LSA junior Brendan Green was studying in a University program in Cairo, Egypt in January when thousands of protestors took to Tahrir Square to demand the dismissal of Egyptian President Hosni Mubarak.
Despite Green’s location halfway around the world, John Godfrey, assistant dean of the Rackham Graduate School, was able to contact Green through information provided on the University’s online travel registry. He then worked with the University-partnered HTH International Student Health Insurance to arrange Green’s flight out of Cairo on Feb. 1.
Though first developed in 2001, the travel registry has undergone drastic changes in recent years, according to AT Miller, director of the Global Intercultural Experience for Undergraduates, or GIEU Program. The University is planning to unveil a master directory of all study abroad programs, called M-Compass, in June. In addition, iPhone and Android applications linking students to the registry will be available soon.
The University’s travel registry logs travel information for students studying or working abroad or are traveling on a trip in conjunction with the University.
A new travel registry website was launched last November. Godfrey said the previous system was difficult to use and as a result was seldom used, but the new system has already proved to be valuable after several international crises this year.
“It is proving to be an extraordinarily useful way for the University to understand and to identify people who might need assistance in some form from the University,” Godfrey said.
There were about 19 University-affiliated individuals in Egypt at the time of the protests, according to Godfrey. He said the travel registry was helpful in locating and assisting those abroad in this situation and several others.
Though cell phone service was suspended throughout Egypt for several days, Green said Godfrey reached him on his cell phone on Jan. 31, after service was restored, to ensure his safe travel out of Egypt.
While some of the students in Egypt were listed in the travel registry, others, like Rackham student Eric Schewe, weren’t, which made evacuating them more difficult, Godfrey said. However, Godfrey obtained Schewe’s information from his HTH Insurance policy. To make this process more efficient, Godfrey said he wants to synchronize insurance information with the registry in the future.
Schewe and his wife Valentine, a Ph.D. candidate at Columbia University, were conducting research in Cairo when the protests began. Schewe said Godfrey contacted him — the only University graduate student in Cairo at the time — and coordinated with Columbia University to have them evacuated out of Egypt together on Feb. 2.
After the couple left Egypt, they spent three weeks with family friends in London before returning to work in Cairo. Schewe, who is currently in Cairo, said in an interview via Skype that he is now listed on the travel registry.
“At the end of the day, we were never really in direct danger,” he said.
After a bus bombing in Jerusalem last month that killed one person and injured 30 others, Godfrey said he heard back from four University students studying abroad in Israel within an hour of the explosion because of contact facilitated by having the students’ information in the registry.
The travel registry also allowed the University to reach all students in Japan within a few hours during last month’s earthquake, Godfrey said.
He said all students would benefit from using the registry as a lifeline in times of crisis. Godfrey said he urges every student to use the service when traveling for University-related business, personal pleasure or otherwise.
Students may lose out on assistance without the connection the registry provides to the outside world, Miller said. He added that students shouldn’t assume they don’t need to use the registry when traveling to stable countries. Students could end up in the hospital and unable to arrange medical and travel plans.
“You can’t assume just because you’re going to a place that seems politically stable and all of that (that) you’ll be safe,” Miller said.