Wednesday, March 23, 2011

More students traveled to countries unstable conditions through MSU study abroad programs

Going to study in a new country can be daunting. Going to study in a country that has a travel warning placed on it by the Department of State is even more so.Still, hundreds of students have traveled to countries with dangerous or unstable conditions through MSU study abroad programs, and MSU has provided more program waivers to visit such countries this year than ever before.Although MSU automatically suspends all programs to a country when a travel warning is placed on it, programs can complete a waiver request to be reviewed by a Risk and Security Assessment Committee, which will then make a suggestion to Provost Kim Wilcox whether or not the program should run.In the past year, more study abroad programs have been applying to travel to countries with the travel warning, said Julie Friend, international analyst for travel health, safety and security with the Office of Study Abroad.

During the 2010-11 school year, the committee has heard waiver requests for 16 programs in the Philippines, Mexico, Kenya,Germany and Israel. Friend said the increase in waivers is a result of multiple outbreaks of violence in many countries.The committee has gotten a lot busier in the past year, primarily because of Mexico,Friend said.Mexico is a large part of study abroad it’s close, it’s Spanish speaking and there’s lots of opportunity.Eleven programs have been suspended fully because of travel warnings, including five Japanese study abroad programs that were suspended Thursday. Friend said several of the program’s leaders plan to pursue waiver requests.

Friend said many waivers are granted because the study abroad programs happen far from any violent or dangerous areas in the country. Travel warnings are issued on a country-by-country basis. Even if only part of the country is considered dangerous, the entire country still will have the warning.If a program’s waiver is approved to travel to a country, the country continues to be monitored by the Office of Study Abroad. All cities associated with the study abroad program are on continuous review from the time the waiver is approved to the end of the program.

Friend said while the safety of students is important, it is impossible for MSU to prevent danger fully. Rather, MSU attempts to mitigate danger by discussing safety matters with all students going on study abroad. Students heading to countries with a travel warning sign a release prior to departure.Premedical and Arabic sophomore Nawal Dennis was nervous about going to Kenya last summer. Kenya’s travel warning dates back to the late 1990s. However, Dennis said she always had wanted to go to Africa because it was a part of her heritage.Students can also get a lot of exposure while studying in such universities and different course International Economics, Engineering and International Technology Transfer Management.

I was a little bit afraid at first,Dennis said.But after being on the trip there wasn’t a time I didn’t feel safe.For Kenneth Waltzer, director of MSU’s Jewish Studies Program, Israel is an important part of Jewish studies home to top-rated universities and a center of Jewish life. In 1998, he led the first study abroad trip to the country. The trip was suspended in 2001 because of violence in the country, but Waltzer was successful in bringing the trip back in 2006. Since then the trip has run every year and sent more than 100 students to Israel.

Waltzer said some safety precautions have been added to the trip since Israel received the travel warning all students attending need a cell phone, they cannot travel to the West Bank and they are not allowed on any public buses in Jerusalem.Waltzer said the county is, in whole, a safe place and an important one for students to study.MSU has worked with us and done something commendable to make sure students will be safe to go,Waltzer said.Friend said as long as the educational benefits of MSU’s presence in a country outweighed the dangers, MSU would continue its international presence.One of our core values is international engagement,Friend said.MSU has elected to remain engaged with the world despite the fact that the world in some place has become more dangerous.

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