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Directing On-Site

Student Group in Guatemala

Directing On-site

On-site Responsibilities

While on-site, Program Directors are responsible not only for facilitating their students’ learning to meet their courses’ academic and inter-cultural goals, but also for various logistical, administrative, and student life aspects of their off-campus programs. On successful off-campus programs, Program Directors:

  • define for the students their Program Director role on the middle ground between teacher, authority figure, guide, parent, and friend, as well as limitations and expectations of this role;
  • clearly define for the students the limitations and expectations for their conduct while participating in off-campus study;
  • know and adhere to local laws as well as University of St. Thomas and Office of Study Abroad policies;
  • conduct an on-site orientation;
  • manage the student group dynamics from the beginning;
  • help students set realistic goals for their time off-campus;
  • assist students through the stages of cultural adjustment;
  • make themselves available to students for answering their questions and listening to their comments and concerns;
  • encourage students to have their own experiences in the host cultures outside of scheduled program time;
  • model respect for host country nationals and sensitivity to inter-cultural differences;
  • maintain communication with the Office of Study Abroad;
  • resolve student disciplinary problems;
  • respond to on-site emergencies;
  • spend on-site funds within the pre-set budgets; AND
  • keep financial records for on-site expenses.


Should any natural, political, or social emergency arise, Program Directors, as the St. Thomas on-site representatives, immediately determine the level of risk confronting participants and a prudent course of action. A first step, if there is time and according to communications procedures established in advance, is usually to contact the Office of Study Abroad and provide complete and accurate information about the nature of the emergency and how it has impacted the participants, or might. The Program Directors’ continuing roles in emergency response situations are those of liaisons with the Office of Study Abroad which assembles a team of administrators to evaluate the institutional response to the emergency, based on the Program Directors’ recommendations. Once the situation on-site is stabilized, much of the decision-making responsibility may be assumed by St. Thomas administrators.

Travel Warnings

The University of St. Thomas uses U.S. Department of State travel warnings as guidelines in determining whether programs in international locations should be cancelled due to serious risk to Program Directors’ and students’ health, safety, or security. Program cancellations are strongly considered whenever a U.S. Department of State Travel Warning is issued, and in those cases, St. Thomas and especially its Program Directors make every effort to allow returned students to complete the requirements for earning academic credit for their programs back on campus.

Mental Health Issues

Just like other institutions around the country, the University of St. Thomas has seen an increase in off-campus study program participants with mental health issues, sometimes undisclosed. Program Directors may need to accommodate students with mental health needs or respond to their emergencies on-site. Accommodations may include adjustments in schedule, housing, or other program components. Mental health emergencies should be communicated to the Office of Study Abroad who involves Counseling and Psychological Services staff and a team of other administrators in determining with Program Directors the best responses based on the circumstances of the students and the off-campus locations.