Tuesday, March 29, 2011

Fox News and Gadling Recognize People to People as Source for Safety Advice

As readers of this blog are aware, my organization places a large amount of resources and importance on safety. This focus on safety is, at times, recognized by our partners, and sometimes mainstream media. I'd like to share one example - of which I'm particularly proud - that's been unfolding over the past couple weeks . . .

On March 13, FoxNews.com published the article “What to Do if a Revolution Spoils Your Trip.” I was quoted, along with Michelle Bernier-Toth (managing director, Office of Overseas Citizen Services, Bureau of Consular Affairs, U.S. Department of State), and Phillip Farina, who heads a security and risk management company for the hospitality industry.

This article highlights what to do when traditional communication channels fail to stay in contact with the outside world when traveling. It was featured as a top story in the site's Leisure category. It's an article that any of our Ambassador's parents will appreciate in light of recent, unexpected issues that have arisen in Egypt, Japan, and elsewhere.

My comments in the article outline a practical strategy for helping parents track their students through their bank accounts. I personally never travel my own kids without a bank card for expenses. Bernier-Toth agrees - the State Department has successfully used credit cards to track people down.

The article was picked up by influential travel writer Chris Owen, who blogs for Gadling.com (widely considered the most popular travel blog worldwide). Thanks, Chris, for mentioning People to People.

While it is nice to be recognized, it is more important that People to People Ambassador Programs share our practices and procedures with outside organizations and the public to make travel safer for everyone who travels. Indeed, I am honored to be recognized as a safety expert, and we are proud that our practices are validated by organizations such as the state department.

In coming blog posts please look for a series on important travel and safety tips we plan to share.

As always, I wish you all safe travels and a healthy life!
Mike Bowers
Senior Director of Health and Safety

Wednesday, March 23, 2011

Japan Delegations Being Reassigned

I am happy to report that the team here in the program office is on-track to meet the April 1 deadline for reassigning all Japan delegations and communicating those reassignments to the primary leaders. We have been actively working with primary leaders to plan their delegations’ re-accommodation details and appreciate their help and our delegations’ understanding. Since we are accommodating each delegation separately (to try to keep them together traveling in the same window of time), your local primary leader will have the most current information for each delegation should you need specific details.

As always, I wish you all safe travels and a healthy life!

Mike Bowers
Senior Director of Health & Safety

Tuesday, March 22, 2011

Travel Health Basics: Fat

The latest post from April Davis in her series on Travel Health Basics.

Fats, similar to carbohydrates and proteins, are an important nutrient for your student traveler. Fats serve as a primary energy source at rest and during light-to-moderate activity, along with providing calorie-dense nutrients capable of meeting the high energy demands of active itinerary days. In addition, fat provides essential fatty acids required for normal bodily functions, adds flavor to foods, promotes feelings of fullness, and is required for the uptake of certain vitamins. So, while fat gets a bad rap, it is a necessary and healthy nutrient (when consumed properly) that will be important as your student travels with People to People Ambassador Programs.

What are fats and where can I find them?
Similar to the Wicked Witch of the West from the Wizard of Oz, fats are molecules that are “water-fearing,” or hydrophobic. Unlike the Oz character, however, they do NOT dissolve (or melt) in water but, rather, in more fat. This affects how they are digested, absorbed, and transported throughout the body.

Fats yield 9 calories per gram, compared to only 4 calories per gram for both carbohydrates and proteins. So, if extra calories are needed, you get more bang for your buck with fat. Other nutrients can be converted into fats within the body when excess calories are taken in. For example, if carbohydrates or proteins are eaten in surplus, they will be converted into fats and stored for later use as energy.

Fats are found in most food groups of the MyPyramid food guidance system.
  • The richest sources of fat are found within the oils category of the pyramid.
  • Some grain products as well as certain vegetables provide a small-to-moderate amount of fat.
  • Fruits provide minimal or no fat.
  • Animal sources can vary from low to high in fat and typically contain a higher amount of unhealthy fats.
  • Nuts and seeds are excellent sources of high-quality, healthy fats.
As mentioned previously, some types of fats are considered healthy and essential, while others are unhealthy. (The picture at left shows good fats, courtesy of Travis K on Flickr.) All fats are a mixture of polyunsaturated, monounsaturated and saturated fatty acids. Healthy fats contain a higher percentage of mono- and poly- unsaturated fatty acids and less saturated fatty acids.
  • An easy way to identify most healthy fats is that they are liquid at room temperature. Examples include canola oil, olive oil, peanut oil, and safflower oil.
  • Fats with higher amounts of saturated fatty acids are typically solid at room temperature and include butter, Crisco, lard, and animal fat.
  • For these reasons, getting your recommended daily fat from plant sources is the healthiest option.

During my observation travel with People to People last summer, I witnessed and partook in numerous meals that contained a healthy amount of plant-based fats. Much of this was from olives and olive oil, since most of my time was spent in Italy. Hazelnuts were also a popular addition to the meals and a great source of protein and healthy fat. (Not to mention the lovely bruschetta pictured at left.)

One of the essential fats that is often lacking in the American diet is omega-3 fatty acids. These fats are unsaturated and used as an energy source. However, they are also used to make other compounds such as hormones that reduce inflammation. A lot of research has focused on these fats recently due to the protection they offer to the heart and blood vessels.

Including a source of healthy fat with each meal will help your student absorb crucial nutrients, such as vitamin D and E, and increase the feeling of fullness so that over-consumption is less of a problem. Healthy fats will help your student traveler maintain energy levels on busy travel days. The “Healthy Protein/Carb Snacks for Travel” that were mentioned in my previous two blogs contain proper amounts of healthy fats, too!

Additional Resources
  • Find out how much fat you and your student should be getting on a daily basis (from the USDA)

  • Visit the Nutrition Source from Harvard School of Public Health to learn more about fats and cholesterol.

April D. Davis, RD, CD, ACSM CES

Wednesday, March 16, 2011

Update #3: Japan - Upcoming Delegations to Japan to be Reassigned

An open letter from Peg Thomas, President of People to People Ambassador Programs:

Dear Ambassadors and parents,

With the uncertain conditions plaguing Japan in the wake of last week’s earthquake, we have determined that we will not be sending the 25 delegations of Student Ambassadors to Japan this summer as originally planned. The reports from our friends and partners in Japan confirm what you’re seeing in the news—that the challenges of shoring up nuclear reactors and caring for thousands of newly homeless citizens will be the primary focus of the nation for the foreseeable future.

All 25 delegations will be reassigned to another destination. Our dedicated travel team and our experienced partners overseas are working hard to arrange your Student Ambassador experience in another part of the world. New home stays, service projects, school visits, and unique-access activities are being scheduled for you as we speak. We are proud to have the global resources to still be able to provide you with a life-changing adventure in 2011.

We’ll notify you of your new destination through your primary delegation leader on or before April 1. We believe this will be the most effective way of reaching out to all the students and families impacted by the change. Each delegation is unique, and we are weighing many considerations to place you on the best possible program.

As I mentioned in my previous message, your position on the withdrawal fee schedule will remain frozen through April 1, in order to protect you from financial impact while you wait to learn your new destination.

Our hearts go out to the Japanese people. Their strength and resilience is truly amazing, and I trust that we will be able to offer you another opportunity to experience their beautiful country for yourself in 2012.

Thank you for working to build friendship and understanding all over the world. It’s events like this prove the true value of those relationships.

Peg Thomas

President, People to People Ambassador Programs

Tuesday, March 15, 2011

Update #2: Japan (Letter to Ambassador Families)

Below is an open letter from our president, Peg Thomas, to those delegation members and their family who are scheduled to travel to Japan this summer. With many students traveling to Japan this summer, we are focused on ensuring an open and engaging conversation with the families about this disaster and the unfolding ramifications.

Dear Ambassador family,

Overnight we have seen the crisis in Japan continue to develop and there is no shortage of news and opinions all around us. I want to assure everyone connected to People to People Ambassador Programs that we are working with a global network of experts to determine our response to this situation. At the forefront, the safety of our delegates and leaders continues to guide our decision making.

Late yesterday we had a conference call with leaders currently scheduled to travel to Japan where we learned a lot about how our families are reacting to the earthquake and the resulting impact to several nuclear power plants in Japan. We understand that there is a lot of concern and confusion about the potential safety of traveling to the impacted area this summer. I want to reiterate that unless we are confident that our programs in Japan can be offered without risk, we will not be sending anyone to that area. In the meantime, I’m asking you to look to your primary leader as your point of contact. We are working closely with your leaders to explore options as we are in constant contact with our global network of experts to determine the right course of action. I want to remind you that as of March 11, 2011, we have suspended the penalties for withdrawal for families currently enrolled in a delegation going to Japan and encourage all of you to hold tight while we investigate the options.

We have heard from many of our friends and partners that are on the ground in Japan and are pleased to report that they are alright and managing through this uncertain time. We recognize that the rapidly changing situation is unsettling and ask for your patience and support as we face this challenge together. Please follow our commentary on the crisis by continuing to visit this Health and Safety Blog.

Thank you,

Peg Thomas
President, People to People Ambassador Programs

Monday, March 14, 2011

Update #1: Japan

We'll be providing updates on the situation in Japan on this blog. If you have questions or concerns, please leave a comment (below).

March 14, 2011: We are now closely monitoring the situation with the damaged nuclear reactors. If there is any possibility of harmful radiation exposure in or near the areas our delegations will be traveling, be assured that we will not move forward with the itineraries as planned.
  • With the resulting reduced power production and the available power being redirected to focus on rescue efforts, rolling blackouts have become a regular part of life for people throughout all of Japan.

  • We are working closely with our partners on the ground to understand the situation and make informed decisions with our primary focus being the well-being of our delegates and leaders. We expect to make a final decision on changing our Japan itineraries or not by April 1st.

  • This afternoon we have a conference call scheduled with our primary leaders currently assigned to the Japan delegations so that we apprise them of the situation; and engage in a dialogue with them to hear any personal concerns as well as anything they are hearing from families. Following that call, we will be sending regular communications (including here) so that all the families with students scheduled to travel to Japan are well informed about our approach to this situation.

Stay tuned for additional updates.


Friday, March 11, 2011

Natural Disaster Devastates Japan

As you have probably heard, Japan was rocked by the most powerful earthquake in its history, resulting in an extremely damaging tsunami reaching from the Pacific Rim to the Pacific coast of the US.

For those that have students traveling to Japan this summer, we want to let you know that at this time our program itineraries do not appear to be impacted. We will continuously follow the events as they unfold to ensure this holds true and will quickly reach out to all families in the event the situation does change. [Update: 3/14/11 - We have an update on the nuclear reactor situation. Please continue to check this blog for additional updates.]
  • Early indications show that the region to the north and east of Tokyo were the primary targets for Earthquake and Tsunami damage.

  • People To People Student Ambassador programs are primarily focused to the south of Tokyo in areas that appear to thus far have been unaffected by today’s disaster.

  • The two maps below are provided to help you gain sense of the locations of the earthquake and the tsunami. The first map shows the area impacted. The second shows a map of the locations the student visit. Our People To People representatives in Tokyo were quick to inform us that all was well and that their offices and staff in Tokyo were not impacted.

Areas Affected:

Asia Land Routes by Itinerary

Land of the Rising Sun Itinerary

Treasures of Japan Itinerary

This is the latest in a string of natural events that have occurred. Over the past couple of months we have provided guidance on the steps we take to ensure our delegations are safe when traveling to countries that have experienced a catastrophic event. A few recent examples are the earthquake that hit Christchurch in New Zealand, the temporary suspension of travel to Egypt, and the flooding and cyclone that struck our friends in Australia. Now once again we are witnessing an event in a country we plan to visit, Japan.

Earthquakes are not uncommon. Living on the west coast most of my life, I have personally experienced them. The last one happened just after I got off the airplane in Seattle on Wednesday February 28th, 2001. It was one of the most powerful earthquakes to hit Seattle in over a half century. At the time I was attending the University of Washington to earn my Master's Degree and suddenly I had a flashback to my old school days and our teachers drilling us on what to do when an earthquake strikes. Knowing what to do and how to reduce the chance of being hurt, helped me through that event. With that in mind and with so many earthquakes in the news this year, I thought I would provide a refresher to educate your student and yourself on safety hints during such an event.

Earthquake Safety Procedures

The State Department sent this information out this morning to remind all Americans of this important guidance.

The American Red Cross recommends that in the event of aftershocks, persons should move to open spaces away from walls, windows, buildings, and other structures that may collapse, and should be alert to the danger of falling debris. If you are indoors, DROP, COVER AND HOLD ON: If possible, seek cover under a sturdy desk or table, hold on, and protect your eyes by pressing your face against your arm. If there is no table or desk nearby, sit on the floor against an interior wall away from windows, bookcases or tall furniture that could fall on you. Avoid damaged buildings and downed power lines. Great care should be used with matches, lighters, candles, or any open flame due to the possibility of disrupted gas lines.

(Disclosure: I am certified instructor for the Red Cross)

Also today our good friends and partners at On-Call International provided these insights into precautions a person should take when a Tsunamis is fore-casted:

Tsunamis can rapidly flood coastal areas with devastating results. Areas at greatest risk are those less than 25 ft/8 m above sea level and within 1 mi/1.6 km of the shoreline. If you're in a coastal area when an earthquake that lasts 20 seconds or longer occurs, first protect yourself from the earthquake: Drop, cover, and hold on. When the shaking stops, move quickly to higher ground away from the coast.

If you are on the beach and the water suddenly and dramatically recedes from the shoreline, a tsunami may be imminent. The approaching wave may be visible as a churning line of foamy water, but it may not be visible at all until it strikes. Don't delay to collect belongings: Run for higher ground immediately, or climb to the highest floor of a multistory, well-built building. Be careful to avoid downed power lines, and stay away from buildings and bridges from which heavy objects might fall during an aftershock. A last-ditch survival tactic is to climb as high as you can into a sturdy tree or climb onto the roof of a building. Tsunamis often occur as multiple waves of varying size, so do not return to an affected area until you're certain the danger has passed.

As an international organization dedicated to building bridges with people around the world, we at People to People Ambassador Programs feel a connection with the tragedy unfolding in Japan. We have a strong presence in Japan, and what happens to Japan happens to us. Our thoughts and prayers are with our friends and the families affected by the earthquake, tsunami and their aftermath.

Several organizations are coming to the aid of Japan, including the American Red Cross, if you are interested in donating to rescue and relief efforts.

I wish you all safe travels and a healthy life!

Mike Bowers
Senior Director of Health & Safety

Thursday, March 10, 2011

Travel Safety Tools that Support our Delegations

During the travel season at People to People Ambassador Programs - as with travel of most any kind - minor hurdles can pop up. These "usual suspects" are anticipated, and we successfully and effectively deal with them every year. We have learned the best way to ensure small issues don’t cause a problem during the program is to bring along some very important travel tools. A sample of just a few of these tools will be highlighted in this article for your information.

Leader Credit Cards

If you've traveled in the last ten years, you know all too well how minor and unexpected costs add up on the road (e.g., baggage fees). We've altered our system so these on-site travel expenses can be easily paid for by us, in a way that won't impact your student's experience.

In 2011, every leader that travels with People to People Ambassador Programs will be provided a Leader Credit Card. This card can is used to pay for baggage fees, meals in the event a delegation’s flight is delayed by weather, and other such unexpected events.

In prior years, we provided this card to only to Primary Leaders of each delegation, as most unexpected expenses (at the time) occurred after the group assembled and headed off on their adventure. But with the introduction of baggage fees by most every airline on domestic routes, the need for every leader to have such a card became evident.

Leader cell phones

As technology advances, so do the tools we provide our delegations. Working with Cellhire, based in Dallas Texas, we have developed a Smart Phone solution that meets the needs and protects the interest of delegations.

The Primary Leader of each delegation receives two cell phones prior to travel:

  1. One is a Nokia Cell phone which we refer to as a standard phone. This phone comes with a complete kit including wall and car chargers, an international adapter and either a local SIM card or a roaming SIM card for the destination. (Students can also rent this phone for as little as $45 plus the cost of actual calls.) This phone has a number assigned to the local destination that results in reduced air costs versus using a U.S.-based phone.

  2. The second phone we provide is the Individual Tracking Smartphone which is a Blackberry. Within this phone is a GPS devise that allows our program office to track the delegation around the world. We can even zoom down to a street level to see the same sites as the delegation sees.

    New for this year is a Panic button on the phone. This feature allows the leader to press the button a few time and immediately an alert is sent to our On-call staff, the Cellhire Operations center and to me personally. Receiving this alert triggers immediate contact with the leader, identify their exact location, and then clear up the alert. Once the Panic button is suppressed, a 20 second recording of what is going on around the phone is immediately sent to our office via and email. We can then listen to the recording and determine if the button was suppressed in error or have good information to understand what the source of the alert is. Either way we must talk directly with the leader to clear the alert. Many providers rent such a panic type alert system but we believe we are one of the first if not the first, to include it into the cell phone.

    What’s also really cool is that for a low price of $29, a parent can track the travels of their own child by way of the leader’s phone. When the student returns home, the entire family and sit down and pull up the history of the students travel and relive the adventure together.

Both of these phones can make and receive calls, as well as make and receive SMS messages. Sometimes on less urgent issues we can just send a message to a leader when we need to talk with them instead of waking them up on the more urgent issues. If you are interested in renting a phone for your student while they are on program, learn more here.

Medical First Aid Kit

It might seem obvious to have a first aid kit wherever we travel. But our goal is to make sure that the obvious is never overlooked, no matter where we go.

Every motor coach we use around the world has a first aid kit in it. Leaders are shown the location of these kits as soon as they arrive in the country they are visiting. Also virtually every venue we visit has trained first aid staff, a medical station, and/or a first aid kit available. Of course we also have full service medical facilities quickly available all along the way for the more serious situations.

On occasion the delegation is away from the motor coach for longer periods of time - such as when students are participating in a community service project or out taking advantage of the great scenery around the world. In these cases we felt it was important to provide a portable option for the leaders to keep with them.

  • Each Primary leader receives one of these first aid kits about 7 weeks prior to travel. That means no less than two and many times many more are on each delegation.
  • The kits are full of items typically used when administering basic first aid. This year - based on great feedback from our leaders - we have added more items including face masks, disposable thermometers, CPR barriers, and bio bags that allow leaders to safety dispose of waste products such as used bandages, etc.

Each year we invest a great deal of time and effort in evaluating the tools we provide and new technology that will help us remain the leader in safe travel. These are just a few examples of ways we help ensure your child is safe and healthy so that they can take advantage of this great opportunity to experience the world first hand.

As always, I wish you all safe travels and a healthy life!
Mike Bowers
Senior Director of Health & Safety

Monday, March 7, 2011

Travel Health Basics: Protein

Hi everyone! April here, back with another installment of our current series on Travel Health Basics. My last topic was carbohydrates, and this week we'll dive into proteins (like the legumes I'm holding at left).

While abroad, your student’s protein requirements will increase slightly due to the highly active schedule and extra demands of traveling. Like the medieval castles your student might visit on his/her trip overseas, proteins are constantly being broken down, transformed, and rebuilt. This means proteins must be replaced on a daily basis through proper nutrition to maintain overall health.

What are proteins?
Proteins consist of chains of amino acids linked in very specific sequences. The order of the amino acids determines the type and function of the protein. Imagine the EuroRail train with the entire unit representing a protein and each box car an amino acid. (Image credit: www.raileurope.com)

Some amino acids can be made by the body but almost half are considered essential because they must be obtained from the diet. Consuming protein-rich foods during travel is necessary in order to get the appropriate amounts of these essential amino acids. Proteins are involved in every bodily process, including growth and repair of muscle, maintaining fluid balance, and immune function. They also serve as an energy source when needed. Therefore, adequate intake of protein is critical for daily recovery and health while traveling abroad.

Where can I find proteins?
Protein is found in both animal and plant-based foods. Your student should consume a variety of protein-rich foods daily while traveling in order to ensure he/she is getting the required amino acids. Animal and soy-based proteins are considered complete because they contain all of the essential amino acids in high amounts. However, animal protein sources are often not as healthy as their plant-based counterparts. A food gallery of protein-rich sources and proper portion sizes can be a very useful tool to help educate your student prior to travel.
(Image credit: MyPyramid.gov)

When consuming a vegetarian (and especially vegan) diet, your students should eat complementing proteins throughout the day. One food may complement the other by providing differing amounts of the essential amino acids. Examples of this are grains and legumes or nuts and beans. These types of sources will provide your student with plenty of protein, while keeping his/her muscles and immune system ready to tackle each day’s adventures.

Including a source of protein with each meal and snack will increase stamina on busy travel days by helping your student feel fuller for longer. A helpful reminder from the previous blog on carbs: low-fat dairy, beans, nuts, seeds, and soy products provide a convenient mix of protein, carbohydrates, and fiber – a perfect combination for active travel days.

Healthy Protein/Carb Snacks for Travel
  • Popcorn with chocolate soy milk
  • Yogurt topped with fruit and nuts
  • Whole wheat crackers with string cheese or a hard-boiled egg
  • Homemade granola bars
  • Banana, celery sticks, and peanut butter
  • Hummus and veggies
How much protein should be consumed daily?
Individual protein requirements will vary based on age and gender; however, youth and teenagers have increased needs to support growth and development. When combined with the additional demands of travel, your student should be getting 12-20% of his/her daily intake in the form of protein.

Take-Home Message: A proper intake of protein will help ensure your student’s overall health and stamina throughout his/her dynamic travel experience!

For more information of protein, please visit Nutrition.gov.


April D. Davis, RD, CD, ACSM CES®

Proper Training of our Delegation Managers is another key to our success

We often reference the great amount of training each leader goes through each year prior to traveling (I've already written four blog posts on this subject). Our leaders are the teachers who ensure that our programs becomes extensions of the classrooms—focused on the educational and developmental aspects of students on our program and ultimately the safety of the students.

Part of what makes our Teacher Leaders effective that way, is that we pair them with Delegation Managers who are focused on providing the best experiences for the students at the locations they visit, so the teacher does not have to worry about that. Like our teacher leaders, Delegation Managers go through extensive training that is tailored based on the cultural diversity of the country. We would like to share with you what that training entails.

(Photo of our recent DM training in Beijing - more on that below.)

What is a Delegation Manager?

They are not just a tour guide. We prefer to refer to them as "Delegation Managers" because we think this title better reflects their role and responsibility on each program. They are not just a tour guide.

In addition to guiding the delegation for the entire length of the program, DMs also call ahead to make sure restaurant reservations are in place, work with any attraction we plan to visit to ensure our delegations have limited wait times, collaborate with the hotel management to ensure a smooth check-in and check-out progress, and act as safety specialists in everything our delegation does. If a member of the delegation isn’t feeling well, they know exactly where the closest clinic is to seek immediate medical attention. They are a lot of fun to be around and help the students learn more about the local culture and history of the area visited.

How are they trained?
The interview process to become a People to People Delegation Manager is a rigorous process and includes language tests (most DM’s must speak their home language, English, and at least one other language). They make presentations on the countries to be visited, the culture, and even a presentation on the foods in that area. This is all during the interview process before they are even selected. Many apply but only the best are chosen.

Once a Delegation Managers is selected, they then must complete an 8 to 10 day training program which includes things like:
  • First aid response and Crisis Management plans.
  • Fun ways to pass the time while travel between major attractions.
  • Teamwork between bus driver, delegation leader and the delegation manager
  • Hotel and Restaurant Check In / Check Out
  • Conducting Home stay meetings
  • Effective communication
  • Navigation systems
  • Practice on the motor coach
  • Use of micro phone
  • How to conduct safe group travel (especially in metro areas)
...And then even more training.

Once a DM completes the local training, they then begin real life touring and practice of the program. Once all the local training is complete and personal back ground checks are done, People to People Ambassador Programs sends one of our many Program Managers around the world to deliver very detailed training specific to that region.

Our U.S.-based Program Managers are responsible for each region of the world to ensure every detail is in place. It is this level of attention to detail that allows us to differentiate our programs from others. Each spring the Program Managers pack up and travel to the countries they represent to deliver very specific training related to the upcoming season. This is in addition to the People to People Ambassador Program on-line training each DM must complete. Greg Marcinkowski, Vice President of Travel Services and I had the opportunity to deliver that very training two weeks ago in Beijing, China.

That's Greg pictured above/left.

In this training we carefully explain how to create a team between the DM and the Teacher Leaders who travel with the students. We review our key safety processes that reduce the possibility of any unwanted event from happening, and we review past situations so we all have an opportunity to learn from our best practices.

These are no small events: our recent training in Beijing had well over 100 people in attendance and the agenda was packed full for all three days. Greg and I both shared important information and details about our delegations so that when the students arrive this summer, everyone is prepared and ready to help them have a life changing experience.

And that's me at the Beijing training, above.

As always, I wish you all safe travels and a healthy life!

Mike Bowers

Senior Director of Health & Safety