API - Health and Safety

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Interview with Guðlaug Matthildur Jakobsdóttir-Reykjavik University

We had the chance to interview, Guðlaug Matthildur Jakobsdóttir, Head of the International Office at Reykjavik University. Iceland is API’s newest study abroad location! You can learn more about spending a semester in Reykjavik here.     (API) Iceland is a new and novel destination for many Americans… what is it about your country that you [...]

The post Interview with Guðlaug Matthildur Jakobsdóttir-Reykjavik University appeared first on The API Abroad Blog.

EMERGENCY CONTACT INFO

True emergencies warrant a phone call.  Please do not send emails or Facebook messages during emergencies.  Email and Facebook messages are not always checked on weekends or after normal business hours.

Participants abroad are instructed to call their on-site API director or local coordinator first in the event of an emergency.

Advisors/Directors who need to report an emergency should call the API office at 1.512.600.8900 during business hours, M-F, 8:00 to 5:00 pm. Outside of normal business hours, please call 1-866-311-2261 or 1-702-380-9073 and your message will be relayed to an API representative. An API staff member will respond to all messages within two hours.

In the event of an emergency that affects a group of students, updates will also be posted on our Facebook Page and Groups.

API HEALTH AND SAFETY RESOURCES

As a study abroad provider offering high-quality academic programs since 1997, API prioritizes the safety of our participants above all else.

PRE-DEPARTURE SAFETY FEATURES

  • Emphasis on safety from the very beginning. When deciding which programs will be offered for participants, API believes in the importance of researching safety and security issues related to the desired location. API consults standard sources such as the U.S. State Department and the Overseas Security Advisory Council, and API surveys trusted U.S. partners regarding their thoughts on the safety of a potential location. An API development specialist or API team then travels to the potential site for a firsthand review of the on-site reality.
  • Assurance that participants are well prepared for the experience prior to their arrival on-
    site. API takes pride in providing extensive health and safety information to participants during the pre-departure phase. Participants benefit from reviewing the resources available in the online pre-departure system known as the API Toolbox.
  • Appropriate housing and excursion selections for participants. All API programs include housing, and safety is the number one consideration for API when selecting participant accommodations. All API housing must be located in areas of the city with low levels of crime. Participants should be able to feel comfortable walking alone in the evening (before 9-10 p.m.) in their neighborhoods, subject to city variations. In sites where participants are housed with host families, API directors conduct extensive interviews and work only with families who have been personally referred to API staff or who have been screened by a trusted housing agency. API directors are very careful when selecting excursion sites, and seek to work only with providers that are trusted and referred by others.
  • Inclusion of extensive insurance coverage in the standard program fee. All API participants benefit from a comprehensive medical insurance package, as well as emergency medical evacuation and repatriation insurance and life insurance. Likewise, emergency evacuation coverage is provided in the event of an on-site political or natural disaster.

ON-SITE SAFETY FEATURES

  • On-site directors in each of our city sites. API’s highly qualified and experienced English-speaking Resident Directors (RDs) are available to participants in each host city throughout their session abroad. API Resident Directors are charged with essential health and safety duties, including:
    • Informing participants of safety and security policies and procedures;
    • Conducting extensive safety sessions during orientation and throughout the semester as needed;
    • Maintaining a list of English-speaking doctors, counselors, and other medical professionals;
    • Referring and accompanying participants to doctors as needed;
    • Updating an SMS system to reflect all participants before the start of each session and periodically updating the system as participants’ contact information changes (varies some by site);
    • Serving as the on-site respondent for all emergencies, 24/7;
    • Periodically updating emergency contact information and reviewing procedures on-site.
  • Continual training for our on-site Resident Directors. All of API’s academic programs have on-site directors that are hired and trained by API’s stateside staff or seasoned Regional and Resident Directors abroad. Ongoing training opportunities, including attendance at the Forum on Education Abroad and NAFSA conferences, are regularly made available to API directors abroad. API stateside staff conducts annual virtual trainings, annual in-person trainings for Regional Directors who directly supervise our on-site directors, and in-person trainings for all resident directors every three years. At our training meetings, we invite experts from the fields of psychology and risk management to conduct specific exercises with our directors. Additional training materials are made available to new Resident Directors online via our API Resident Director Resource Center.
  • Extensive on-site orientation and arrival services. During the initial days of the program, all API participants participate in an extensive on-site orientation program. Resident Directors focus on establishing a rapport with each new group of students so that students feel comfortable coming to the RD(s) in the event of an on-site emergency or difficulty. Directors convey to participants what practices can be dangerous on-site, what areas of the city are best avoided, etc. All students are provided with an emergency card, which details all emergency numbers for the RD(s), as well as local authorities, including the police, fire and emergency response services, during the first day of the onsite orientation. Likewise, all API sites prepare an on-site handbook that serves as a guide for students abroad. RDs must include all sections referenced in a “model” handbook, to ensure that all API students are provided with essential health and safety information in a concise and easy-to-read format.
  • Ongoing safety updates to participants. Resident Directors inform participant groups about upcoming protests or other potentially dangerous situations via email and the API Facebook groups throughout the semester. API RDs remind students to monitor local media and to follow instructions provided by local authorities at all times. In instances where a fellow student has been the victim of a local crime, API RDs may hold impromptu safety meetings with student groups to ensure that other students are aware of the safety risk and modify their own behavior.
  • Timely intervention when students make poor decisions or are at risk of harm. Study abroad is a time of exploration and growth for students. At times, students may practice behaviors that are represent significant risk within their new cultural context. API directors may be called upon to issue warnings to students for behaviors that are contrary to API recommendations. API Resident Directors provide extensive detail about on-site incidents to the API stateside staff, who in turn will advise home institutions and emergency contacts, depending on the gravity of the given situation. API stresses that our rules are in place to protect the safety of all program participants and the integrity of our programs, and we make a concerted effort to let students know how their behaviors could threaten their own safety, or that of other program participants.

Resident Directors are trained to share any of the following types of incidents with the API stateside staff: 1) emergency illness/injury or visit to doctor’s office/hospital for emergency treatment; 2) illegal drug use; 3) theft or assault; 4) housing or excursion violations (e.g., parties, overnight guests, returning to host family home in inebriated state); 5) academic problems; 6) general misbehavior (e.g., excessive drinking or disruption of group activities); 7) housing agency/neighbors/university/ host files a complaint against student; 8) student-filed housing complaints; 9) non-emergency illness or visit to doctor’s office for non- emergency treatment. All incidents are reported online and categorized according to type of incident and the degree of urgency. This online reporting system allows API to analyze incidents reported and determine actions to be taken, review policies and utilize information for training purposes.

Note: Extreme emergencies are always referred to API stateside via the emergency line instead of the online reporting mechanism.

  • Referring participants to medical professionals and accompanying them if desired. It is common that participants fall ill when traveling abroad, as they are exposed to new food and water systems and may experience high levels of stress. API RDs will refer participants in need of care to local doctors who speak English and/or accompany participants to doctor’s appointments, as requested.
  • Maintaining extensive Emergency Action Plans (EAPs). API believes in being prepared for the worst-case scenario and directors are trained to respond to emergency situations, including (but not limited to) the following types of emergencies:
    • Abuse within a host family environment
    • Civil unrest, terrorism or anti-American threats
    • Drug/alcohol abuse
    • Emergency situations during excursions
    • Medical emergencies or serious illness
    • Mental health crises
    • Missing or lost student
    • Natural disasters
    • Student arrest
    • Sexual assault
    • Suicide attempts
    • Student death
    • Unplanned pregnancy

API has managed emergencies both for individuals and groups over the years, including but not limited to drug/alcohol abuse, serious medical and mental health emergencies, sexual assault, suicide attempts, natural disasters and terrorist crises. Throughout the years, the support of the on-site resident directors offered to participants, combined with the collaboration between the API stateside office, the participants’ family and the home university in the event of on-site emergencies, has been instrumental in helping participants to have safe and successful experiences abroad.

During any emergency affecting one or more individual participants, API maintains regular communication with all involved parties (e.g., participants, victims and families) and home university officials as appropriate. Though not a university, API strives to comply with best practices and federal regulations and policies mandated for U.S. universities, to ensure the utmost health, safety and privacy of our participants. During any emergency affecting an entire API group, API maintains initial and on-going communication with our participants via SMS, Facebook posts and emails. These methods have proven to be the most efficient, time sensitive and wide-reaching. After an emergency has passed, API staff continues to communicate with participants in person, group meetings, emails and other communication methods established to be effective with that group.

API communicates with involved parties via telephone and email, striving for the most timely and efficient vehicles of communication. In the event of a mass emergency, API will also maintain updated information on our website, blog and Facebook groups.

  • Involving mental health professionals. Handling emergencies can be an emotional challenge for the caregivers. During or following a severe incident, API Resident Directors are encouraged to seek professional mental health support. Additionally, API stateside staff has incorporated the services of a mental health professional that acts as a consultant when necessary.

Additional information and resources required to be safe and stay healthy can be found throughout the API pre-departure materials, including our on-line Toolbox. Most importantly, API students will participate in detailed on-site orientations where they will receive important health, safety and emergency preparedness information from our on-site staff.