Get your ducks in a row – Bridging the gaps in health and safety for study abroad programmes

Ashley Mountfort, ATC1, Rachel Helwig2
1 Resident Director, BCA Study Abroad, University of Otago, Dunedin, New Zealand
2 Assistant Director, Health & Safety and Program Services, BCA Study Abroad, Pennsylvania, USA

As opportunities for studying abroad increase, so do the possibilities of unforeseen incidents. Past incidents resulted in liable consequences. Many of those incidents were unnecessary and could have likely been prevented through applying risk management strategies. Reported incidents followed by liable consequences included a University of Washington trip to Ghana, St Mary’s College trip to Guatemala, the National Outdoor Leadership School in the Himalayas, Paneno v Centres for Academic Programmes Abroad, Ltd and King, et. al. v Eastern Michigan University (1,2,3). Unique cases such as Orson D Munn III et. al. v The Hotchkiss School serve as reminders of rare, yet still possible incidents that may occur and potentially threaten a study abroad programme (4). While these types of events have encouraged education and travel providers to improve safety reviews in the planning process, it is important we are careful not to cross boundaries of professionalism and discrimination at the same time. Clitheroe Royal Grammar School’s refusal to take a diabetic student on an overseas trip is one example case (5). Bird v Lewis & Clark College also reviews similar factors (3). All of these cases place emphasis on knowledge as a powerful tool in enforcing health and safety within international education efficiently and competently. Lack of knowledge from a leadership standpoint is not a valid defence (6). Hence, it is important that we as educators, authority figures, supporters and leaders continue to learn about new evidence and risk assessment strategies that arise in international education. In response to recent legislative changes in health and safety practices around the globe, it is essential that we understand and develop strategies for adhering to such guidelines in order to build and maintain security and stability for our roles and programmes. With that said, we can review various case studies as mentioned above and apply key factors that share significant points across the board, regardless of the country of origin or programme. It is equally important to emphasise legislation and institutional guidelines for identifying and managing risks. Additionally, we can make use of such resources available through numerous institutions and government agencies to guide decisions. As a result of this careful planning, we are then more equipped for handling worst-case scenarios while leading best-case experiences abroad.

Keywords: Health, safety, risk management, international, education


  1. DIAZ-DURAN, C. (2010, May 13). 7 Student Travel Nightmares. The Daily Beast
  2. Hanners, D. (2013, October 23). Minnetonka mom sues trekking company in college son’s fatal fall. Twin Cities Pioneer Press, Intelligence on higher education.
  3. Hoye, W. P. (2006, February 18). LEGAL ISSUES INFLUENCING INTERNATIONAL STUDY ABROAD PROGRAMS [Case Study]. Retrieved from
  4. Ruskin, W. A. (2013, April 5). [Student Bitten By Tick: Hotchkiss School On Hook For $41.75 Million]. Retrieved July 26, 2016, from Gordon & Rees’s Environmental and Toxic Tort Defense Insight website:
  5. BBC News. (2000, October 19). School sued over diabetic ban. BBC News, Education.
  6. Lin, T. (2015, October 30). Getting head around health & safety reforms a must for SMEs., BusinessDay.


Ashley Mountfort is the Resident Director for the BCA Study Abroad programme at the University of Otago in Dunedin, New Zealand. She was trained as a Certified Athletic Trainer in the USA before moving to New Zealand. As a study abroad alum, she carries the passion of promoting international education opportunities. Within her training and as a response to New Zealand legislation, she has co-led several sessions in health and safety for her roles in international education and youth work.

International students’ mental health – an explorative study

Paul Lister1

1 Ministry of Education, P.O Box 1666, Wellington 6011

The health and well-being of international students in New Zealand is paramount to their academic success as well as their study and living experience in New Zealand. It is a government priority to ensure international students are adequately supported while studying here. This explorative study looks at the mental health needs and associated challenges faced by international students in New Zealand and how they are experienced by those supporting them. It is a collaborative project between the New Zealand Ministry of Education and ISANA New Zealand.  The project was conceived to investigate anecdotal stories about increasing stress and mental health challenges amongst international students. The Ministry of Education will present the findings from a small survey sent to members of ISANA New Zealand in May this year and information gathered from health insurance providers. These findings will be discussed along with possible implications on policy and practice for government agencies which work in international education, education providers, and other community and local authority groups with an interest in the well-being of international students.


Sexuality and sexual health education for Asian international high school students in New Zealand homestay environments

Lien Trinh1

1 PhD Candidate, University of Otago College of Education

Among approximately 16,000 international students enrolled yearly in New Zealand schools (since 2009), the vast majority are secondary students. Asian students are the largest source of international students compared to those coming from other continents.  Despite the sheer volume of Asian students in the New Zealand school system, there is an apparent lack of attention to their sexuality and sexual health in policy and literature. In this presentation I discuss my ongoing doctoral research examining whether discussion about sexual health takes place between homestay parents and international high school students in New Zealand. The study examines the students’ awareness, attitudes and practices in relation to sexual health, and identifies factors that shape their access to sexual health information in their homestay environments. It also explores school policies, guidelines and practices in this area.  In this presentation I discuss my preliminary findings from interviews with Asian international students, homestay parents and school staff. I begin the presentation by discussing the presence of Asian international students in New Zealand high schools and explaining the study’s rationale. Then, I draw on childhood studies and discourse analytic approaches to discuss the power relations and subject positions that emerged in my interview data, revealing factors that may enable or constrain student and homestay parent communication about sex and sexual health. I discuss participants’ perspectives on school and homestay families’ responsibilities in relation to sexuality education for international high school students, concluding with some suggested implications for policy and practice in New Zealand high schools.


Lien Trinh is currently a PhD student at the University of Otago College of Education.  She previously completed her Master in Public Health (MPH) through the University of Otago, and MA in Communications through University of Hawaii (USA, Fulbright Scholar).  Her MPH thesis focused on abortions amongst Asian women in New Zealand.  Her MA thesis focused on sexual health communications amongst among men-who-have-sex-with-men in Vietnam.  Lien has worked as a research assistant at the Department of Preventive and Social Medicine (University of Otago), consultant at United Nations Population Funds (New York USA), and HIV/AIDS Project Manager for DKT International Vietnam.