A Michigan student is advised about study abroad programs.(Photo: 2008 AP file photo by Al Goldis)
The death Saturday of a University of Virginia senior while studying
abroad is a stark reminder that overseas travel comes with risks.
relatives of students harmed while studying overseas, the latest
incident is another reminder that the pain never goes away. "It brings
back all these old memories," says Anne Schewe, of Amherst, Mass. Her
daughter, Sara, was one of four college students killed in 1996 in a bus
crash in India while studying abroad. "Our hearts go out to the
families and what they must be feeling right now."
majority of students who study abroad each year -- nearly 274,000
students in the 2010-11 academic year -- return unharmed. Casey
Schulman, the UVA student who died when a small boat hit her while she
was snorkeling with classmates in the Caribbean, was one of the
any foreign travel, studying abroad poses dangers. Since the 1996 bus
crash, international education providers have stepped up efforts to
reduce risks to the growing number of students spending semesters in
"Safety and security of the students is obviously
the top priority for all programs," says Brian Whalen, president of The
Forum on Education Abroad, a non-profit group for study abroad
providers. When deaths do occur, "that's tragic, unfortunate," he says.
numbers are hard to come by because no one keeps track nationally.
Whalen's group hopes to build a database of critical incidents to help
providers pinpoint how they occur and how they can be prevented.
Preliminary findings of a Forum pilot project collecting data on 391
programs in 60 countries in fall 2009 and January 2010 show that, of
311 incidents reported as needing critical attention, 105 involved
illness, the most common problem, and 55 involved theft. No deaths
occurred during the pilot study, Whalen says.
Schulman and her
classmates were in their final days of Semester at Sea, a program
through which students live on a ship and sail from country to country.
As it happens, the students who died in the 1996 bus crash also were
participating in Semester at Sea, which is administered by the Institute
for Shipboard Education and now sponsored by the University of
A statement Saturday from Semester at Sea President Les
McCabe said the snorkeling trip had been organized by a group of
students and was not a Semester at Sea event.
Sheryl Hill, whose
son, Tyler, died during a high school trip to Japan in 2007, says the
study abroad industry should be required to report all incidents
publicly. Last year, she founded the Minnesota-based ClearCause
Foundation, which advocates federal oversight of study abroad programs.
It also is developing an emergency preparedness plan to help parents
when a child studying abroad is hurt or killed.
families have every right to know the safety record of the program
they're entrusting their future and their life to," Hill says.