I'm trying to find trusted in-country providers and tour guides with whom I can partner, but I honestly don't even know where to look or how I know I can trust their services (and the price quotes they give me). I don't want to go through an American or other foreign company to get to the local providers, but how do you know who you can trust? Is there anyone else out there who has built their business from the ground up and wondered who they can trust? Does anyone who has searched for local providers before have any wisdom for someone starting out? Help!
Searching for Safe Partners
Dear Searching for Safe Partners,
This is where networking becomes a very important tool! You mention trust, and starting with people in your personal network, or another trusted network, can get you moving with much more confidence than starting from scratch.
Reach out to anyone you know who runs programs in your target location or is locally based such as local university partners, friends, colleagues, etc. Ask if they have on-site partners or US-based providers they’d recommend. Provider services may be invaluable if you’re building a program from the ground up, and costs vary, so don’t discount them until you’ve talked to your network and have done a few price comparisons. In weighing pros and cons of using different providers, in addition to cost, consider things like what they include in their packages, reputation in the industry and locally, how long they have been around, whether they include things like liability insurance, what their emergency protocols are, whether they work with institutions such as yours regularly, etc. There are a lot of things to consider and you may not know what they are until you’ve spoken to a few folks. That’s completely ok!
If you don’t know anyone who runs a similar program, you can search online for other US institutions that do. Program web pages usually show up in Google searches, along with contact information. Reach out to explain your situation and ask for an honest review of their on-site partner or US-based provider--have they had a positive experience with them so far? How do their prices compare to other providers? Although study abroad staff are usually busy, they are often willing to help out a fellow professional who needs advice. Similarly, look up local providers directly online. Many organizations will have reviews and ratings online that you can look into. If you see an organization that seems to be a good fit, call them and ask them for references and documentation and carefully check all of these. Ask colleagues, in-country or in the US, if they’ve heard of the organization. While it may be more of a risk, sometimes you can find an organization that isn’t as well known State-side, but is locally, that is a great fit. If your institution is one in which familiarization trips are common prior to starting new programs, then you can add a few organizations to that list to check out when you are in-country. Now, this may not be a luxury your office has, in which case, you will really have to rely on your research and references. When it comes down to making a decision, make sure you have a few options to compare. You’ll find comparisons between providers will give you insight into what you should be getting for what you’re paying and ways to negotiate price as well as what they are offering in services. Remember you get what you pay for! Cheaper isn’t always better but you also don’t want to be overpaying for services you don’t need.
If your Google search is fruitless, or even if you find a few potential options, you can post a request for help on SECUSS-L, a national listserv dedicated to the discussion of education abroad, with a reach of 7500+ members. Readers who have advice can reply to your email. I have used this tool many times in my career, and find it a great way to access sometimes obscure information! You might also consider posting a request on a discussion board for your local NAFSA region.
Best of luck getting started!
P.S. Now that I’ve shared my thoughts, I’m curious what the amazing community of educators reading this post has to say. Chime in, folks! What thoughts do you have for Searching for Safe Partners? Share your thoughts on the Global Leadership League’s LinkedIn page. Have a question for Sophia yourself, ask here!
Please note: This response is provided for informational purposes only. The information contained herein is not legal advice and should not be used as a substitute for the legal advice or legal opinions of a licensed professional. Contact a personal attorney or licensed professional to obtain appropriate legal advice or professional counseling with respect to any particular issue or problem.