Office of Global Safety lends support for travel-embedded courses

Working across every continent and time zone, the Vanderbilt Office of Global Safety could be called the office that never sleeps. Between its three staff members and campus partners, the office works to ensure the health, safety and well-being of all Vanderbilt students, faculty and staff as they travel beyond the borders of Davidson County. While OGS may be known for providing 24/7 emergency and crisis response for Vanderbilt travelers, support provided by their team can begin months before departure and continues to have an indelible impact on curriculum and student experience.

“The holistic services of the Office of Global Safety extend well beyond as-needed assistance abroad. They are integral to the development and implementation of new, accessible global opportunities for students,” Vice Provost for Undergraduate Education Tiffiny Tung said. “It’s been incredible to see faculty leverage the international expertise and guidance of the OGS team to offer travel-embedded courses during the academic year.”

In addition to providing support to courses that regularly travel abroad, such as Peabody College’s Harry Potter and Children’s Literature course and a special topics course in biomedical engineering that travels to Guatemala, OGS plays an integral role in the development of new travel-embedded courses across Vanderbilt. In fall 2022, OGS director Andrea Bordeau worked closely with Catherine McTamaney, associate professor of the practice at Peabody College of education and human development, to create a course that included an optional trip to Peru in November.

Peabody College course travels to Peru November 2022 (Vanderbilt University)

“I was able to say to Andrea, ‘My expertise is teacher education, and yours is being safe in these international spaces,’” McTamaney said. “‘What can I learn from you to make sure that I’m giving my students a safe and rigorous space to learn?’ Her guidance was fantastic.”

Bordeau also accompanied McTamaney and her 31 undergraduate students on the trip throughout Peru, helping the group navigate cultural norms and travel logistics, as well as safely pivot plans when political unrest impacted their itinerary.

“Andrea demonstrated the necessity of her office when our trip was very quickly and unexpectedly affected by political protests in the region, working directly with our tour director and professor to make safe and timely adjustments to our itinerary without sacrificing the goals of the class trip,” said senior Lia Okenkova, a cognitive studies and education studies major and teaching assistant for the course. “Her presence and transparency made me and my fellow students feel informed and at ease throughout the journey, before and after the strikes.”

The benefits of travel-embedded courses are far-reaching, McTamaney said, explaining how courses held during the traditional semester and supported by Opportunity Vanderbilt open new possibilities for student access to international experiences.

“Traveling abroad together can break down unseen obstacles for students,” she added. “On campus, our students share such a common experience, but one distinction for students who receive significant financial support is what they can do in their downtime, like fall and spring break. Travel-embedded courses allow students who may never have an opportunity like this again to see parts of the world that people with far more resources behind them have yet to see.”

Bordeau will travel abroad again over spring break next week, this time to India, to support 31 undergraduate students and senior lecturer in Asian studies Elliott McCarter as they take their course, The Linguistic Landscape of India’s Golden Triangle, to Delhi, Jaipur and Agra. Bordeau and her team collaborated with McCarter from the early stages of brainstorming onward, thinking through potential destinations and ultimately choosing the area due to the abundance of emergency support facilities available, McCarter explained.

“The Office of Global Safety has been great in helping me devise a trip to India for students that will be both engaging and safe,” McCarter said. “Andrea also has visited my class to have open discussions about travel concerns and engage in group cohesion building activities.”

McTamaney, who will take a group of students to Italy next week for spring break, highly encouraged faculty members to collaborate with the experts in OGS to integrate travel into their fall or spring courses.

“I never felt like I was diving into the deep end of this unsupported or without expertise around me,” McTamaney said. “As a faculty member, I was so well nurtured by OGS in the process of building a new program. It was more difficult to get my students downtown to TPAC than to Peru.”

The Office of Global Safety is part of the Vanderbilt Office of Undergraduate Education. All Vanderbilt faculty, staff and students who plan to travel internationally are encouraged to email for guidance and resources related to their travel needs.