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Student Health, Safety, and Support
Statement on Zika Virus: SIT Study Abroad is deeply committed to the health and safety of our students, faculty, and staff. As such, we are closely monitoring the current outbreak of the Zika virus with an evolving understanding. We recommend that students bring effective bug repellent to all program locations where Zika is present. Students returning from affected areas should be aware that the virus can remain in the body for an extended period of time upon return and can be spread through sexual contact and mosquito bites. For additional and regularly updated information on the virus, mosquito precaution, and travel recommendations, we recommend that you visit the CDC website at http://www.cdc.gov/zika.
SIT has a dean of students and Office of Student Affairs, which are responsible for providing leadership and vision in the areas of student health services, crisis management, counseling, housing, safety and security issues, diversity, student conduct issues, and support for students with disabilities. The dean establishes and monitors best practices and institutional protocols for all student affairs operations in the US and abroad.
SIT places the highest priority on the health, safety, and security of all students. Through our 80-plus years of running international experiential education programs, we have developed sophisticated proactive and reactive risk management strategies. Our proactive risk management begins with in-country assessments of safety and continues through student orientation and emergency preparedness. Our reactive risk management strategies include 24/7 on-call availability, emergency/crisis response protocols, and comprehensive student insurance. Our structure also allows for rapid response and adjustment to changing situations.
SIT provides ongoing support to students in areas related to mental health, accommodations for disabilities, and dietary and medical needs. We also offer LGBTQ support and religious/spirituality support.
Prior to the start of each program, SIT Study Abroad provides information to prepare students for program health realities and to set clear expectations for maintaining good health while on the program. Students receive country-specific health guidelines, including required and recommended immunizations as specified by the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC). SIT also conducts a comprehensive review of each student’s medical history. Individual students are covered by health, accident, medical evacuation, and repatriation insurance, which is included in the program fee.
Maximizing Safety and Security
SIT Study Abroad staff members are trained in risk assessment and crisis management, and SIT gathers information from a variety of sources to continuously evaluate safety and security conditions.
- SIT Study Abroad maintains a 24-hour safety and emergency response on-call system for any health, safety, or security concerns that may arise.
- SIT monitors US government advisories, considering those issued both by in-country embassies and consulates and by the U.S. Department of State in Washington, DC.
- In addition to well-informed academic directors and other in-country staff, SIT obtains additional valuable local in-situ knowledge and analysis from colleagues with whom the organization has long and trusted relationships.
- SIT consults with academic and nongovernmental organizations through the global networks of World Learning, SIT’s parent organization.
SIT Study Abroad incorporates safety and security throughout the program curricula. Key elements of the SIT model help to maximize in-country safety, including:
- Prior to the start of the program, SIT Study Abroad provides each student with an overview of safety and security specific to the country of study, as part of SIT’s comprehensive pre-departure material.
- During the initial orientation period, academic directors and local experts educate students about potential safety risks and strategies to help them manage these risks and maximize their safety within their new context.
- Staff provide additional safety and security briefings at key junctures throughout the semester, most notably at times of movement to different program locations, so that students are fully aware of expectations and precautions that enhance security.
Safety cannot, of course, be guaranteed abroad, just as it cannot be guaranteed in the United States. However, student health, safety, and security are always our highest priority. SIT is committed to taking the necessary steps to maximize student safety and security at each and every program site.
Study abroad safety, health, and security preparation begins before students depart for their program, starting with documents students receive in the pre-departure stages. Upon arrival, students take part in an intensive orientation, further preparing them for the realities of where they have chosen to study. Personal responsibility is a key part of a successful and safe term abroad, but we provide students with solid information and tools to best minimize risk, and our staff is available throughout the program term to provide support as necessary.
Socioeconomic, political, environmental, and medical conditions vary widely across the more than 30 countries in which we operate, and SIT Study Abroad specifically tailors health, safety, and security measures to each program, location, and context. On a day-by-day basis, our staff in Vermont and the academic directors of each of our programs in the field evaluate information from a wide variety of sources. We collect information from government sources, our contacts in nongovernmental organizations around the world, international and local media outlets, and our own network of local contacts within each country. In rare circumstances, situations may merit changes to the program.
As part of SIT’s commitment to student safety and security, all students are required to have a working cell phone capable of making and receiving both local and international calls throughout the duration of the program. You are therefore required to bring a smart phone from the US and either a) confirm that you have an open phone, thus enabling you to insert a local SIM card into your US phone upon arrival, or b) bring along a dual SIM card smartphone. Your local SIT Study Abroad staff will assist you during orientation to purchase an appropriate local SIM card and required minimum minutes for calls and texting. SIT Study Abroad requires that each student has a local number for communication with the homestay family, program staff, etc.
While we recognize that alternative communication methods can be free or cheaper than cell service (i.e., Facetime, Skype, WhatsApp, etc.), those do not satisfy our need for regular communication with local program staff and partners nor do they meet our emergency communication needs. Therefore, local cellular capacity on each student’s phone is required for the duration of the program. Full compliance with this policy is expected.
Communication with Students while on the Program
SIT Study Abroad encourages parents to maintain good lines of communication with their students and to encourage students to remain at the helm of the study abroad process, whether through the application, the visa process, or on the program. SIT Study Abroad programs require strength of character and independent mindedness, and parents can help students recognize that early. That said, SIT Study Abroad staff in our Vermont headquarters are available for parent questions, comments, or concerns at any point before, during, or after a student’s program.
In most cases, when parents call or email SIT Study Abroad, they will be put in contact with the Study Abroad Student Affairs Office. The Student Affairs Office can be reached directly by calling 802 258-3292. The Vermont office is open from 8:30 AM–5:00 PM EST, Monday through Friday, with emergency service 24 hours a day, seven days a week, 365 days a year.
For routing program communication, SIT Study Abroad encourages students and parents to discuss communication expectations prior to the start of the program. Many SIT programs take place in remote locations and/or involve extensive travel. It can be difficult to know where students are at all times and to keep track of what types of communication may be feasible when. Many alumni recommend making an appointment to call home or to receive a call, thereby avoiding frustration and making connections more meaningful.
We also encourage students to consider the impact of constant communication with friends and family at home on their cultural immersion. While all students are encouraged to share with those close to them and use them for support whenever necessary, it is also important to remember that students are on the program for just one term, and that they get out of the program what they put into it.
Welcome to the SIT Study Abroad Disability Services section of the website. The mission of the Office of Disability Services (DS) is to facilitate an accessible educational experience for students with disabilities and to serve as a resource for all members of the academic community in furthering this goal. Students with disabilities of all kinds — including learning, physical, mental health, or other types of disabilities — are encouraged to contact DS as early as possible for information and support.
How to contact us:
SIT Disability Services
SIT Study Abroad
1 Kipling Road
PO Box 676
Brattleboro, VT 05302-0676
Phone: 802 258-3390
Fax: 802 258-3252
How to Request Accommodations for a Disability
The first step in applying for accommodations for a disability is to contact the Office of Disability Services as soon as possible prior to the start of the program. At this time we will:
- review your accommodation needs;
- go over the steps in the disability accommodation process;
- discuss documentation guidelines; and
- explain the role of Disability Services.
If you wish to request accommodations for a disability, please complete the online Request for Accommodation Form.
In order to review requests and arrange approved accommodations in a timely fashion, please submit your accommodation request form and any documentation to the DS office as early as possible, preferably at least 60 days prior to the start date of your program.
The amount and type of documentation required will depend on the individual situation and specific accommodation requests. Disability documentation submitted to the DS office should be current and provided by a qualified professional. The documentation must be written on that professional’s letterhead, be personally signed by the evaluator, and include the following:
- Functional impact of the stated disability on one or more major life activities
- Specific diagnosis of the disability
- A comprehensive history of the disability and the use of accommodations, if applicable
- Specific evidence of the disability, including any diagnostic tests or other evaluations performed and results, clinical observations, and/or other relevant evidence of the disability
- Recommendations from the evaluator for accommodations, including academic adjustments or auxiliary aids
Please include a copy of your accommodation letter from your college disability office, if available.
What Happens Next?
The determination of reasonable accommodations is handled on a case-by-case basis and includes an interactive process between the student and the Office of Disability Services. Students should be aware that in-country conditions and resources do vary by site, and specific program locations may have limited accessibility. However, every effort is made to work collaboratively with qualified individuals to facilitate an accommodation. Students who are eligible for disability accommodations will receive a written letter outlining their approved accommodation plan.
Documentation records are confidential and maintained in the DS office. However, appropriate information may be shared with designated SIT/World Learning staff, in accordance with federal and SIT/World Learning confidentiality policies, for the purpose of processing accommodation requests and facilitating approved disability accommodations.
As a student with SIT Study Abroad, you are ultimately responsible for your own learning, motivation, and success. Think of your relationship with Disability Services as a partnership, one that provides support but also encourages your own self-advocacy. We recommend that you consult with the DS office as early as possible to discuss your disability, possible accommodations, and other assistance you may need. Please feel free to contact us at any time with questions or concerns you may have. We wish you a successful and enjoyable experience with SIT Study Abroad.
Learn more about disability and study abroad.
MIUSA (Mobility International USA) is a cross-disability organization serving those with cognitive, hearing, learning, mental health, physical, systemic, vision, and other disabilities. It offers numerous resources for persons with disabilities who wish to study abroad and/or engage in international development opportunities.
SIT Study Abroad operates from a position of inclusion as it relates to student diversity and support. Student health and wellbeing are paramount to a student having a successful study abroad experience. SIT Study Abroad programs are dynamic and exciting and may at times be physically and mentally challenging. Student preparation and realistic expectations combined with the resources and services provided by Student Affairs are keys to a successful semester.
- Preparation and Expectations
- Special Dietary Needs
- Dietary Preferences
- LGBTQ Support
- Religion / Spirituality
- Mental Health
- Disability Accommodations
Preparation and Expectations
Student support begins well before the program starts through student preparation and by setting realistic expectations. Things for a student to consider include questions about academic resources, social customs in the program location, and dietary or other health needs.
It is important for students to remember that many of the locations where SIT operates programs do not have the same infrastructure, resources, or technology available in the US. Some resources may be available at certain points during a program, but not, for example, in rural areas or while the program is on excursion. Students should carefully read pre-departure materials and contact SIT as early as possible with questions in order to ensure that SIT clearly understands a student’s individual needs. SIT will then do its best to communicate to the student the available program resources on that program.
Throughout an SIT program, students must relate not only to the host community but also to the SIT group. Students bring diversity of all sorts to the program and may be confronted with different attitudes toward gender, ethnicity, sexual orientation, political affiliation, and socioeconomic class. SIT Study Abroad program staff provide opportunities to discuss these issues and encourage students to seek support whenever necessary, as these can be some of the most important learning moments in the study abroad experience.
Special Dietary Needs
Students with special dietary needs have been accommodated on many programs, including those with peanut allergies, celiac disease, and/or diabetes. Even with the same diagnosed medical condition, student needs vary, and some programs may not be able to accommodate some dietary needs. SIT Study Abroad works with students, program staff, homestay families, home colleges and universities, and others to accommodate student needs whenever possible.
Many students who participate in an SIT Study Abroad program have dietary preferences, such as vegetarianism and veganism, unrelated to a medical condition. Sticking to a specific diet abroad can be a challenge depending on the program location. In general, one should remember that it is the responsibility of the student to adapt to the culture they are in and to be prepared to remain flexible in many ways, including in relation to dietary preferences.
In many instances, when with the group, on excursions, or when eating on one's own, students find it is possible to follow a specific diet. However, when living with homestay families, it is often difficult to adhere to that diet, for example, remain a strict vegetarian. Examples of accommodations students have had to make include eating vegetables cooked in the same pot with meat, and taking meat on one's plate as a display of respect.
Within every culture and country, there are a variety of realities as they relate to sexuality. If you self-identify within the LGBTQ community, we encourage you to be in contact with SIT Study Abroad staff about the in-country realities for your program of choice. Safety and security are the top priority, and in some countries homosexuality may be illegal. It is important to understand the realities on the ground and to prepare for the challenges that may be part of the study abroad experience. While students may be limited in their self-expression in a particular culture, the SIT Study Abroad program is a safe space for students to seek support. Academic directors have all been trained in diversity issues, and students should feel that they can discuss any questions, challenges, or thoughts with the academic director. Resources are available prior to the program, and SIT staff in Brattleboro welcome any questions or concerns.
SIT Study Abroad operates in countries that have varying degrees of religious diversity and religious freedom. While abroad, you may have encounters that challenge your notions of spirituality.
SIT Study Abroad staff is committed to helping students of all religious and spiritual traditions identify religious/spiritual services during their experience abroad, where available. SIT also recommends that students familiarize themselves with common attitudes and perspectives in their country of study before the program commences to determine local customs and norms. Students should make any requests for accommodations to SIT staff as early as possible.
One resource to help in determining country norms is the U.S. State Department’s International Religious Freedom Report.
SIT Study Abroad programs offer exciting academic and personal challenges, including the experience of adapting to another culture. The cultural adjustment process requires psychological flexibility in the face of different customs, beliefs, and living conditions. These new situations may trigger “culture shock” while studying abroad, marked by symptoms such as sadness, anxiety, homesickness, and difficulties eating and sleeping, to name a few. Students who are currently managing a mental health condition are encouraged to discuss any concerns with their health professional and/or the Student Affairs staff at SIT Study Abroad. SIT’s medical review process is designed to support students in making the safest and most reasonable choices regarding their mental health; full disclosure on health forms is required to aid in this process.
Cultural views on mental health vary greatly around the world, as do the types of resources that are available. Some countries have a broad range of services, including access to Western-trained providers, while others have more limited options. SIT has identified counseling resources in-country, where available. However, students can best prepare for a positive study abroad experience by developing a set of healthy coping strategies that they can utilize while on the program.
Diversity is an important component of SIT’s mission. At SIT Study Abroad, we seek to engage students with a variety of backgrounds and experiences. Diversity can encompass ethnicity, physical ability, gender, sexual orientation, socioeconomic background, geographic representation, and other life experiences that enable an individual to uniquely contribute to his or her peer group.
In addition to valuing diversity among our students, we also strive to create a staff that is representative of the larger world in which we work. Our academic directors include many foreign nationals and individuals with extremely varied backgrounds — from ethnomusicologists to veterinarians. We also employ many local citizens as lecturers, facilitators, program assistants, and other supporting staff. These host-country nationals provide vital connections and insight into the communities where our students study and live. The range of their personal and academic experiences enhances their commitment to fostering an atmosphere of understanding, learning, and growth for each and every student.
To achieve our mission, SIT Study Abroad offers scholarship funds for students who demonstrate financial need and whose participation will broaden the perspectives and collective background of our student body.
In addition to SIT institutional funds, we continually seek foundation and other outside funding to help us increase financial assistance to all students. The most recent developments include relationships with public institutions and with Historically Black Colleges and Universities.
SIT Study Abroad believes that the best learning environment is created when diverse individuals and ideas come together in an environment of dialogue and respect. In this regard, we strive to introduce our students to a wide range of perspectives within our host countries and communities, as well as within the larger thematic areas that our programs examine.
Reflections from SIT Minority Students
"I feel very lucky to have had an Academic Director who was sensitive to the different experiences I might have and who communicated that understanding to me. She showed support of my exploration and processing by her acceptance of the ways that this 'personal journey' affected my actions, reactions, and interactions throughout the entire program."
"Our differences made our group that much stronger. We became such a tight-knit group of highly adaptable people that by the end of our program we were able to deal with anything."
—Dayam Fernando Hernandez
At SIT Study Abroad, our staff provides resources and support for students’ individual needs. We encourage students to discuss any questions or concerns with SIT staff in Vermont prior to the program start.
A focus on student services helps SIT Study Abroad provide solid programs that are accessible to the widest possible body of students. With SIT’s field-based programs, students are encouraged to invest much of themselves in the intense experience, and many call the experience "transformational." SIT Study Abroad seeks to provide this experience for students of varied backgrounds and experience. The variety in our programs allows most students to find a perfect fit for them, and SIT Study Abroad is committed to helping students realize their study abroad goals.
SIT Study Abroad supports diversity in its programs, providing scholarships and partnering with supporting organizations.