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Program Details

Participants in this study abroad program will examine the harm reduction model in a multinational, cross-disciplinary context, considering applications to a variety of social and health concerns and identifying barriers to and facilitators of the development and use of harm reduction strategies. Harm reduction is a health, social service, and public policy model that has gained a great deal of attention in recent years. Unfortunately, in the United States, politicians and policy makers have often chosen to address rapidly evolving and dynamic social concerns like drug use, the HIV/AIDS epidemic, and the spread of hepatitis with status quo strategies. In sharp contrast, Switzerland has been a leader on the international stage, adopting harm reduction as a central feature of its national drug policy, and developing and implementing innovative, cutting-edge, and often controversial strategies to combat such significant social and health issues. Over the past two decades in Switzerland, harm reduction has been integrated into social and public health services, criminal justice and correctional programs, and public policy. Switzerland is also a fairly small country with a stable government, a welcoming citizenry, and well-developed public transportation, making it safe, inviting, and easy to get around. In addition, the headquarters of the World Health Organization and UNAIDS are located in Geneva, which offers an opportunity for students to be exposed to harm reduction efforts on an even larger international scale. Thus, Switzerland offers a rich environment in which to examine and explore the meaning and use of harm reduction.

Selection Criteria:

  • Be 18 years of age or older.
  • Be a high school graduate or above.
  • Read, speak, and understand English.
  • Provide documentation of sufficiently good enough health to travel and participate in a two-week study program.
  • Must complete preliminary essay “What Will I Learn”.


  • Switzerland

Program Dates:

May 1, 2018 – May 15, 2018


$2,999.00 (Airfare NOT Included)

Suggested Payment Schedule:

  • Deposit: $500
  • Jan. 8, 2018: $600
  • Feb. 5, 2018: $600
  • March 5, 2018: $600
  • April 2, 2018: $600
  • April 16, 2018: $99

Must be paid in full by April 30, 2018

Deposit: $500 dollars will need to be paid when you hand in your application.

All payments must be made through the Hurst Center, NOT at the main cashier's office. Payment can be made in person, or over the phone at (801) 626-6600. The Hurst Center is located on the south side of campus next to the Alumni Center.

Include: room and board, domestic transportation, and some meals.

Not included: airfare, passport, incidentals, excess baggage costs, any unscheduled travel, and all meals.


Please attend all departure meetings!

Pre-travel seminars: April 21, 2018 and April 28, 2018 – These three-hour seminars will: introduce students to the program director and fellow program participants; provide foundational information about harm reduction; orient students to study abroad, travel and safety tips, Switzerland, and the program itinerary; and discuss harm reduction in Utah and the United States.

In-country activities: May 1-15, 2018 – The program director will depart for Switzerland on May 1, 2018 and arrive in country the following day. Program activities will begin the afternoon of May 2, 2018. Participants are expected to be checked in at the program base in Bern, Switzerland in time to participate in a welcome dinner and orientation the evening of May 2, 2018. Program activities will conclude the evening of May 14, 2018. The program director will depart for the United States the following day, May 15, 2018.

Post-travel seminar: May 19, 2018 – This two-hour celebration breakfast will be an opportunity for participants to debrief, sharing experiences, highlights, and lessons learned from the study abroad experience.


On-site activities will include: presentations by harm reduction experts; discussions with Swiss public health officials, law enforcement agents, social program administrators, politicians and policy makers, and service consumers; and visits to local agencies and organizations that employ harm reduction strategies. Presenters will discuss the meaning and application of harm reduction in addressing social and health concerns in the United States, Switzerland, and other international locations. Presenters will also engage participants in discussions regarding the history of harm reduction, both generally and locally, and barriers to and facilitators of harm reduction strategies. By visiting local agencies and organizations that employ harm reduction strategies, participants will observe firsthand the application of harm reduction in policy-making and health and human service practice.

Academic Assignments

Participants in this program will complete the following:

Assigned readings. Readings will help participants understand the concept of harm reduction, consider its application to various social and health concerns, become familiar with harm reduction policies and strategies, and identify barriers to and facilitators of harm reduction in policy and practice in Switzerland, the United States, and other locations abroad.
Preliminary essay “What Will I Learn”. This assignment will help prepare students for the study program, assess the current state of their understanding of harm reduction, and prepare a conceptual learning plan.
Attendance at all group sessions and daily debriefings. Group sessions will be led by harm reduction experts and representatives of agencies and organizations involved in harm reduction policy and/or practice. In daily debriefings, students will discuss the day’s events and information to review and synthesize learning and process emotions and reactions. Through these activities, students will further articulate the meaning and application of harm reduction, and consider barriers to and facilitators of harm reduction strategies and policies nationally and internationally.
A reflective journal. The journal will be made up of daily entries (at least one paragraph) noting reactions and responses to program activities, specifically identified applications of harm reduction, and personal insights regarding harm reduction in general and impediments to or facilitators of the integration of this model in practice and prevention;
Thank you to one of the program presenters or sites visited. Students will write a one-page thank-you letter addressed directly to one of the program presenters or a representative of one of the sites visited. This letter should be a sincere expression of gratitude for what the student learned from the presenter and/or the site visited. Students should pay special attention to spelling, grammar, and content as these will be forwarded to the individual or organization to whom they are addressed. (The instructor reserves the right not to forward letters determined to be inappropriate due to errors and/or content.)
Program experience summary essay. This 5-page paper will summarize the student’s study abroad experience. This essay will include: a brief summary of highlights of the trip; a description of what the student has learned generally; a description of what the student has learned specifically about harm reduction; and a discussion of how this study abroad experience will influence the student in her/his personal and professional life.
Final topic paper (graduate students). This 10-page paper will provide a definition of harm reduction, describe a specific application of the harm reduction model as observed or discussed during the study experience, and present a proposed example of harm reduction practice or policy in the student’s home community (e.g., description of the proposed harm reduction practice or policy, how this practice or policy would resemble what was observed during the study experience, how this practice or policy would be different from what was observed during the study experience, specific barriers and facilitators that might exist in the student’s home community’s socio-political environment).

Academic Courses

Students who participate in this study abroad program will be able to register for up to three (3) semester credits though Weber State University in SW 2920, SW 4600, SW 4810, and/or 4920.

Program Directors

Dr. Mark Bigler, LCSW, PhD, professor and chair of the Department of Social Work and Gerontology at Weber State University, will be the program director for this study abroad experience. Dr. Bigler has more than 20 years of experience in higher education. Harm reduction has been a significant part of his professional experience and his research agenda. He has traveled extensively in North America and Europe. He lived in Switzerland for a year and has visited the country on several other occasions, twice on trips supported by Weber State University grants to study harm reduction and Swiss drug policy. He also spent several months living in France. He holds a bachelor’s degree in French, one of Switzerland’s three national languages, and he speaks French fluently.

Trip Cancellations

If the trip is canceled, all participants will be refunded. Any refunds for withdrawals from the program will be determined by the Study Abroad Director according to the recoverability of incurred costs and fees and according to the Continuing Education Policy. Once the group leaves all costs are non-refundable in their entirety. Dates & process may change. It is the student's responsibility to be aware of any such changes by staying in contact with the program director.

Any questions feel free to contact the Study Abroad Office at (801) 626-8155 or by calling the Continuing Education Office at (801) 626-6600.