Two weeks ago, rebels from Chechnya held over 800 Russians and foreigners hostage for three days in the Theater Center on Dubrovka near the Kremlin in Russia. Over 90 hostages were killed during the siege before Russian special forces were able to stop the rebels.
Three St. Olaf students who are participating in the Denmark International School (DIS) program were actually on a field trip in Moscow at the time of the siege. None of the DIS students, hailing from a variety of U.S. colleges and universities, were in the theater center.
St. Olaf also sends a Russian Literature program to Moscow every interim.
With the strong possibility that the United States will be engaged in military action against Iraq, the Off-Campus Studies Office is advising some special cautions for students during the coming interim period. St. Olaf has only one interim in the Middle East, a religion course that will be traveling to Turkey and Greece.
"As of right now, all current out programs are going well and all of the interim programs are scheduled to go as planned," said Pat Quade, director of International Studies.
He said that any anxieties or worries about the abroad programs were far more intense last fall after Sept. 11 than they are right now.
"We spent more time than usual communicating throughout first semester last year with all of our abroad programs," Quade said.
That is not to say, however, that they are not closely monitoring all of the abroad programs. Quade described the atmosphere as "not more intense, just more proactive in trying to manage risk" in connection with all of the off-campus programs.
The staff of the International and Off-Campus Studies Office in Manitou Cottage monitor all of the programs that are already abroad, as well as global sites to which future programs are headed, very closely. They rely on multiple sources of information, including the U.S. State Department and on-site resource people.
The State Department has a three- level announcement system pertaining to traveling abroad. The first level is a consular information sheet for every country. This document advises travelers on a variety of issues ranging from traditional food, country history, health and safety issues, and cultural norms.
The second level is a "travel caution" in which travelers are highly encouraged to take greater precautions, including not drawing attention to themselves as Americans or not visiting restaurants, businesses, or institutions that are seen as typically North American.
The third level is a "travel warning," which designates an area as highly dangerous or unstable.
St. Olaf College policy prohibits students from departing for a country that exists under a U.S. State Department warning. Along with the travel an-nouncement system, several on-site sources, such as foreign offices of other nations, are consulted in order to obtain all of the facts and to consider perspectives before decisions are made to deviate from the schedules of the programs.
When decisions are made to reroute travel-study programs, St. Olaf has the full capacity to respond quickly to any situation that may arise. For example, the Global Semester program was recently rerouted from northern India and Nepal because of instability in the region and was instead sent to Thailand where the students are on restricted travel for their free time.
"As we get closer to January, depending on how the situations are in several areas of the world, more recommendations on what precautions students need to take may be issued," Quade affirmed.
For an Interim-long program however, it is more difficult to reroute a schedule compared with a semester-long program due to the shorter time period and the site-specific nature of the programs.
Depending on the seriousness of a possible situation, the International and Off-Campus Studies Office may go as far as canceling certain courses. How-ever, the possibility of cancellation is very slim.
The most significant change in any of the abroad programs in the past six years was to suspend the Term in the Middle East for the period of one year. The program, which went to Israel, Turkey, Morocco, and Egypt, has been unable to go to Israel for two years. Due to the situation in Israel, the program may have to be temporarily redesigned until the country is stable again.
As a means of preparing participants in abroad programs, faculty and students attend a series of orientation meetings. Interim Faculty members attend three separate training sessions in which they learn how to respond quickly and efficiently to emergencies that may occur while abroad.
"Bad things can happen anywhere," said Quade. "They are world issues, not regional issues. It is more important now than ever to learn about other nations and cultures. We cannot shut the door and isolate ourselves."