Student group pushes University for official study-abroad program to Israel

On the U.S. travel warning list, Israel is off limits for University students.

by Jamie VanGeest

The University doesn’t have an official study-abroad program to Israel, but a student group wants to change that.

Gopher Israel Public Affairs Committee’s main goal next year is to establish an offical Israel study-abroad program through the University, said the group’s president, Julia Krieger, a journalism sophomore.

“The consensus has been that until the U.S. travel warning has been lifted basically there is not going to be a travel ban lifted from the University,” she said.

Krieger said it’s a civil rights issue and discriminatory that the University doesn’t have a study-abroad program to Israel.

“It’s troubling to me that the University of Minnesota is one of the finest universities in the nation Ö it is slamming its door to legitimate opportunities to study in Israel,” she said.

The University never has had an official study-abroad program to Israel, said Jodi Malmgren, the director of advising at the University’s Learning Abroad Center.

This is because Israel is on the U.S. State Department’s travel warning list, and also because there hasn’t been overwhelming interest in an official study-abroad program, she said.

“Our utmost concern is the safety of our University of Minnesota students, and Ö the State Department has issued a warning for a country that suggests there is a safety concern with sending students there,” Malmgrem said.

Joseph Walla, who graduated in May with a degree in political science, said traveling to Israel isn’t more dangerous than traveling to other countries.

While he studied abroad in Italy last year, a University of Miami student was stabbed, he said.

“You always assume some risk when you travel, and I don’t think it’s necessarily greater when you travel to Israel,” Walla said.

With the exception of a program to Kenya, the University doesn’t offer study-abroad programs to countries with travel warnings.

“Students would go on what we could call an outside program,” Malmgren said.

If a student wants to go to Israel or any other country on the travel warning list, he or she would have to find another program and then petition to the Education Abroad Suspension Committee.

“I think the University, by having this ban and forcing students to go outside the University, it doesn’t send the best message,” said Dan Goodman, a political science and Jewish studies senior and group member.

He said some of the cons of not having an official study-abroad program to Israel is having to petition to the committee.

Other universities such as the University of Wisconsin-Madison and Ohio State University offer official study-abroad programs to Israel, Goodman said.

One of the difficulties students who want to study-abroad in Israel face is that their credits, but not their grades, transfer, he said.

“Grades you earn in Israel don’t get transferred or calculated into you GPA,” Goodman said. “If it is an official study-abroad program, the grades do transfer.”

When a student studies abroad through an unofficial program, he or she has to take a leave of absence from the University, which could look bad to future employers looking at your transcript, he said

“You can learn things (at a University in Israel) that you can’t here,” Goodman said.

Goodman said Israeli universities have some of the world’s best programs in Jewish and holocaust studies and programs in Roman architecture.