By Irina Rusanova
The Saint Vincent administration has cancelled the yearly study abroad trip to Mexico as well as the planned trips to Haiti and Guatemala due to safety advisories from the U.S. Department of State.
When asked about the cancellation of the Mexico Program, which sent students to study in Mexico twice a year, Fr. Paul Taylor, O.S.B., president of Saint Vincent College, issued the following statement:
“I am supportive of student international travel, particularly for learning and service. We recognize the potential value of the language immersion experience and hope that through the creative efforts of the Modern Language Department and others, alternative venues for such experiences can be readily developed that will be safe, affordable and provide a valuable curricular opportunity. Our primary concern is for student safety. Saint Vincent College will not sponsor travel to areas with a U.S. State Department Classification of a ‘Level 3 - Reconsider Travel’ risk or higher.”
John Smetanka, vice president of academic affairs and academic dean, also spoke of the cancellation.
“We’ve reevaluated the policy for undergraduate student travel, and that evaluation changed the old policy. We said that travel to areas that are [travel advisory] level three or four would not be permissible,” he said.
There are four levels of U.S. Department of State travel advisories. The most cautionary levels are level three (orange: reconsider traveling) and level four (red: do not travel).
The Mexico and Haiti trips were cancelled due to level three advisories in the city destinations and the Guatemala trips were cancelled because the airport at which students would be arriving was located in Guatemala City, which stands as a level three area.
“It would be wonderful if the conditions were judged to be better by the state department,” Smetanka said.
Meanwhile, areas that continue to be either level one (blue: exercise normal precautions) or level two (yellow: exercise increased caution) still have a chance to appear on the list of study abroad programs. One such area is Rome, and a new program called the Summer Institute in Rome has been introduced at Saint Vincent.
“[The program is] a partnership with Sant’Anselmo in Rome. […] It’s a really exciting opportunity to earn credits and to really have an immersive experience,” Smetanka said.
Students who take part in the program will have the chance to live in Rome near Vatican City, where they will study for five weeks. Attending students will receive ten credits in the natural science, history, and politics and philosophy disciplines.
Sara Hart, director of international education, explained that available study abroad programs change over time to allow new opportunities for students to learn in diverse environments.
“Faculty submit program proposals for academic programs,” she stated. “While we’ve run some programs consistently for a long time, we like to introduce new ones too to keep options fresh for students.”
Any future additions to what programs are available will be updated on the study abroad page on the Portal, through scheduling information sessions, and by word of mouth from faculty members who may be leading such programs, Hart said.
Smetanka spoke of the benefits such programs can have on students’ education.
“I really believe that having a global perspective is important. […] Being able to travel and study helps give a student those global perspectives, to be immersed in another culture, another country, for a significant period of time,” he said.
Smetanka explained that actively taking part in another culture can never be fully experienced in the conventional classroom.
“It’s mind-expanding,” Smetanka said. “It’s hard to replicate that by reading or studying or watching videos […] it’s not the same.”