Forum on Education Abroad

A Plan for Emergencies

This post was originally published on - a great resource for faculty involved in international education.

Emergencies are a possibility on any study abroad program, and planning and preparing for an emergency can seem like an overwhelming task — so much so that faculty sometimes decide not to embark on an education abroad program because of it.
Thankfully, with a few purposeful steps, you can take comfort knowing that you’ve made the necessary steps to plan for the worst — even if the reality is that the plan will most likely never be used.

1. Make a plan

Your university or college is likely to have existing example emergency plans or protocol(s) that you can access for reference, so make sure to ask around for these materials to ensure you aren’t starting from scratch when you don’t have to. If you are using a third party study abroad program provider, ask them whether they have an emergency plan, and whether this could be integrated into your institution’s overall plan for emergencies.

If you work with a provider that does not have an emergency plan, it may be a good idea to review your provider’s overall quality and consider alternative providers who do incorporate an emergency plan.
photo 1 Car
While on an excursion outside Quito, Ecuador; ACLAS students help a family get their car started.
Another group that will have some good resources is your institution’s insurance company. If you are asking your students to purchase specific study abroad insurance (recommended, usually inexpensive) then that company will likely have many useful resources like crime and safety statistics, emergency protocols, emergency phone numbers and recommendations for hospitals, doctors and/or clinics. Many of these items will be found on your insurance company’s website but contacting your university’s insurance representative is likely to be a good path to more details.
Consider different types of emergencies, and ensure that your plan addresses what to do in each case:
  • National emergencies — weather, disasters, political unrest
  • Student emergencies — illness, assault (on the student or towards others), mental illness
  • Faculty emergencies — something happens to you
  • Group emergencies — group illness, accident

2. Get support

Photo 2 rafting
ACLAS students enjoy a rafting trip as part of an excursion to the Amazon Rainforest in Ecuador.
As a faculty member, it should not be your sole responsibility to take care of emergencies abroad. You will likely be involved, but one way to make sure that all of the burden does not fall on you is to make sure that your plan is supported and approved by the “powers that be” at your institution and those onsite. This may seem like a bureaucratic step, but if there is a true emergency, these people will be involved. More importantly, if the plan is previewed and supported ahead of time, then the execution of the plan will be smoother and less restricted.
A good way to know who should see the plan before it is finalized is to consider all who would be involved if there were an emergency. Examples of potential stakeholders at your institution: the president, deans, international education staff, lawyers, media or PR people, parent relations, etc. And, don’t forget to include your onsite program provider and any relevant contacts in your destination country.

3. Share your plan

Screen Shot 2015-01-27 at 3.34.54 PM
photo credit: Professor Julie Veltman, Willamette University; ACLAS students interact with artwork while exploring Quito, Ecuador.
Beyond sharing your plan with those mentioned above, be sure to include your students and encourage them to share this information with their families. Not only will this step help the students be better prepared in an emergency, it also helps them remember that emergencies can happen and that they should be vigilant to avoid emergency situations.

4. Test your plan

Finally, test your plan with those involved. You can run through a test scenario making sure that all the systems work and all parties are informed. Let everyone involved in the plan know that you will run a drill. It is okay to plan an exact time for the drill – it does not need to be a surprise. The important aspect is to use the same means of communication that you would use in a real emergency (calling cell phones, mass emails, etc.) to make sure that everything is in place. Also, this exercise will help make people engage with the process and truly consider what would happen in an emergency.
Then, follow the plan.
Throughout the process take notes. At the end ask for feedback on the process and share your notes, relevant feedback and the most up to date emergency plan in a summary.
NOTE: This post is not intended to be an exhaustive resource 
for making an emergency plan. Good places to seek out 
additional resources are:

- Your International Education Office
- NAFSA: Association for International Educators 
- The Forum on Education Abroad 
- U.S. State Department 
- The U.S. Embassy in your country of travel 

FAQ: Faculty-Led Study Abroad Programs

Here are some of the basics about faculty-led study abroad programs. These FAQs can always be found on the FAQ page. Have a question you'd like to see answered? Add it to the comments or email us at

How are faculty-led programs different than other study abroad programs?
Although almost all study abroad programs involve faculty in some way—in the recruitment of students, development of programs, etc.—the term “faculty-led” has a specific meaning in the field of international education. A faculty-led program is one that is directed by a faculty member(s) from the home campus who travels with and accompanies the students abroad. These programs are usually, but not always, short-term (2 months or fewer.)

What are the benefits of faculty-led study abroad programs?
  • Customization: Faculty-led programs are often customizable to meet the faculty and institution’s educational goals or to fit specific needs.
  • University of Washington students
    with their faculty director in
    the Amazon rainforest
    Cost savings: Due to their flexibility, these programs are likely to fit various budgets.
  • Credit benefits: Because faculty are on-site with the students, academic credit can often be given as if the students were with a professor on campus. This eliminates many credit-transfer complications.
  • Accessibility: Students often find faculty-led programs more accessible because of the credit and cost benefits mentioned above, as well as the comfort and consistency of traveling with a faculty member from their home institution. Faculty-led programs are also designed specifically for students from one institution and, therefore, often meet student’s academic needs more effectively.
  • Academic interest: Because of the customizable nature of these programs, the academic possibilities are almost limitless. Curricula tend to be rich, varied and very engaging to students.
  • Relationship-building: Students experience the dual benefit of building new international relationships while also strengthening and enriching partnerships with those from their home institution.

I am a faculty member and want to lead a study abroad program. Where do I start?
The answer to this question depends significantly on your university or college. The first step would be to visit your institution’s international education (a.k.a. study abroad, education abroad, global programs, international programs, etc.) office’s website to see if they have guidelines or contact information for faculty who are interested in developing programs. If your institution does not have an office like this, it is best to see if other faculty (perhaps in other departments or areas) have developed programs. After you make a connection with the right individuals at your institution, start by asking these questions:
Colby College students with their
faculty director and ACLAS teachers.

  • What is the timeline for developing a program?
  • What are the expectations of the faculty director?
  • How will my department support me?
  • How will the international education office support me?
  • How do I make the program financially viable?
  • Are there certain program providers I must work with or may I choose my own?
  • What are the next steps?

We’re here to help at any time, of course. Feel free to reach out to us if you hit roadblocks or have further questions.

Do you need to be a tenured faculty member to lead a study abroad program?
This, again, depends on the college or university, but often the answer is no. In fact, leading a study abroad program can be a good way to promote your status and demonstrate contribution on your campus.

I have a family. Can I bring them with me on the program?
Many universities, colleges and program providers support bringing families along. However, it is important to realistically consider your ability to meet the needs of both groups. If you are working with a program provider that takes care of a lot of the details and planning, you might have time to teach, support your students and be with your family. But, if you are the lone faculty director, be sure to anticipate the possibilities. Would you be able to effectively handle a student emergency at any time, for example?

What resources are available to faculty to start, develop and improve faculty-led programs?

  • The international education or international programs office at your college or university is the best place to start. Staff there will likely have experience with faculty-led programs; if they do not, they’ll probably know where to find the resources.
  • Other faculty who have led programs are great resources, too. It is likely that there are some on your campus (even if they haven’t led programs with your institution) or in your professional networks.
  • has a number of topics and resources to explore, including a book called Faculty-Led 360.
  • The Association for International Educators (NAFSA) has collected a number of resources from seminars and conventions related to the faculty-led topic. Find those resources on their website.
  • The Forum on Education Abroad has defined Standards of Good Practice to guide program development. In addition to generic study abroad practices, the Forum has published standards for some discipline-specific programs such as healthcare. (Your institution must be a member of the Forum to access these documents—contact ACLAS or your international education office for more information.)