ITRAAC Feedback and Application Tips from Returned Travelers

As part of the ITRAAC application process, applicants complete a travel survey within 30 days after they return to the U.S. Survey information provides feedback and advice to further assist students and units in planning for their petition and time abroad. 

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Factors Affecting Success of Project Abroad

More than 60 percent of applicants find on-site contacts the most important factor that contributed to the success of ITRAAC-approved travel. Establishing and developing relationships with higher education institutions, private sectors, NGOs, libraries, government officials, and the U.S. Embassies before leaving the U.S. is essential to reaching goals. On the other hand, factors that limited success and prevented meeting goals vary as follows:

  • Getting approval to receive University credit
  • Running out of supplies
  • Program connection in the country didn’t follow through with expectations
  • Disorganized program
  • Time constraints
  • Lack of funds and finances, budgetary constraints
  • Language barrier
  • Cultural differences
  • Traveling alone
  • Lack of internet access
  • City locked down due to unrest
  • Tropical storms
  • Difficulty in scheduling meetings and interviews

State Department Resources

Factors such as those listed above should be well considered before leaving the U.S., and University of Minnesota students and units are encouraged to prepare for unexpected incidents and unforeseen emergency situations abroad. The U.S. Department of State’s international travel website provides travel advisories for all countries around the world detailing potential risks and conditions to consider before and during travel.

Country-specific information can be also found at the State Department’s website for every country of the world, such as the location of the U.S. embassy and any consular offices, visa, crime and security information, health and medical conditions, drug penalties, and localized hot spots.

The U.S. Department of State’s international travel website also provides tips for traveling abroad and international travel safety information for students (U.S. Students Abroad). Travelers are urged to register with the U.S. Embassies through the Smart Traveler Enrollment Program (STEP). By enrolling, travelers can receive the Embassy’s most recent security and safety updates during their trip. The Embassy will be able to assist travelers better in the case of an emergency such as when a passport is lost or stolen while abroad.

Mitigation Strategies and Plans

ITRAAC applicants should carefully review the U.S. State Department’s travel advisory and country-specific information, and in their proposals, state how to mitigate the health, safety, security issues, and concerns of the travel advisory. Examples of mitigation strategies and plans that returnees actually conducted while abroad are as follows:

  • Visit a travel clinic for immunizations, vaccinations; receive prescription and medication before leaving the U.S.
  • Wash hands well; uphold good hygiene
  • Carry a first aid kit
  • Don't eat food from street vendors
  • Drink bottled water
  • Carry a cell phone
  • Keep valuables in safe
  • Only access ATMs during daylight hours
  • Dress and speak according to local customs so as to remain under the radar
  • Keep up-to-date on the news
  • Follow hosts’ or on-site contact’s advice on travel plans, food, housing, clothing, and mode of transportation
  • Have orientation on safety and security before departure, and upon arrival, and have update briefing by on-site contacts or hosts
  • Carry CISI information, emergency contact information, evacuation plan, and emergency medical information
  • Carry an evacuation plan in the case of terrorism
  • Have close contacts within an hour drive as a place to find refuge in case of outbreak
  • Work closely with a host, on-site contact or an American-based NGO to formulate security and emergency plans
  • Establish contacts in government, hospitals, and the U.S. embassy
  • Have knowledge of the area; great local contacts; always have local guides and a driver working with us at all times
  • Register with the U.S. embassy
  • Check in with people back in the U.S. regularly
  • Walk with a purpose, and avoid strolling
  • Avoid unregulated public transportation
  • Travel with local guides to familiar locations
  • Never travel or walk alone at night; travel in groups
  • Be mindful about where to travel and who to travel with

Country-Specific Advice

Returned travelers provide the following advice for students planning future travel to specific locations.

  • Start your application early. Don’t be timid about calling/emailing to follow-up your application. Talk to locals or other people who have traveled to your destination to help you develop your contingency plans. Follow the advice of locals, don't be out if no one else is, pay attention to surroundings, don’t drink alcohol in insecure environments, know how to get out of a situation/area. (Colombia)
  • Complete and follow the medical advice provided as part of the pre-trip medical consultation. Transportation is expensive and difficult in Haiti. Remain mindful of your surroundings. (Haiti)
  • Work as hard as possible on making connections with important local actors before you arrive to the field, as this will greatly decrease the amount of time you have to waste having endless meetings and/or waiting for official approval(s). (Iraq)
  • Make very detailed plans, have a back-up plan for your detailed plans, and don't panic if you have to veer off of your original plan during your travels. (Israel)
  • Contacts are everything in the Middle East. As a general statement, you can feel confident about your travels if you have at least two to three solid contacts in each of the places you are looking to travel. The reason it is somewhat hard to make extensive plans before leaving the U.S. is that these two to three contacts will more than likely send you down a research track that you weren’t expecting and could not have planned for. It is to your security and research advantage to know your contacts and make arrangements with them before leaving the U.S. (Israel)
  • Have an open mind and be friendly. Listen more than you talk. Act as a guest. (Mali)
  • Always be aware of your surroundings, don’t assume that each city or each region of the same country will be the same. Try to do some research beforehand about where you will be staying, as there are so many different cultures and regions within Mexico. Be conservative with where you spend your coins, as there are hard to come by and you will want them for various things like small purchases, travel by bus, etc. (Mexico)
  • Apply early. However, in order to do so, students need to be made aware of the approval process not only within their own department but university-wide. This was the greatest barrier even after planning six months in advance and speaking with a handful of University faculty, none of which ever mentioned applying to a program for approval outside of my department. (Mexico)
  • It’s good to be aware of surroundings in the event of an emergency. Imaging scenarios and problem solving helps to be ready in the event you may need to evacuate, or respond to an emergency. (Mexico)
  • Be well prepared to handle illness and/or any other event that may come up. Try to create and use established relationships with local businesses and residents. (Mexico)
  • Follow all safety precautions carefully and use emergency contacts for any questions. (Mexico)
  • Take the ITRAAC application seriously, it could help you in given situations, and it was especially nice to have the information on hand. (Mexico)
  • Know the customs of dress, communication, eating, etc. Go in with a positive attitude. All the Nigeriens were friendly and wanting to help. (Niger)
  • Be aware that Africa has different risks in the U.S. and plan to stay with your group the entire time. Bring U.S. medications in case of minor illnesses, and purchase traveler’s insurance in case anything occurs. (Niger) Make sure you have local contacts. (Philippines)