SIT letter to partner institutions

Announcement Date: March 3, 2020

This is a difficult moment for the international education community. We know that you have been working tirelessly to support your students all over the world. SIT is confident that we have taken a responsible and proactive approach to the emerging COVID-19 situation. This includes a daily assessment of the spread of COVID-19 and related travel restrictions, and 24/7 monitoring of CDC, WHO, U.S. State Department, International SOS and local health advisories and government communiques.

Guidance from the World Health Organization (WHO) recommends that organizations should not interrupt travel when possible:

“WHO continues to advise against the application of travel or trade restrictions to countries experiencing COVID-19 outbreaks.
In general, evidence shows that restricting the movement of people and goods during public health emergencies is ineffective in most situations and may divert resources from other interventions. Furthermore, restrictions may interrupt needed aid and technical support, may disrupt businesses, and may have negative social and economic effects on the affected countries. However, in certain circumstances, measures that restrict the movement of people may prove temporarily useful, such as in settings with few international connections and limited response capacities.”

Concurrently, a statement from the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) suggests that institutions of higher education in the United States consider stopping their students from travelling on study abroad programs and consider bringing home study abroad students already overseas.

In addition to the aforementioned advisories, SIT keeps in close contact with our in-country teams to make sure their contingency plans reflect the current situation, and we are working with our academic directors to support any student transitioning to a different program. We are also regularly updating students, parents, and partners as to changes or potential changes in programming.

To make sure than no student or in-country team is in a potentially problematic or risky situation, to date, we have taken a number of steps. For example:

  • In January, we decided to cancel our spring semester program in China.
  • We have adjusted excursions on our Malaysia program.
  • Our expert team in Ho Chi Minh City was able to help the IHP Climate Change program move to southern Vietnam early in the semester.
  • We re-routed our Jordan Health students en route to Switzerland through Turkey instead of Rome.
  • We made the difficult decision to close the Mongolia program for this term dur to government-imposed restrictions on travel that made the program too difficult to run. Three of those students are already placed in new programs, thanks to the remarkable work of our Mongolia academic director and her team to provide closure of the student group and facilitate onward travel.
  • Independent travel to northern Italy was banned last week.

SIT’s parent organization, World Learning, Inc., has offered the following statement, which outlines the measures we have taken and our institutional approach to the situation.

SIT is also recommending that students on programs in Europe, and on IHP programs, refrain from unnecessary independent travel outside of their program or homestay neighborhood at this time with the goal of minimizing possible exposure to the virus. Travel to Level 3 and 4 regions, as identified by the U.S. State Department and CDC, is prohibited.

If students ask to return home, or if your institution decides to require them to do so, we will offer appropriate learning alternatives. SIT is positioned as an institution accredited to provide distance learning. These learning alternatives will be tailored to the academic positioning of each program and aim to provide options for delivering full credit for students’ study abroad semester.

In making our decisions, we have worked closely with you, our partners, as well as with parents and students. However careful we are to assess risk, we recognize that the perception of risk is not a science. We appreciate the level of concern being expressed under the ever-changing circumstances and we are pairing those feelings with the best information available to us in order to reduce the risks.

We are presently in Bilbao, where we are meeting with our Spain program, and hearing firsthand from students who are fielding many questions and calls from home and are concerned about their study abroad experience being curtailed or changed.

Please be assured that whatever your institution decides to do, we will ensure that your students are well cared for and that we are available at any time to discuss concerns and answer questions. I want to thank you for partnership with us this semester.

As a global higher education institution with decades of experience, SIT is accustomed to addressing crises wherever and whenever they may emerge. We will continue to so in this situation – using our knowledge and deep global networks to provide our students and partners with support during this difficult time.

Please do not hesitate to contact us.

Warm Regards,
Sophia Howlett
School for International Training

Mory H. Pagel
Executive Director of Institutional Relations and Strategic Partnerships
School for International Training