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Travel Safety Procedures in Place

Political tensions between the two Koreas have resulted in the closure of an industrial complex in a North Korean border town. This severs the last economic ties between the countries, according to The New York Times. South Korea withdrew all of its remaining managers and officials from the complex this week. North Korea had pulled out all of its workers in early April to protest joint U.S.-South Korea military exercises, which ended Tuesday.

Some NMU students are in South Korea participating in Teach and Learn in Korea (TaLK), a scholarship program sponsored by the Korean government that enhances public English education in rural schools. TaLK, like all of Northern’s partners in international study, closely monitors potential emergency situations—from escalating political unrest to natural disasters—and has a safety action plan in place. The agency is communicating as needed with students in that location and with NMU’s International Programs office (pictured are Susan Morgan and new director Kevin Timlin).

“It’s also important to register your presence with the U.S. State Department’s STEP [Smarter Traveler Enrollment Program] and to keep in close contact with the U.S. Embassy in the country you’re visiting,” said Susan Morgan (International Programs). “That way, you can be contacted with the most accurate information and recommended protocols, should an emergency occur. We go over all of this, and give tips on how individuals can best avoid dangerous situations, during our orientations with those planning trips abroad. We prepare students as best we can for international experiences, but we also make it clear that, as adults, they are responsible for their own choices and behavior.

“We also subscribe to professional listservs and receive daily email digests that would tip us off if anything develops. At this time, we are not recommending that students in South Korea evacuate because there are no elevated State Department cautions or warnings. If political evacuation ever becomes necessary on an NMU-sponsored trip (this doesn’t apply to TaLK), everyone who participates in an NMU-sponsored trip abroad is insured against that. We make sure they’re on the university’s plan.”

An NMU faculty-led trip to Honduras, scheduled for this year, was canceled with advance notice last fall after the U.S. State Department issued a travel warning. Morgan recalled a situation that impacted NMU students visiting Peru one year. People were instructed to stay home or inside at night because “an old terrorist gang had become active again" and was threatening to kidnap American tourists in high-profile destinations such as Machu Picchu. It was a temporary restriction, but demonstrated the importance of following advice related to personal safety.

Timlin joined NMU in January, around the time the university implemented a new international travel registry policy. “Anyone using university funds to go overseas or travel on behalf of the university is required to register with us beforehand. We need emergency contact information and information about their itineraries,” he said. “One of the main purposes of  the policy is to enhance the university’s abilty to respond effectively to any emergency situation that may arise, whether it is here or abroad."

Faculty or staff members leading a student trip receive a packet with instructions on registering with the U.S. Embassy in the country, a detailed itinerary, copies of students’ insurance cards, recommended health care providers in the region, a translation guide of basic phrases that might be relevant to an emergency and U.S. State Department information on each country they will visit. All participants receive a card with a dedicated phone number for International Programs. If the call is made during non-business hours, it is forwarded to Public Safety.

“It is important to understand that every off-campus program, whether international or domestic, has an inherent risk. But we do everything we can to alleviate that,” said Timlin. “We never want to send a group to a place that poses an obvious threat, therefore every program is thoroughly examined. It is a diligent process that begins about a year in advance to allow for the necessary groundwork and preparation.”