Study abroad trips continue despite war

By Andrew Moesel

As anti-American sentiments intensify abroad, the University remains confident but cautious about the safety of its students studying in foreign countries.

To date, no study abroad programs have been cancelled or significantly altered because of the war in Iraq. Administrators have, however, taken the extra step to contact the international agents facilitating University programs and discuss measures to improve student security. The University has asked, for example, that standard safety seminars be supplemented with additional meetings to help students cope with issues related to the politically controversial situation.

“We have communicated with all our agents on the ground about the nature of the times and tension in the international community,” said Lewis Fortner, associated academic director of study abroad. “It is emotionally wrenching for many Americans to see our country invade Iraq, and we want to help students deal with it.”

In a letter sent to parents on the eve of the war, University officials stated their resolve to continue with the regularly scheduled programs, but urged students to show higher level of discretion while aboard.

“We have advised program participants to try to keep a low profile as young Americans abroad, to remain aloof from heated political debate, and to avoid interim travel to countries for which the US State Department has issued travel warnings,” the letter read.

A similar letter was also mailed to all students who were currently aboard, suggesting that they avoid popular American tourist locations and be discreet while in public.

Despite the University’s encouragement, two students have decided to drop out of spring foreign study programs, citing concerns about the war as their reason.

Administrators believed the apprehension of these students was due to personal and familial considerations, not fear for their safety. “[Dropping out] is not a rational thing-there’s no reason to feel more danger when abroad. It’s two things: just that students want to be closer to their families and parents like having their children close during tough times,” Fortner said.

Many students agreed with Fortner, saying that while the University portrayed an overly wary attitude toward anti-American hostility, they felt rather safe during the time abroad. “There were tons of Americans there,” said Azeem Zainulbhai, a third-year in the College who studied in Paris this winter. “No one really cared [about us being American].”

“Americans who are not abroad have a misconception about what goes on in Europe,” Zainulbahai continued. “Concerned parents would call and ask for their kids to come home, but no one in my group was worried at all.”

Some students have even sympathized with the protesters, Fortner noted, adding that a few have expressed interest in joining anti-war activities while abroad.

Others were more conscious of a prominent level of anti-American feelings among foreign populations, and expressed some concern about the current situation in Europe.

“There were times when I felt uncomfortable, particularly in Spain where the anti-American sentiment amongst the population runs very strong,” said Clarie Baldwin, a third-year who studied in London during the fall and Spain during the winter. “However, this feeling was to be expected considering how much of the world felt [upset] about the war.”

A central issue is whether the international community has separated the actions of the American government from its individual citizens or, grouping all Americans into a single category, blamed them for the Bush administrations policies. Signs at anti-war rallies commonly single out Bush and Cheney by name, but cases of violence against regular Americans have been reported once crowds get rowdy.

Both Zainulbhai and Baldwin believe that foreign resentment is almost entirely focused on Bush and his motivations for war, not Americans who may or may not agree the war.

“People saw my being an American as an opportunity to question how an American citizen felt about the war,” Baldwin said.

So far, the war has not appeared to affect the participation patterns in any particular study abroad program. Administrators have noticed a sharp drop in interest for yearlong study abroad applicants-particularly in Paris-but attribute the lack of interest to a continuing national trend favoring shorter programs in general.

The University’s stance seems to be consistent with other peer institutions, and administrators at colleges across the country have collaborated and decided to go ahead with the vast majority of their programs.

“Colleagues at other universities have not cancelled any programs except for some in Israel and Egypt,” Fortner said. “But I believe the Israel programs have been cancelled for some time.”