriptors. And, for institutions whose policies differ by population (those that, for example, impose greater restrictions on undergraduates than graduate student or faculty/staff), it will take some thought to re-calibrate the process in a manner that seems fair and equitable.

How to Reconcile Former Travel Warning Countries that are now a Level 2 A more challenging part of this process will be deciding how to manage travel to countries that were previously under a Travel Warning but are now assigned a Level 2 Advisory. Those of us who support frequent travel to areas in Israel, Jordan, and Mexico whose perceived risks were greater than their real risks, are grateful for the change, and may no longer elect to have students apply for special permission to travel or sign additional releases. We must still make it clear, however, that certain areas of these countries pose serious danger, such as Jordan’s borders with Iraq Resources: and Syria. A concurrent challenge may also be that many countries, The best way to ensure such as Spain or the U.K., previously a traveler receives perceived by many to be unproblematic, may now be regarded as riskier alerts is to register destinations on account of their Level their travel dates in 2 categorization. This may necessithe Smart Travel tate changed communication to some Enrollment Program constituencies. (STEP).

How to Stay Abreast of Changes Unless you want to register in STEP for every country in which your organization supports travel in order to receive notifications of Alerts and changes to existing Travel Advisories, which would likely result in dozens of emails a day, it might be simpler to subscribe to the Overseas Security Advisory Council (OSAC) daily newsletter. In addition to highlighting changes to Travel Advisories and Alerts, the OSAC newsletter compiles ∙10∙

In addition to highlighting changes to Travel Advisories and Alerts, the OSAC newsletter compiles daily articles related to global security and also provides a list of upcoming OSAC events.

daily articles related to global security and also provides a list of upcoming OSAC events. Your institution or organization may also consider becoming an OSAC constituent, which gives you access to OSAC’s passwordprotected products, such as special reports, surveys, and common interest councils, in addition to the newsletter.

Conclusion The new and improved consular messaging is a positive change for travelers, who will benefit from clearer descriptors of both temporary and sustained travel risks. That said, these changes will require considerable work on your part to align institutional policies, websites, and releases/ waivers with the new advisory system. Whether you are revising your current policy or implementing a travel policy for the first time, the process may take several weeks. In either case, consider developing a truncated, interim process to manage imminent travel until new directives can be developed and distributed. 

Opinions expressed in this publication do not necessarily reflect the views of The Forum on Education Abroad. The Forum encourages responses to the perspectives in this issue. Reflections, topic suggestions and other correspondence are welcomed, and all contributions will be considered for future publication. Please send correspondence to:


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