Letter to Parents: Program Safety

Dear parents/guardians:

Since 2015, the University of Wisconsin-Madison has been an implementing organization for the prestigious National Security Language Initiative for Youth (NSLI-Y). NSLI-Y, funded by the U.S. Department of State, promotes language learning among American young people. This full-scholarship program allows the Pushkin Summer Institute Abroad to send high-achieving students to Daugavpils, Latvia each summer for a six-week program of intensive Russian language and culture.

Studying abroad in high school can benefit students in many ways, but the decision to allow your child to spend six weeks in a foreign country can be a difficult one. There are a lot of factors to consider when your child wants to participate in a program like PSI Abroad and it is natural to worry about the safety of overseas travel. We would like to provide some information on the safety, logistics, and reputation of our program to help answer some common questions that parents may have.

NSLI-Y programs such as PSI Abroad are structured to promote the safety and well-being of participants. PSI Abroad has a wide support system in the host country and in the US. For example:

  • Two resident directors (RDs), fluent in Russian and with extensive experience in the region, are hired by UW-Madison to serve as the primary support persons for all participants and are with the group for the duration of the program. RDs, who undergo background checks and training, are responsible for monitoring the safety and well-being of participants.
  • PSI Abroad is based in Daugavpils, Latvia, a small (population 90,000), safe city in the European Union. We have a longstanding relationship with our partners in Daugavpils, “Learn Russian in the EU,” which has extensive experience in providing Russian language and culture programs to international students.
  • In Daugavpils, students will live with host families who have been carefully screened and selected by Learn Russian in the EU for their ability to provide a safe, welcoming environment. These families will provide meals, a private bedroom, and access to laundry, as well as daily communication in the target language. Many PSI Abroad alumni report the host family experience as an important and positive element of their NSLI-Y experience, strengthening their understanding of the host culture, target language, and daily life in the host community. Halle, one of our 2018 participants, shares a blog post about her Latvian host family here.
  • Each student will receive a local cell phone, which they can use to contact the RDs or host families at any time while they are in Latvia.
  • Students will enjoy language classes, cultural programs, and group excursions around Latvia. The program is planned carefully to make sure students have supervision from teachers, host family members, and RDs. Russian-speaking peer students from Latvia accompany the students on many of the programs, assisting PSI Abroad students adapt to the local language and culture.
  • While on the program, students have a health benefit plan that covers medical expenses for accidents or sickness. Daugavpils has several medical clinics with high standards. In case of accident or illness, one of the RDs would always accompany a student to the clinic or hospital.

The safety and well-being of our participants are the highest priorities of our staff and administrators. While on the program, PSI Abroad students have access to emergency assistance and support from RDs, host families, teachers, and other program staff.

We are fortunate to be offering PSI Abroad in Daugavpils for another year. Our students have enjoyed living in Latvia and making great strides in their Russian proficiency. Please feel free to reach out to us at psi@creeca.wisc.edu; we can connect you to families who have allowed their children to participate in PSI Abroad in the past. We are happy to answer any questions that you might have. Thank you for taking the time to consider our program.


David Bethea, Professor Emeritus, Slavic Languages and Literature                                                                                                                                    Faculty Director, Pushkin Summer Institute

Jennifer Tishler, Associate Director, CREECA                                                                                                                                                                            Program Manager, NSLI-Y PSI Abroad