With traveler security concerns increasing in certain regions across the globe, Plattsburgh State officials say safety is a common priority within each study abroad program controlled by SUNY colleges.
The Study Abroad and Exchanges office, which is part of the Global Education Office, which is in charge of the program at Plattsburgh State.
“In general, the SUNY system evaluates all the programs regularly, so there is a systematic evaluation process,” Manager of Study Abroad and Exchanges program Jamie Winters said. “No SUNY campus is going to run a program where they think it is potentially not a safe area.”
In regards to safety, students are required to complete an online pre-departure orientation and also have an in-person session with a study abroad adviser.
Conflict areas, such as the Middle East, aren’t an issue for PSUC because there are no programs in any high-risk countries, which are in the travel warning list defined by the State Department. Currently there are PSUC students studying in countries such as Australia, China and England, all of which are considered safe.
However, Winters said that a few years ago there was a program in Egypt, where, at the same time, protests were happening initiating conflicts. The program was revised and later suspended due to the country’s lack of safeness.
“For instance, we have a program to Mexico this winter, so there is a travel warning for Mexico, but just in certain areas,” Winters said.
The program will be centered in Oaxaca, located in southern Mexico, a generally safe area of the country.
“Mexico has a travel warning in some areas, especially around the border, because of its drug cartel activities,” Winters said.
However, students aren’t going alone. A faculty member will go along with them to monitor their safety and activities.
Although students can avoid going to high-risk areas, some students chose differently.
“We would have separate meetings with those students to make sure that they understand the risk involved practically for that country,” PSUC Global Education Associate Director Cody McCabe said.
McCabe has been traveling worldwide in the past years recruiting new international students to PSUC and developing partnerships with overseas universities.
Every time he travels to an unsafe or unknown country, he tries to do some research about the area beforehand.
“I certainly do my homework,” McCabe said. “Researching locations that you are going to be, having emergency contact information, not going anywhere, especially alone, that looks dangerous and listening to locals.”
PSUC alumna Vanessa Cappon studied abroad in spring 2012 in Tanzania, located in Eastern Africa, which McCabe said was not considered the safest program and isn’t offered at PSUC anymore.
“Unfortunately, there is a stigma that goes along with Africa and it being an unsafe continent,” Cappon said.
However, she said it was when she was abroad experiencing the new culture and meeting new people that her ideas about Africa and its reputation changed.
“I met some of the most genuine and welcoming people who really changed my perspective on a stigma I once believed in,” she said.
Cappon said the Global Education Office was helpful from pre-departure to the day she returned to the United States.
“At the end of the day, you can plan and prepare so much, but if you are not being mindful or aware of the situation when you get there, then very serious, dangerous things can happen,” McCabe said. “Common sense has to kick in at some point.”
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