Protests abroad impact students

by Sasha Dudding | 7/15/13 10:00pm

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Yamamura watched as 65,000 protestors marched below his window in Sao Paulo, Brazil.
by Courtesy of Lucas Yamamura / The Dartmouth

Across the world, thousands have amassed in the streets this summer to protest their governments, causing varying degrees of civil unrest. From canceled Cairo trips to instability in Brazil, many Dartmouth students studying abroad have been affected by recent turmoil.

Though the Sao Paulo protests initially responded to the government's increase to bus fares, underlying tensions caused the protests to escalate. Despite potential safety concerns, Yamamura said the two weeks of protests were a firsthand opportunity to witness Brazil in a moment of change.

"It was just a way to show that our generation was different from past generations," he said. "I think it's a much, much deeper problem that will take not just one generation, but two or three, but it's sending a strong signal that people need to think about politics in a different way."

Yamamura did not participate in the protests due to concerns about the volatility of the crowds.

Visiting Portuguese professor Uju Anya '98, who is leading the summer language study abroad program in Salvador, Brazil, said her students were directly affected by the protests. Despite discouragement from the faculty, some students participated in and filmed the demonstrations.

"The protests have definitely benefited the students because they allowed them to become a lot more engaged in Brazilian society, politics and current events than would typically happen with study abroad students in ordinary circumstances," Anya wrote in an email. "They cannot help but be involved."

Other students have decided to avoid areas of civil unrest. Tanya Budler '15 and Max Kinne '15 had planned to spend fall term at the American University in Cairo but have canceled their plans due to the recent violent protests surrounding the toppling of Egyptian President Mohamed Morsi.

Budler, who will instead study Arabic in the United Arab Emirates, said her decision was motivated by safety concerns.

After talking to a friend who lives in Cairo, Budler said she realized that the only sustainable solution for Egypt is one desired by its people, regardless of whether it is democratic.

"It's going to get worse before it gets better, but it's not as bad as people think it is," Budler said. "No matter how unfortunate this is with all the deaths and all the danger that comes with it, this is what they want."

She added that her decision to change her plans was not influenced by the College, which had initially approved the transfer term. Although the State Department issued a travel warning last Wednesday, she said Dartmouth did not contact her that week.

"I was rather surprised that Dartmouth had even approved it as a transfer program," she said.

Off-Campus Programs director John Tansey said the College evaluates each situation on a case-by-case basis, taking into account travel warnings from the State Department and other organizations, health and safety concerns and the feasibility of conducting classroom activities and excursions.

"The benefit of these programs is they engage students with the world and that's what we want to do, but there comes a point when we're continually evaluating the benefits as opposed to the risks of studying in a specific situation," he said.

The College's travel risk policy asks students traveling to unstable areas to provide a personal risk management plan. Students traveling to countries on the State Department's travel warning list must seek travel waivers for their trip, which "will not normally be granted," Tansey said.

Laurel Stavis, assistant provost for international initiatives, said the College is only able to prevent students from transfer terms in risky areas if they are traveling with a campus organization, such as the Tucker Foundation, or if the student is receiving Dartmouth funding. Even if a travel waiver is denied, the College cannot prevent a student from independently choosing to travel to dangerous regions of the world.

"It's up to them to stay aware of what is happening in the world, and it's up to the organizing departments," Stavis said. "If there's no Dartmouth connection, then there's no mechanism."

Past off-campus program canceled due to safety concerns include the 2009 Mexico LSA during the swine flu outbreak, the 2003 Beijing foreign study program due to the SARS virus, the 2001 Russia FSP due to local violence and five programs during the Gulf War.

Brendon Stoner '14, who studied in Jordan from for over a year in 2011 and recently spent two weeks in Turkey, said the College should allow students to make their own travel decisions, adding that students should not avoid all areas with elevated political or health risks.

His time in Jordan followed shortly after the Arab Spring, and many wondered if it would be the site of future protests. Stoner said he was confident in the government's ability to maintain order, though his parents were more concerned about the risks involved.

"It's really just about being smart once you're there," he said. "I would really encourage people to go to places where they're uncomfortable. That experience in learning how to navigate is really important."

Bridget Shaia '15, who will study at the University of Jordan this fall through Middlebury College, said she recently discovered that the program's size will double to accommodate students who had planned to study in Egypt. Middlebury has canceled its program in Egypt in light of recent protests.

Shaia, who plans to remain enrolled in the program unless Jordan's political climate changes significantly, said she is looking forward to being in the region during this time.

"I don't think we can really understand what it's like because it's so far removed from what happens in American politics, so it'll be a unique thing to be part of and observe," she said. "The whole region is changing and the fact that we'll be there is exciting as long as it's safe."

Although the College directed her to its general travel resources website when she originally applied for a transfer term, Shaia has not been contacted since with more specific safety information regarding travel in Jordan. She has instead solicited advice from Arabic professors and did her own research.

"I don't know what else they could do about it, it's ultimately my decision," she said. "The College itself, I don't know that they know any more than I do, so I don't think they can make a judgment on it."

Shaia said she felt that she had received less contact from the College since she had signed a liability waiver and was not on a Dartmouth program.

Tansey declined to comment on whether the College has varying levels of concern for students traveling on FSPs versus transfer terms.

Registrar Meredith Braz said in an email that the Registrar's Office planned to contact students traveling to Egypt who they have not yet heard from and would inform these students of the need for a travel waiver.

Stavis said the Provost's Office had recently created the Dartmouth travel registry, a website where students can enter contact information for the College to use in case of an emergency or a change in the country's status on the State Department's warning list. She added that the Provost's Office did not have a system in place for contacting students who had chosen not to register.

Middlebury, Georgetown University, Princeton University and various tour companies have canceled programs in Egypt since the outbreak of protests. Tansey declined to comment on whether Dartmouth would have canceled transfer terms.

This article has been revised to reflect the following correction:

Correction: July 17, 2013

**The original version incorrectly stated that Anya is a full-time professor at Dartmouth.*