Safety for international and study abroad students

Exploring the importance of taking a few precautions before taking flight

In 2010, Sheryl Hill started a movement for change. Following the death of her son, Tyler, while on exchange in Japan, she realized that problems existed with the current system for international students traveling abroad.
Along with the support of her family, Hill attempted to determine two key things: what was wrong and how it could be fixed. She started a website in honor of her son, Tyler Hill, with the intention of raising greater awareness of safety amongst international students. She received stories from hundreds of students who had survived dangerous incidents whilst traveling overseas, ranging from being scammed, to personal experiences with labor trafficking.

Throughout the first few years of this campaign, Hill focused heavily on determining how to best support students who were traveling overseas. During this period, the foundation also focused heavily on advocacy, taking actions such as rallying for greater transparency laws within student exchange organizations.

It was at this point that Hill determined that a key issue was in fact the lack of laws protecting students abroad. Through the experience gained in responding to survivors, it became apparent that students required some form of education in order to “depart smart.” She launched DepartSmart.org, a website which aimed to educate students on what they need to know prior to undertaking an international exchange. The website includes features such as a 10-point safety quiz, which covers issues ranging from vital information students should know about a country prior to departure, to what a student should do if an emergency arises.

Throughout this campaign, Hill notes that it has become more and more evident that most students are not adequately informed about key safety issues. One example Hill points out is that most students are unaware of the importance of having vital health information stored in the native language of the country they travel to. Students were also unaware of the need to find out whether safety warnings have been issued within particular countries, or the need to purchase evacuation insurance in case a serious issue arises.

Hill emphasizes that the aim of this campaign is to ensure that “students are not sent abroad without receiving a standardized education.” Safety must be the number one priority for students when traveling overseas. For example, for students considering traveling to Kenya, they should be aware that U.S. government personnel have been restricted from traveling to certain parts due to safety concerns.

Students should also be aware that as of July 2014, these concerns reached the point that all volunteer activities by Peace Corps had to be suspended. These types of safety concerns are not openly publicized to students, and a student must take the initiative to determine for themselves whether a country is safe to travel to.

Sheryl Hill ultimately hopes that after engaging with this campaign, students will be able to “travel with their head in the right place.” This program aims to encourage all students traveling internationally to “not only see the world, but to be smart when they do it.”

The current aim of the foundation is to have an action plan established by the summer of 2016. The first fundraiser for this initiative will take place this coming August, and Hill also has hopes that the campaign will be released publicly by 2017. However, the foundation requires student support in order to launch this international safety revolution. The foundation aims to reach a target goal of $10,000 in order to implement this program, and has already received fundraising support from both Winona State and St. Cloud University.

One possible strategy includes the implementation of a review system, which would provide a “seal of approval” for countries considered safe for students to travel to.

Hill ultimately believes that “it takes many students to make a big noise,” and it is up to students to engage peers and make the learning experience fun. She hopes that in the future, steps may be taken by returning students to make the overseas experience safer for future students.

Visit departsmart.org and get involved today!

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