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Orienting Students

Orientation is a critical component of any study abroad program that helps ensure students stay safe and healthy abroad. Below are some resources and reminders for program directors to help prepare students adequately during the orientation phases of the program.

Student orientation happens in several ways on UW programs, including:

Mandatory student pre-departure orientation

All study abroad students are required to take an online orientation module through their study abroad application. Students are tested on the content of the orientation and must earn at least 85% in order to pass and fulfill the requirement. The online orientation covers important health, safety, and cultural adjustment issues, as well as practical information such as enrollment and credits. It takes about 30 minutes to complete all of the modules. As a program director, you are welcome and encouraged to view the orientation. Let us know if you have any feedback!

Program-specific pre-departure orientation

Part of your job as program director, is to orient students to the culture of the host country and counsel them on a range of social, academic and other practical issues. Your role in this process is crucial to ensure that your students are organized prior to your program and have a positive experience once your program begins. It is also an opportunity to establish reasonable student expectations and manage those expectations. We encourage you to review the information below so that you are familiar with what is required of students.

Plan on covering all of information below for your own program in your pre-departure and on-site orientations with students. Meet with your students at least three times during the quarter prior to departure to discuss your program, answer questions, make preparations for departure, and allow students to get to know each other. Use your pre-departure meetings to lay the groundwork for a positive and enriching study abroad experience, collect necessary paperwork, (e.g. flight itineraries) and plan emergency procedures for the duration of the course. Where possible, we encourage you to hold at least a portion of your orientations in-person so that you and the students can connect with one another and start building community.

What to do first

Schedule pre-departure meetings with your students. You must offer at least three pre-departure orientations prior to the start of your program. Contact UW Study Abroad if you would like to inquire about the availability of our conference room.

Contact your program manager if you have any questions or would like advice preparing orientation materials.

Pre-departure topics to cover

  • Basic health and safety issues are covered in the mandatory student orientation. Make students aware of any country and/or site specific health concerns and possible risks/exposure. Provide resources for more information, but do not dispense medical advice!
  • Students must complete an on-line self-disclosure health survey that will be available to them on their study abroad website account. This must be completed by the enrollment deadline.
  • The Travel Clinic at Hall Health is a great resource for students traveling to locations outside of the United States. The center offers pre-travel counseling, advice on needed prescriptions, vaccinations (fee-for-service), etc. Vaccinations may be necessary for travel to certain locations, and a health professional is the best person to give these recommendations.
  • Additional international health information can be obtained at the CDC website.
  • The University of Washington requires study abroad participants purchase the UW Student Abroad insurance. Information regarding this policy can be found on the Office of Global Affairs website.

  • Students are responsible for having all necessary travel documents or visas for the program. The Study Abroad Office does not provide assistance with travel documents or visas.
  • Make sure all your students are allowing adequate time to apply for and receive their passports. Visit the U.S. State Department website for more information.
  • Be sure to check all entry requirements for your destination, some countries require visas. Many countries require passports to be valid for up to 6 months after departure from the country. Visit the U.S. State Department website for more information.
  • Non-US citizens participating in your program may have different entry requirements, so these students need to check with the destination consulate/embassy to verify what additional documents (if any) they need for entry/travel in the host country.
  • In the student section of our website, we have information for undocumented students to help them navigate the study abroad process and obtain the necessary travel documents that they need.
  • State Department “Traveler’s Checklist.”

  • Organize a meeting place for all students at the start of the program. This may be en-route to the final destination, the group hotel, classroom site, etc. Make sure students have very clear directions (in English and the local language) and a good idea of how to get there.
  • The Program Director should be available and easy to contact on site prior to students’ designated arrival dates (unless traveling with students). Make sure students have your contact information and a back-up plan.
  • Set out clear guidelines ahead of time for what students should do if they do not arrive at the initial meeting place as planned.
  • Address how to access money and any other logistical issues related to traveling to the meeting point. 

  • Provide info about housing arrangements, regulations, etc. Establish clear expectations for students regarding housing, policies, property damage, etc.
  • If students are staying in home-stays, discuss specific cultural norms and practical issues. Address concerns and encourage dialogue if problems arise on site.
  • Discuss dining and food options, costs, local customs, any food risks.
  • Discuss local alcohol laws and culture, and risks associated with excessive drinking.

  • Availability and use of local transportation. Point out which modes of transportation are preferred, those recognized as unsafe, general costs associated, and how to purchase tickets.
  • Discuss hitchhiking, motorcycles, and other tempting yet unsafe ways to get around.

  • General introduction to the community and its physical surroundings.
  • Give details about living and traveling conditions with as much detail as possible to avoid “surprises” and student concerns.
  • Discuss what it will be like to live and travel as a large group for a month. Address apprehensions about privacy, personal time, etc. Students will need to share, cooperate, and sacrifice individual needs and look after the group.
  • Address in-country weather conditions and suggest items to pack (i.e. comfortable walking shoes). Discuss appropriate attire, both with regards to climate and cultural expectations.

  • Remind students of their important role as ambassadors of the UW and US while abroad.
  • Discuss what it means to be an American student/traveler in an international context.
  • Address cultural norms and traditions, communication styles, etc. of host country and provide information and/or connect students with resources on navigating their identities abroad (i.e. gender, sexual orientation, race, ethnicity, nationality, disability, socioeconomic status, etc.).
    • In the Identity Matters section of our website, you will find information and links to resources that can assist students in preparing to study abroad.
  • Remind students that cultural adjustment is a normal part of many students’ experience abroad. Discuss this with them, and help to normalize the feelings that your students may encounter.
  • Mention normal aspects of cultural adjustment and let students know they can and should come to you if they are having trouble at any time throughout the trip.

  • Highlight facilities for and access to mail, internet and telephones.
  • Set expectations for frequency of access to phone and internet. Encourage students to set communication frequency expectations with family and loved ones before the leave.
  • Laptops and cell phones: To bring or not to bring? Discuss in relation to required coursework. Rome Center programs require cell phones.
  • Explain options and any barriers to managing money on-site (ATMs, banks, exchange rates, cash, travelers checks, credit cards).
  • Help students plan how much money of their own they will need during the program.
  • Consider procedures for financial emergencies. Remind students of what they are responsible for (personal spending, health, food, shopping, communications, etc).
  • Discuss non-program-related travel: When is it okay and when is it not okay?
  • Inform program director of travel plans, and if possible, leave contact addresses and/or phone numbers for use in emergency situations.
  • Students are responsible for all costs and safety issues of non-official program travel.

  • Go over syllabus and program itinerary with students, answer questions, and discuss “what to expect” related to workload, travel, group work, learning outcomes, etc.
  • Discuss in detail your expectations of students as they relate to grading and evaluation.
  • Grading for study abroad is often based on non-traditional academic work. Make sure students are well-aware of expectations and what their grades are based on. To avoid confusion and conflict, put it in writing!

  • Discuss expectations (yours and theirs) for living, studying, traveling, and functioning as individuals and as a group. Consider creating a group code of conduct for the program. This can facilitate discussion and be a tool you can refer to if/when behavior issues arise.
  • Explain what the roles of the program director, all staff and local coordinator are and aren’t.
  • Remind students that they are bound by the UW Study Abroad Standards of Conduct and all local laws (that may be very different from U.S. laws) at all times during the program. Discuss with students how you will handle behavioral and disciplinary issues during the program.
  • Discuss local laws concerning drug use, political activism, and other risky behavior, etc.
  • Students may need to discuss and process the things they are experiencing on the program. Plan time for (and encourage) reflection and feedback between you and the students from the start of the program.
  • Encourage your students to consult with the Health & Wellness team that work in Student Life to discuss any issues fears or concerns that may come up in the health screening survey or in orientations.

  • Talk to your students about cultural norms around drug and alcohol use in the country you will be visiting. Consider what behaviors will be tolerated and which will not be permitted on the program. Talk to your students very explicitly about these rules.
  • Do not assume every student on your program drinks.
  • Discuss the Study Abroad Standards of Conduct and how it applies to alcohol consumption on program activities.
  • Share research on the effects of drinking in a new environment. Our colleagues in Health & Wellness have put together an engaging presentation that you are welcome to share with your students.
  • Ask your group to watch the presentation on their own and then discussing it as a group during one of your pre-departure orientation sessions.

Part One

Part Two

  • What to do, where to go, and who to contact in case.
  • How to get a hold of program directors and other key local contacts.
  • Assure students that an emergency action plan has been developed and that you are prepared. Attend Program Director Workshops to learn more about UW’s international emergency resources.
  • Distribute emergency contact information to all students and UW Study Abroad. Consider making this information available on your course website as well—any way that will make it readily available.
  • Double check that all students have the International SOS app downloaded and activated on their phones (including activating location based alerts and auto-emergency check-in).
  • Ask students to make you aware of their personal medical/health considerations, so that you can help facilitate appropriate care as needed.
  • For Rome Center programs, inform students that they are required to have a cell phone and review options to obtain a cell phone in Italy.

  • Go over emergency contacts with students, including the International SOS app, local emergency contacts, and the UW Global Travel Security contact information. Contact cards should be filled out during the UW Study Abroad mandatory pre-departure orientation.
  • Outline local medical facilities and norms for patient care in country.
  • Discuss importance of having funds available for payment of medical and drug bills.
  • Remind students that they are responsible to download and activate International SOS as a requirement of their participation in the problem. International SOS enables them to access their Cigna international insurance coverage, which will be billed to their student account.
  • Guide students to take charge of their own health while abroad. For routine medical issues, students should be able to find a clinic and a doctor through International SOS. Everyone should plan for this possibility by being familiar with the app before departure and calling as soon as a situation begins to present itself. Directors should obviously help ill students, but they are not fully responsible for basic health maintenance. Non emergency visits need to be scheduled in advance and should ideally be scheduled using the network of providers listed in the International SOS app or portal. Students can pay and get reimbursed for last minute emergencies that were not coordinated by International SOS, provided that they do not fall outside of the scope of coverage. To do so, they will need to file an individual claim.

  • Discuss:
    • Country-specific safety concerns
    • Areas, neighborhoods, types of transportation to avoid
    • Common crimes of concern, and tricks used to dupe foreigners
    • Common gender roles and customs, and any specific safety concerns for women
    • Alcohol and drug use (local norms & laws, program expectations)
    • Political and social issues, including local attitudes towards foreigners.
    • Traveling alone
    • Water/food safety
    • Sex-related risks (harassment, assault, STIs, HIV/AIDS, etc.)
  • Establish a common code for group safety, watching out for each other, etc.