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ISSUE 119 VOL 5 PUBLISHED 10/14/2005

Programs watch safety abroad

By Stephanie Soucheray
News Editor

Friday, October 14, 2005

Each semester, an average of more than 800 students leave Northfield to participate in a diverse array of off-campus educational opportunities. In January, many students capitalize on the unique Interim schedule to study for one month in programs like “Arts in Vienna” or “Economic Progress in China.”

With students studying on nearly every continent, and in every major international city, their safety is of the utmost concern to Eric Lund, director of international and off-campus studies.

Lund, who became director in February after teaching as a professor of religion, has led 14 abroad programs for the college. Lund and Kathy Tuma, associate director of international and off-campus studies, have been working together to ensure students’ safety on study abroad experiences.

"Kathy and I read daily briefings from the State Department, and try to be aware of international news," Lund said. "After I got the job, I found myself trying to monitor very closely the regions where students are traveling and anticipate any troubles that may arise there."

If the college values the role of their students as global citizens, the safety of these citizens is at the forefront of the minds of the people working in Manitou Cottage. For every semester and Interim program, the off-campus studies office decides if programs will provide safe learning opportunities for students.

Most of the programs are safe, but in a post-Sept. 11 world, the college is especially diligent about the risks students studying abroad take.

"We think it’'s important for students to understand why there may be hostile attitudes towards Americans; we have a responsibility to educate students about the world," Tuma said.

Lund agrees with this sentiment.

"There are distinctions made between anti-American attitudes toward our government and international policies and the individual American traveling abroad," he said.

The off-campus studies office uses the State Department briefings to decide whether or not to continue a program in a dangerous country. If the State Department releases a travel warning for a country, urging Americans not to travel there, the program is terminated.

If the State Department releases a public announcement expressing safety concerns for Americans in a country where St. Olaf students are currently studying, the international studies department must weigh the pros and cons of bringing students home, or having them stay.

"Our Global Semester was in Egypt during Sept. 11," Tuma said. "We felt it was best they stay put, and their safety was our main concern."

Though international travel may be more dangerous for Americans since Sept. 11. Tuma pointed out that when the terror level code is raised to orange, it can become dangerous to go to the Mall of America.

“We try not to take risks, but we cannot insulate ourselves," Tuma said.

Recently, students on the Global Semester in Egypt had their class trip to the Mount Sinai region canceled because of safety warnings from the travel department.

Though St. Olaf can cancel organized programs, they cannot stop any students’ personal behavior and choices abroad.

"When students chose to go to the Mount Sinai region independent of St. Olaf College, they had to sign a waiver that stated they knew the risks of travel and took full responsibility for themselves on their excursion," Lund said.

Professors who lead Interim programs or semester-long trips like Global semester have to be trained in safety procedures.

"We have four orientation meetings for faculty," Tuma said.

Also, students participate in a mandatory orientation meeting to be briefed about the culture, safety precautions, health risks and even dietary norms of the country to which they are traveling.

Even though traveling abroad presents safety risks to students, Lund believes that the result of experiential abroad learning outweighs any of its dangers.

"Even if a student tries to be informed of international news, a real passion and concern for the region is fostered if they experience that region first-hand through studying abroad," Lund said. "There is nothing to match the experiential aspect of studying abroad to help students to be sensitive and understand global problems."

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