I like to think you would be hard-pressed to find a North American millennial who did not race home after school to catch an episode of Breaker High (the show with, in my humble opinion, the catchiest 90’s TV theme song). Breaker High was a story of eight students who ditched the traditional institution of school and attended high school while traveling the world on a luxurious cruise ship.
For many impressionable young minds, this was the first insight into traveling while in school. Over the past ten years, the number of North American students studying abroad has continually increased with more universities and colleges offering international study programs. It just so happens that the age of those students who started the wave of studying abroad correlates with those influential minds who were catching Breaker High on YTV (Canada) or UPN (USA) as tweens.
However, there are clearly no `luxury cruise ship schools’ parading students from country to country (at least that I have come across); so, what is the big draw to study abroad? Many universities claim it provides students with opportunities that they would not receive in a traditional education setting such as networking, cultural experiences, the upper hand when it comes to career salaries, and in some cases more in-depth or specialized educational opportunities. When I asked my friends who traveled abroad to study, the answers seemed to be less about getting an education and more about the travel experience. The ability to go to a foreign country to experience university life (school, weekend trips, and of course the parties) was an unforgettable opportunity they did not want to pass up. They wanted to be immersed in a city, culture, another alma mater, and leave no experience-stone unturned.
During all these experiences, staying safe is not always at the top of a student’s mind. Many universities have insurance policies or encourage students to get personal international travel coverage, but in most cases, these plans come with a lot of fine print and loopholes. Finding out about those loopholes after a travel emergency occurs is not ideal, and an ‘I thought I was covered’ call to your insurance provider could be the financial end to your study abroad experience. Universities and individual students alike have the responsibility to ensure that they are properly covered for possible situations such as medical emergencies, violent crimes, terrorism, or natural disasters. They should be educated to know whom to call and what to do in a crisis. Perhaps more importantly, students should have the peace of mind to travel confidently knowing that if a crisis does occur they will be covered with no fine print, no extra costs.
Students studying abroad should be concentrating on making grades and great memories, not fretting over what to do in a crisis! It is like they whimsically sing in the Breaker High theme song, “Na na nana na na, hey, hey carry me away”.