Safety limits study abroad

Elizabeth Giorgi

University students wanting to study in Haiti, Kenya, Sudan or one of the 27 countries on the U.S. State Department’s travel warning list will have to get permission first.

The Education Learning Abroad Suspension Committee was put into place in fall 2004 to evaluate whether students should be allowed to study abroad in countries on the State Department’s travel warning list.

Four members serve on the committee and evaluate student applications to travel to the countries deemed “unsafe.”

Office of International Programs director Eugene Allen, who is on the committee, said he is pleased with the way the board has functioned thus far.

The board has received 12 requests and has had to deny only one person’s request to travel, to Nepal, he said.

Allen said it is important that students continue to seek study abroad opportunities around the world.

“(The board) invites students to maintain communication to travel to these countries,” he said.

In situations where a student might be in danger during his or her studies abroad, the board will contact those students to ensure they are safe, Allen said.

For example, when the University had 19 students in London during the July train bombings, the board was in contact with local providers very quickly, he said.

The committee also works with student groups and programs to allow them to study abroad and do research in countries on the travel warning list.

Minnesota Studies in International Development program director Chip Peterson said he works with the suspension committee for the Kenya program.

Peterson said the program has to update a safety analysis for the committee for the program to continue to do its work in Kenya.

The program doesn’t have to fill out an application to continue to travel to Kenya but must continuously update the committee on safety, he said.

Students who seek to travel to countries on the warning list must fill out an extensive application detailing their trip, said public policy graduate student Sarah Murphy Thompson.

Thompson traveled to Haiti in summer 2005 to do a professional internship for her degree, she said.

Thompson said the application is extremely detailed and time-consuming because a student has to prove the benefit of traveling to the country. Also, there can’t be another country to study abroad in that will fulfill the same requirements, she said.

Students are required to outline an evacuation plan in case there is turmoil or danger in the country they are studying in, she said.

The committee wants to ensure there are mitigating circumstances that make it safe for students to be there, she said.

Thompson said students should seek other students who have applied to or traveled abroad in countries on the travel warning list because they understand the necessary preparations. Also, the students can help convey the importance of studying abroad in those countries.

“It is really, really important that the suspension committee continues to grant students the ability to study in countries on the warning list,” she said, “because those countries are the ones that lack political infrastructure and they are in the most need of development.”