The health and safety of our students is of utmost importance to us. While safety can never be guaranteed, SFS has robust safety systems in place and is known in the industry for having a diligent approach to risk assessment, mitigation, and management to protect and enhance the student experience.
Health and Safety Systems
SFS has a structured risk management program that takes care to manage the itineraries and logistics of students’ daily activities. Our small number of programs enables us to provide detailed attention to each one, and we tailor our risk management system to the specific needs of each of our field stations. This enables us to adapt to the dynamic changes of the natural and political world to both prevent and respond to risk quickly and soundly.
To best prepare students for travel and study abroad in a new environment, SFS uses a variety of tools to set clear expectations about environmental and cultural awareness, personal responsibility and conduct, and health and safety while living abroad. When students are first accepted into the program, they are provided with a Field Preparation Guide that outlines SFS policies, best practices for mitigating personal safety risks, health and safety in-country, and expectations for cultural adjustment. Prior to departure, SFS conducts diligent medical screening to assess how we might be able to best support and accommodate any medical limitations or restrictions. Upon arrival to the SFS campus, students participate in an orientation where they are educated about the local community and culture, advised on ways to increase personal awareness and safety, oriented to the SFS policies, and provided with confidential channels for reporting any concerns.
Due to the remote location of many SFS locations, several SFS field staff are certified in Wilderness Advanced First Aid (WAFA) and trained on how to respond in the case of an emergency. In addition, each SFS program is staffed with a full-time residential Student Affairs Manager (SAM) who is a certified Wilderness First Responder (WFR), Sexual Assault First Responder, and the primary medical responder on campus. The SAM also coordinates program logistics, engages students in community outreach, advises and counsels students on group dynamics and adjusting to life abroad, and conducts on-site risk assessment and management.
Each SFS field station is equipped with communications equipment, including cell phones, internet access, and a satellite phone. SFS Headquarters maintains a 24-hour emergency contact system and is in close contact with the staff at each field station. It is important to note that internet may occasionally be unavailable due to local provider or satellite issues.
While on-program, we do encourage students to ‘disconnect’ from their devices and social media platforms in order to fully experience their time abroad.
SFS adheres to the Forum on Education Abroad Standards of Good Practice and continually monitors global risk and security using a variety of external resources, including the U.S. State Department and Overseas Security Advisory Council. These resources and diligent monitoring enable SFS to adapt to the dynamic changes of the natural and political world and mitigate and respond to risk quickly and effectively.
Each SFS Center has a Risk Assessment and Management Plan (RAMP) that comprehensively documents emergency response protocols and contingency plans. The protocols list the locations and contact details for nearby medical clinics, advanced medical care, and emergency evacuation services while also providing our staff, who are trained in wilderness medicine, with guidance on how to respond to incidents or emergencies.
COVID-19 entry requirements vary globally, and a participant may be required to be up to date on COVID-19 vaccinations, depending on the program location. SFS will aim to notify students should entry requirements change prior to departure.
SFS program locations do not currently maintain entry-requirements related to COVID-19. However, participants without a COVID-19 vaccination may be barred by local authorities should COVID-19 requirements be reinstated.
If COVID-19 entry requirements change prior to departure, it is the responsibility of the unvaccinated student to comply with any stipulations set forth by the host country. Should a student need to withdraw from the program, the SFS withdrawal policy will govern any reimbursement.
Pre-Departure COVID-19 Testing Guidelines
All participants are encouraged to test for COVID-19 7-10 days before the start of their program. SFS requires all participants to test for COVID-19 72-hours prior to departure on either a home test, Rapid Antigen Test, or PCR and monitor their results. If a participant tests positive prior to departure, the participant will be required to self-isolate following CDC Guidelines and may need to delay travel to the Center.
COVID-19 Testing On Arrival
All participants are tested for COVID-19 on arrival to their SFS location and may be tested again during the first week of the program to minimize the potential spread of COVID-19.
At times, the use of masks may be required. It is recommended each participant bring their own supply of medical grade masks (KN95s or equivalent) to use throughout the program.
COVID-19 Self-Isolation Guidelines & Participant Responsibilities
SFS adheres to the CDC COVID-19 and the local ministry of health guidelines. Should a participant test positive for COVID-19 while abroad, the student will be required to self-isolate for a minimum of 5 days. Ending isolation will depend on the participant’s symptoms and severity of illness and the participant may be required to wear a mask following self-isolation.
At times, it may not be possible for the participant to self-isolate at the SFS Center. Positive COVID-19 cases will be handled on a case-by-case basis. If the participant is unable to self-isolate at the SFS Center, they will be relocated off-campus to a nearby hotel and the participant will be financially responsible for the cost. The average cost of a hotel is between $75-$200 USD a night depending on the location. Participants are encouraged to consider an international health insurance policy that offers reimbursement for quarantine/self-isolation expenses while abroad.
If a participant is required to self isolate, regardless of if the participant is at the Center or temporarily related to a local hotel, an SFS staff member will continue to provide support and will be in frequent contact with the student, deliver meals and medication as requested, transport the student to advanced medical care, etc.
SFS values the inclusion of all students, including those who are marginalized or underrepresented as a result of their racial and/or ethnic identity, members of the LGBTQ+ community, first generation college students, and students from all underserved areas. SFS encourages students of all backgrounds to study abroad.
During program orientation, SFS staff provide students with information on the local community and culture, including local attitudes toward different beliefs, values, and lifestyles. Students should recognize that, while on-program, they may be challenged by vastly different beliefs and boundaries than they are used to in their home communities. SFS encourages students with country-specific questions to reach out to SFS Admissions.
Supporting students who are underrepresented, underserved, or marginalized as a result of their racial and/or ethnic identity is critical to SFS’ mission and identity. This includes both here in the U.S., at students’ home institutions, and in the countries that students travel to with SFS. Some students have reported that their time abroad has given them an opportunity to think about their identity in a new cultural context; others have reported feeling familiar or new types of discrimination. Very often, both are true and challenging. SFS considers seriously the varied forms of support it can offer, in each stage of a student’s time with us, to create a resource-rich, diverse, inclusive, and equitable experience in which all SFS students belong.
SFS is here to support students who are the first in their families to attend a four-year college or university to attain a bachelor’s degree. We have many resources to help our students fund, plan, and prepare for their study abroad experience, and to help students communicate the importance of study abroad as part of a college career to friends and family.
SFS welcomes members of the LGBTQIA+ community. While we work diligently to provide an open and safe space on our program campuses, we do ask all students to understand and respect that sexual orientation and identity may be viewed differently within the local community where they are living and studying. Please be aware that country- or region-specific laws or culture may limit individual self-expression while in the local community. Please contact Admissions for more information on housing and local community views across our program countries.
Students requesting physical and health accommodations should contact Admissions. Students requesting learning accommodations should contact the SFS Office of Academic Affairs. SFS will work with students, home schools, and physicians to determine the required level of accommodation and whether or not it can be safely and reasonably maintained on program. While SFS strives to make accommodations for most disabilities, due to the remote nature of our programs, there are varying levels of accessibility, services, and accommodations at each SFS Center.
SFS strives to support students in their religious observance and expression while on-program. It is important for students to research the religious traditions of the host country they plan to travel to, as well as what the local attitudes toward other religions might be. Due to the structured nature of SFS programs and our remote locations around the world, it may not be feasible to accommodate certain observances, dietary needs, and practices.
Accommodating Students with Disabilities
Students requesting physical and health accommodations should contact Admissions. Students requesting learning accommodations should contact the SFS Office of Academic Affairs. SFS will work with students, home schools, and physicians to determine the required level of accommodation and whether or not it can be safely and reasonably maintained on-program. While SFS strives to make accommodations for most disabilities, due to the remote nature of our programs, there are varying levels of accessibility, services, and accommodations at each SFS center.
Studying abroad can be an exciting and energizing time for students. It can also present myriad challenges, including adjustment to a new culture and daily routine, unfamiliarity with the local environment, forming of new relationships, and a lack of familiar support systems. In addition, SFS programs operate in remote regions with delayed access to medical care and limited or absent mental health resources.
Students with mental health conditions are encouraged to discuss any concerns with their physician, mental health provider, or the SFS Student Life Department prior to participation on an SFS program. Students who undergo regular counseling or therapy should verify that their mental health provider is available via phone, email, or other means of telecommunication while the student is abroad. SFS will also work with students to develop a set of coping strategies that can be utilized while studying abroad, in addition to preparing them for what to expect in their individual host countries.
After being accepted to an SFS program, students are expected to complete the SFS Medical Approval Process. This review is designed to inform SFS staff on the medical and mental health needs or accommodations that may be required. The review is not meant to exclude, but to inform and allow support systems to be put in place. Should SFS have any concerns about accommodations for a particular physical or mental health condition, the student and the student’s physician or mental health provider will be contacted to discuss strategies for successful program participation.
Inaccurate or incomplete information on any of the SFS medical forms may be grounds for rescinding an offer of admission, recalling a student from the program, or restricting student participation in certain activities. In addition, students are responsible for informing SFS of any changes to their health status or medication dosage that occur after submission of SFS medical forms.
Dietary Needs and Preferences
SFS is able to accommodate most dietary needs, but students will find that the variety of food may be limited due to local availability, cultural practice, and cost. Additionally, during homestays or traveling portions of the program, options may be further limited. Students with a medically necessary dietary requirement should contact Admissions within one week of acceptance. All dietary restrictions or preferences (e.g. gluten-free, vegetarian, vegan, etc.) should be noted on the Student Life Survey and Health History Form or discussed with the Student Life Department.
Field work by its very nature is physically arduous; the days are long, the traveling seldom comfortable, and creature comforts generally lacking. In order to withstand the pace and rigors of the program, as well as health risks specific to the country or region, it is strongly advised that all students be in good physical health. Physical conditioning prior to the start of the program is encouraged. Students should address existing or chronic medical issues before arriving in-country. Due to the remote nature of the program, medical care is not always easily accessible. While SFS strives to make accommodations for most disabilities, due to the remote nature of the programs, there are varying levels of accessibility, services, and accommodations at each SFS Center.