You've worked with a provider on rolling out an itinerary to your students, one of which that meets the needs of parents as well. And you realized--how do I know this place is safe?
Like, how do I REALLY know?
Providers, including Our Human Family, have a vested stake in selling you itineraries that you can get out to your students as soon as possible to gain registrations. But, it's also true that many providers have systems in place that help you actually go and see the locations that you're sending students to before they register and travel there. Each provider has a different set of protocols. Some have "international training trips" where as long as you enroll a certain number of students, they assist you in getting abroad to get trained a trip leader for that location. Some providers work alongside the school director or coordinator of global studies, and create a "mini itinerary" that mimics an abbreviated version of the student travel experience. For the sake of relevancy, I want to talk about that process in this blog post, and make sure that you know what to see when getting the lay of the land.
#1 - Shuttle Transportation
How will you and your students be transported throughout the experience, from airport pickup to daily activities? This is a major area of risk when it comes to operations abroad, as it's an area where most parties have very little or no control over. Things to check out are: How old is the vehicle? How experienced are the drivers that are taking take of your group? Are there seat belts on the vehicle? Making assumptions for the answers to these questions can be dangerous, and it's important to ask them.
#2 - Accommodation
This is where you and your students are going to be spending roughly one third of your time abroad: in your hotel room or host family. It's important to check out your accommodation arrangements as you want to properly level set your students AND parents to the realities that exist abroad. This why it makes sense to conduct site visits at least one month ahead of time, as that gives you enough time to have that last information meeting. When it comes to host families, making sure they meet the description and profile (which should have been given to you ahead of time) is the most important part, as well as making sure the students' rooms are well maintained and as advertised. Usually, if you are uncomfortable with the arrangements one month prior, you will still have some recourse. Also, having robust wifi and cell reception is important for circumstances in communicating back to home.
#3 - Restaurants
Food option can be very different abroad, and will most likely affect the gentle palate of a teenager that has never left the country before. Scoping out the restaurants for your open lunches (or other meals out) ahead of time to make sure that the options are plentiful for students with food restrictions or sensitive stomachs is important. The last thing an trip leader, parent, or certainly student wants is to have a stomach issue for several days during their already short experience abroad.
#4 - Nearest Hospital Clinics
Things do go wrong. Being prepared for when they go wrong by having a lay of the land when it comes to hospital clinics that meet your insurance providers' criteria will save you some time and the student'student's parents some anxiety.
#5 - Activities
Will you be participating in any activities that are considered high risk or are extreme sports? Checking ahead of time that these activities are properly covered under your groups insurance policy will save you some headache in the end. For example, if your school's policy does not cover attending a beach without a lifeguard, then you need to work with your provider to ensure that there is one present when participating in activities at the beach.
#6 - U.S. Embassy
When in doubt, call home (aka. call the U.S. Embassy). They'll take care of you abroad, because it's their job to!
If you want to learn more about the process of setting up site visits, and are interested in an example site visit itinerary, please reach out to firstname.lastname@example.org!