An Extraordinary new resource from the U.S. Department of State

by Dr. Jessie Voigts /
Dr. Jessie Voigts's picture
May 16, 2008 / 0 comments

The U.S. State Department has a fantastic new resource for students going abroad (and their parents), and actually anyone who is going overseas will find much useful information on this site,


The site is wide-ranging, encompassing travel documents, health issues, emergencies and emergency protocol, embassies, smart travel, checklists and guides, how to vote while you're overseas, news and alerts, and more. The minute I saw this site, I knew that it would be an incredible resource for our wandering educators (and their students!). I sat down and talked with Ryan Palsrok, the Public Outreach Coordinator, Office of Children's Issues, at the U.S. Department of State. Ryan was generous enough to give us an in-depth interview that gives a bit of background to the site!








WE: Tell us a little bit about your site, Students Abroad…


RP: Through the Students Abroad website, the Department of State’s Bureau of Consular Affairs aims to provide information about safe, smart travel to college-aged Americans in a style that reflects the exciting, enriching nature of international education. The site is intended to be a one-stop reference for international travel. Students can download flyers called "go guides,” travel preparation checklists, and also a wallet card for emergency U.S. embassy contact information. The website also offers country specific information, tips for safe travel, and other important information, such as:


  • Who to contact if a student is victim of a crime;
  • What to do in case of a natural disaster or emergency;
  • Where the nearest U.S. embassy is located;
  • When to apply for a passport and visa; and
  • How to vote in U.S. election from abroad.

The tagline of the website, “go from here,” signals that Students Abroad should be the first stop on a student’s trip.






WE: How did the U.S. Department of State decide to provide this information?


RP: The Department of State’s Bureau of Consular Affairs includes an office specifically set up for the assistance of American citizens living and traveling abroad. This office is called Overseas Citizens Services. Overseas Citizens Services frequently provides emergency assistance to young Americans when something goes wrong on a trip. Some recent examples include an American college student in Europe who had been slipped a date rape drug in her drink, a spring-breaker in Mexico jailed for possession of illegal drugs, and a student injured in a motorcycle accident in Greece.


One of the Department of State’s most important missions is the protection of U.S. citizens abroad. The Department hopes that through this website, students will be better prepared for their trips, so that their international experience will be as rewarding as possible.



WE: How long has this project been in the works?


RP: The project began late last summer. The Deputy Assistant Secretary for Overseas Citizens Services, Michele Bond, approved the project in August. Without her support throughout the development of the website, it could not have been unveiled in this relatively short time frame.



WE: What areas, do you feel, are the most important for students just beginning to plan to go overseas? For parents?


RP: We tried to limit the content of the website to the essentials, so I view each page as important. There are, however, three areas in particular that I’d like to highlight:


1. The section on local laws under Smart Travel: When Americans go to another country, they’re subject that country’s laws. This is important to remember when going overseas because foreign laws can sometimes be quite different from our own.


2. The section on medical insurance under Health: It is really important to have adequate health insurance coverage when going overseas. It can be crippling financially to get sick or be injured overseas without the right health insurance coverage, especially if you need a medical evacuation to the U.S. Quite simply, don’t travel without it.


3. The section about Embassies: Every U.S. embassy in the world has a section dedicated to assisting Americans in that country. If something happens to you when you’re overseas, do not be afraid to call the embassy. Although they won’t be able to bail you out of every situation, they can help you understand your options.



WE: Who else is the site geared toward?


RP: The primary audience for the site of course is young Americans. We hope that the site will also be a resource for their parents, professionals in the study abroad field, and schools and universities alike. If others find the site useful, terrific! We do want the site to be useful, and invite feedback about how it can be improved. Feedback can be directed to [email protected].



WE: Is there anything else you'd like to share with us?


RP: The international experience can be truly valuable. It changes a person, and helps shape that person’s perspective of the world. This can be particularly true for young people.


I can attest to this. During my schooling at Middlebury College, I went on trips to India and Israel. In fact, part of why so many of us work for the Department of State is because we treasure international travel and cross-cultural experience.


We tried to include this positive attitude toward international travel and education in the design of Students Abroad. Although the website provides information about things that can go wrong overseas, it does not aim to discourage travel. The site’s tagline “go from here” and the site’s colorful images indicate quite the opposite. Our hope, though, is that by better equipping students for their trip, young Americans will experience the best of international travel. And who knows? Maybe that trip will convince some of them to work for the Department of State too someday.



WE: Thank you so much, Ryan, for providing us with this extraordinary site – a great resource for all of us in international education. I appreciate your time!


To check out this extraordinary website, please go to: