These are challenging times, particularly for those involved in programs for American students in the Middle East and North Africa. At AMIDEAST, student health, safety, and security are the number one priorities. While no one can guarantee that unexpected risks or situations will not arise, we continually strive to provide the support necessary for students to have a safe and healthy education abroad experience.
We continuously monitor the security situation in each of our program locations and work with our local staff and other local contacts to have the most up to date information on the safety of the cities in which we operate. We also go to great lengths to prepare for the unexpected and have protocols and procedures in place to deal with challenges that may arise. Below are descriptions of the infrastructure that AMIDEAST has put in place at its program sites in the Arab world to provide support for Education Abroad students.
Although it is not possible to eliminate risk, AMIDEAST is committed to ensuring that its programs operate in safe and secure environments. AMIDEAST's longstanding physical presence in the Middle East and North Africa and long history of service to local communities have enabled the development of strong local networks and relationships with local institutions and individuals. AMIDEAST's Country Directors maintain close ties to the Regional Security Officers at the U.S. Embassies, and local program staff members are included in the U.S. Embassy warden network. AMIDEAST is also a member of the Department of State's Overseas Security Advisory Council.
AMIDEAST facilities are accessible only through controlled entrances. Local staff is able to send out text messages (SMS) simultaneously to all students on their program-provided mobile phones to update them instantly as issues related to health, safety, and security develop. All AMIDEAST's broader local staff maintain strong local networks and contribute to the understanding of ongoing and developing situations on the ground.
In addition, to further enhance access to up-to-the-minute information in crisis situations, AMIDEAST contracts with iJET: Intelligent Risk Systems, to offer certain services directly to AMIDEAST students. Lastly, an internal communication system links AMIDEAST Headquarters in Washington, DC, with field offices in the Middle East and North Africa, and key staff members are available at all times to respond to emergency situations. AMIDEAST staff also provides information to students about how to register with the U.S. Department of State Smart Traveler Enrollment Program (STEP).
While AMIDEAST takes every measure it can to assure a healthy, safe, and secure environment for our students, we emphasize to our participants in written materials, pre-departure orientation, on-side orientation, and throughout their participation in AMIDEAST Education Abroad Programs that they too must take responsibility for their own health, safety, and security. Students are encouraged to use common sense, be aware of their surroundings, and avoid compromising situations. In addition, we work to inform students about how to adhere to local norms with respect to dress, behavior, and use of alcohol. A particular focus of student preparation is the need to avoid involvement in any political demonstrations – not because we want to restrict their freedom of expression, but because we want to help program participants avoid situations that may pose serious danger.
Part of ensuring that students remain safe while abroad includes providing them with in-depth information in preparation for their time in country. AMIDEAST staff sends students a series of pre-departure emails addressing topics such as, flight information, academic matters, visa, insurance, safety, and security. In addition, students are provided with an extensive handbook that outlines the cultural and logistical issues they will face during their time abroad in detail. In addition to written material, students also participate in an online Pre-Departure Orientation with AMIDEAST staff prior to departure.
Upon arrival at the program site, students are given a local "pay as you go" mobile phone to use for the duration of the program. These phones are pre-programed with local staff numbers and emergency contact numbers and serve as the primary link between the AMIDEAST Education Abroad Program Manager on-site and the students in emergency situations. Program Managers have the ability to send text messages to all program participants instantaneously in such situations to convey information and to ask students to let them know of their whereabouts. Further, AMIDEAST staff maintains a list of student phone numbers and addresses in order to be able to quickly reach students in case of unforeseen circumstances or emergencies.
Students are provided with an emergency contact card upon arrival that includes phone numbers for the AMIDEAST office, Program manager, Country Director, and other relevant personnel. The card also includes numbers for AMIDEAST headquarters, contact information for the U.S. Embassy, and local emergency phone numbers.
Students are required to complete a Travel Information Form prior to any travel outside of the host city. They must provide contact information and an itinerary so that staff has the ability to contact them if necessary.
All students are required to submit a completed medical profile prior to departure. AMIDEAST staff review this information and work with students to make necessary accommodations for any health or dietary needs. As part of the program fee, AMIDEAST provides medical and accident insurance for all students through Cultural Insurance Services International (CISI). In addition to medical insurance, AMIDEAST education abroad students are provided with security and natural disaster evacuation services through CISI. Once in country, AMIDEAST has a list of recommended providers and hospitals both in the host city and in areas visited on excursions. If a student requires an appointment with a doctor or must go to a doctor, AMIDEAST in-country staff will assist in scheduling the appointment, accompanying the student to the doctor's office, and assuring the student's medical needs are met in any other way necessary.
AMIDEAST was established in 1951 to build bridges of understanding between Americans and the peoples of the Middle East and North Africa. Today it is more important than ever that Americans learn more about this critical area as we work to build a more peaceful future. AMIDEAST has field offices in 12 countries throughout the region; the oldest have existed for more than 50 years. This longstanding physical presence in the region has enabled AMIDEAST to develop an extensive network of contacts with local educational and other institutions, organizations, government offices, and civil society.
Headed by a Country Director, each office has a Program Manager with specific responsibility for the AMIDEAST Education Abroad Program. They are joined by numerous other personnel, almost all of them host country nationals, in their work to provide a safe study environment for AMIDEAST Education Abroad students. Many of the in-country staff persons have worked for AMIDEAST for a number of years and they are highly knowledgeable about the locales in which the program operates.
AMIDEAST headquarters staff in Washington D.C. is available throughout the pre-departure process to answer questions about health, safety, and security and provide guidelines on behavior prior to student departure. Once in country, AMIDEAST's Program Managers and staff prepare students for dealing with situations that may arise during the on-site orientation and are always available to assist students with their adjustment throughout their sojourn.
Upon arrival in country, AMIDEAST students participate in an in-depth orientation designed to introduce them to local culture and daily life and familiarize them with the logistics of the program. Orientation combines structured informational sessions with organized activities and free time to familiarize participants with the urban environment. Topics such as safety and health, cultural adjustment, program regulations, participant responsibilities and other essential information are discussed in detail. Students receive a AMIDEAST mobile phone upon arrival and all emergency contacts are programmed into their cell phone. During the in-country orientation students also meet their professors, take language placement tests, become familiar with the program's IT environment, and learn how to navigate their new city.