Kim '09 evacuated from Mid. Eastern war zone

by Kelsey Blodget | 8/3/06 5:00am

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An Arabic language immersion program became all too real when Edward Kim '09 found himself in the middle of the Israeli-Lebanese conflict.
by Courtesy of Edward Kim / The Dartmouth

In Beirut the women wore western clothing and "there was a Starbucks every few blocks," Kim said.

On July 12, several weeks after his June 23 arrival, Kim found himself immersed in a volatile conflict after the Lebanese Shiite group Hezbollah killed and kidnapped several Israeli soldiers and Israel retaliated by bombing Lebanon.

"At first I didn't really worry too much I guess, because people told me not to," Kim said.When Israel bombed the airports Kim realized he might be in serious danger.

"I remember I was really tired and I was about to go to bed, and we could hear the bombs going off near the airport, hitting the airport," Kim said.

"Sometimes we could see flashes in the sky."

Although the students were not in a "Hezbollah part of the city," according to Kim, it was "unnerving to hear and see these things for the first time in your life."

With the airports inaccessible, most of the highways bombed and exits blockaded, Kim realized it was time to leave -- if he could.

"They said we wouldn't have a chance to get out for a while unless we were evacuated," Kim said. "We started to get a little scared. Not just because we were bombed but because we didn't know what was going to happen."

Kim's parents called the U.S. Embassy and friends in the Pentagon to help evacuate him.

"My parents both really freaked out," Kim said. "They kind of called everyone as much as they could. [They had] a lot of sleepless nights."

Kim said his father also called Dartmouth "to cover all of his bases," but Kim assumed incorrectly that it would be the government, not the College, that would ultimately bring him home.

"The government is bigger and richer and has more resources and everything," Kim said. "I didn't realize [Dartmouth was] so well connected. I was really impressed."

Several years ago Dartmouth joined with 15 other colleges and universities to become clients of International SOS, a travel evacuation service provider that operates principally for larger corporations around the world.

Director of Integrated Risk Management and Insurance Hank James said that higher education has "become more of a client in recent years."

The College has used the service seven or eight times in total, James said.

The company's services range from helping replace a lost passport to providing an injured client the name of the nearest hospital.

"It doesn't always end up as being severe as getting someone out of the country," James said.

James said he received a call early in the morning on Saturday, July 15 alerting him to Kim's situation.

"Edward had expressed some desire to get out of Lebanon, and a call was placed to ISOS," James said.

"At that time they were not moving people out of Lebanon. They would just advise people to stay put until they could assess the conditions to get them out."

On Friday the 14th, the university had moved Kim and other students to its campus in Byblos, Lebanon, which was not under attack.

On July 16, Kim received a call in his room informing him that he had to get to a hotel in the town of Dbayeh, near Beirut, by 1 p.m. He was told he could bring only one small travel bag.

"I stuffed as much stuff as I could into my backpack. I got my laptop, some clothes and a toothbrush and that was it," Kim said.

Word spread to the other American students that Kim was being evacuated, and many of them placed calls to find out if ISOS would evacuate them as well.

Three others had schools or parents' companies that were ISOS clients and were able to leave with Kim.

By 3 p.m. six buses, holding both students and Lebanese citizens, left for Damascus, Syria. Kim learned later that the buses were following a UN convoy.

"We were taking a lot of dirt roads, a lot of back ways that we wouldn't normally have taken," Kim said.

"Most of the highways were all bombed. Plus it was an extra precaution."

On the bus Kim said he and his three companions talked about "how lucky we were to be getting out."

Kim said that "in an intensive program just for about three or four weeks, you get really close, especially in a situation like this," which he said made him feel especially guilty to leave his friends behind, though all of his friends were eventually evacuated.

After three days of exhausting traveling, Kim arrived in Washington, D.C., on July 18.

"Honestly when I first got back I was just relieved to be able to sleep horizontally and take a shower," Kim said.

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