Via the NY Times, by Jennifer Conlin
IN recent years, the Middle East has become an increasingly popular spot for American college students on study-abroad programs, choosing Arab over French or German and the dusty capitals of Damascus and Cairo over Berlin or Madrid.
But in the last few months, as the Arab spring has given way to heightened violence and political instability (not to mention the arrest and detention in November of three American students in Egypt), many students, parents and college administrators are thinking twice about these programs.
“We suspended our program in Egypt last summer,” said Jeffrey W. Cason, dean of international programs at Middlebury College, which evacuated 22 students from Alexandria after the revolution began. “But now we have a program in Amman,” he said, explaining that the college, known for its language departments, had already decided to start an Arabic program with the University of Jordan when it became the only option. “Some kids were worried Amman would be a less lively place, but for us it was the safest place,” he said.
Debby Brodsky, a junior at Brandeis University, where she is an Islamic and Middle Eastern studies major, also changed plans. She enrolled in the program as part of an exchange program through Middlebury, she said, but she was not interested in studying in Jordan. Instead, she will attend the University of Haifa, in northern Israel. “There are a lot of Arabic speakers in that area, and frankly, I am relieved as it feels safer,” Ms. Brodsky said.
Middlebury is one of many institutions that has suspended study programs in Egypt. The University of Wisconsin, Michigan State University, Washington University in St. Louis and the University of Connecticut have stopped sending students there, with UConn citing a State Department travel advisory (which has been lessened to a travel alert) urging Americans to avoid all demonstrations in Egypt. Washington University and Georgetown are accepting summer and fall applications for study-abroad programs in Egypt, but are asking students to identify a backup country.
Middlebury plans a return to Alexandria next year (it will have 29 students in Amman this spring), though Dr. Cason said it was unclear if the students would undergo immersion by living in the University of Alexandria’s dorms, as they have previously. “The power disruptions in Egypt appear to be extending to the universities, so it is hard to know who is in charge,” he said. But Middlebury also has new security measures, having retained Global Rescue, the international security firm that evacuated its students from Egypt last year.
Having returned from Egypt in December, J. Scott Van Der Meid, the director of Brandeis’s study-abroad programs, said his university was confident enough about the situation in that country to resume its program in Cairo this fall, and perhaps add one in Alexandria. “The kids who want to go there are students with a really strong interest in peace and conflict issues,” said Mr. Van Der Meid, who added that Hebrew University is starting an Arabic immersion program this spring. “They obviously see a new market need out there,” he said.