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International Office Helps Students and Faculty Be Safe While Traveling to World’s Most Dynamic Regions

risk

7 March 2013

Training and Resources Help Travelers Prepare for Risks

Each year, hundreds of students, faculty and staff from The University of Texas at Austin travel internationally to supplement their academic experience and conduct global research. While exciting and often life-changing, international travel can also involve risk.  The Global Risk & Safety team – a unit of the International Office – helps travelers create a plan for mitigating travel risks currently associated with their destination region.

“We work closely with students and faculty to help enable every trip abroad to be both safe and productive,” said Erin Wolf, International Risk Analyst for the International Office. “Creating a network of contacts and resources before departing is essential, and our process helps each traveler prepare for the risks involved.”

Students traveling to a country designated as a Category 1, 2, or 3 Restricted Region is required to speak one-on-one with an international travel security expert from International SOS, the university’s external partner for providing emergency support for UT students, faculty, and staff traveling abroad. “A well-informed traveler is a safe traveler. The country-specific experts at International SOS help improve travelers’ knowledge and understanding of the current dynamics in a particular region,” Wolf said. “Working with travelers from day one also means we are aware of their plans and can activate the appropriate response should a faculty member or student need emergency assistance while abroad.”

Helping Students and Faculty Make a Difference

Each year, approximately 500 UT faculty, staff and students travel to Restricted Regions with the approval of the International Oversight Committee (IOC), the team that reviews UT travel to Restricted Regions.  The IOC includes representatives from the university administration, the International Office, departmental faculty and other university officials. Risk mitigation is especially important for students, faculty and staff planning travel to areas designated as Restricted Regions. Restricted Regions are defined as areas having long-term, protracted conditions that make a country dangerous or unstable. The State Department issues formal Travel Warnings to encourage travelers to consider the risk of travel to those countries, and in extreme cases, avoid traveling to the country altogether. Risks that may result in issuance of a Travel Warning include political unrest, a recent or impending natural disaster such as an earthquake, or extreme incidents of crime.

Despite these risks, the university, through the efforts of the International Office and the IOC, is committed to supporting the global research and study abroad goals of faculty and students, given that these areas also represent regions most in need of global awareness and support. The risk and safety programs administered by the International Office in partnership with other units across campus are designed to support and protect faculty and students seeking to engage with those regions. “We work closely with travelers throughout their planning process to increase their awareness of the risks involved, as well as the resources available to help them proactively manage their safety when visiting a Restricted Region,” Wolf said.

Success Stories

The IOC has helped many faculty and students access the opportunities that help them make a difference for global citizens in need. One example is the IOC’s past partnership with the McCombs School of Business, the LBJ School of Public Affairs, and the RGK Center for Philanthropy and Community Service. With safety plans in place at both the individual and university level, several UT graduate student Social Enterprise Fellows traveled to Haiti in 2010, identifying public policy initiatives to help the Haitian people rebuild their communities after a 7.0 magnitude earthquake largely destroyed the nation’s infrastructure and social service delivery systems.

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Another example is the International Office’s collaboration with the UT Department of Middle Eastern Studies and the UT Center for Middle Eastern Studies to establish study abroad and faculty research partnerships with three prominent universities in the Middle East. These include Tel Aviv University in Israel; American University of Beirut in Lebanon; and Middle Eastern Technical University in Turkey. Two IOC members, Dr. Janet Ellzey, International Office Vice Provost, and Erin Wolf, traveled to these universities during the summer of 2012. “In addition to helping individuals plan for safe travel, we also take great care to build risk mitigation into all of our international programs from the very beginning,” Dr. Ellzey said. The IOC continues working closely with university officials at the selected Middle East universities to ensure the safety of visiting UT students and faculty as they attend classes and conduct collaborative research with fellow scholars at these institutions. Additionally, the insights gathered by IOC members during these initial trips are built into the training sessions and other resources the International Office provides to faculty and student travelers.

Risk Mitigation Resources for Students, Faculty & Staff

The International Office continues to enhance the support it provides individuals planning travel to a Restricted Region. In 2013, the Global Risk & Safety webpages were updated with revised forms and additional informational resources for students, faculty and staff – all a part of the IOC’s ongoing efforts to streamline the Restricted Regions travel application process.

“We’ve gotten a lot of positive feedback regarding the accessibility and ease of use of the revised forms,” said Gabriela Rios, the Global Risk and Safety Administrative Associate who interacts daily with travelers submitting Restricted Regions travel requests.

Additional information on the IOC’s efforts, as well as the forms for submitting Restricted Regions travel requests, can be found on the Risk and Safety pages of the International Office website.

By Angie Pastorek