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Abroad, but not alone

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Revolutions, earthquakes and tsunamis have upset the plans of Drake University students studying abroad.

All Drake students avoided injury and danger during the recent foreign crises but the experiences of students currently abroad were disrupted.  Students hoping to study abroad in the near future have had to change their plans as well.

According to a study abroad link on Drake’s website, “Drake works with select accredited international institutions and reputable study abroad organizations to provide over 175 study abroad opportunities in over 60 different countries.”

During this school year, 250 Drake students chose to enroll in one of the study abroad programs offered at Drake for either a semester or full year.

These students made numerous preparations for studying abroad in the months leading up to their trips, yet in certain cases, unexpected events arose that students and universities were not prepared for.

In January, Amina Kader, Ashley Crow and Ian Weller were all faced with difficult decisions and unforeseen complications to their study abroad experience when the Egyptian revolution erupted.

“In  cases like Egypt, it is our job to maintain contact to ensure student safety and to also find out what the student(s) want to do,” said Jen Hogan, assistant director of international programs and services/study abroad.

“As the revolution developed in Egypt, Drake faculty maintained fast paced and consistent communication with contacts in other study abroad programs, parents, academic advisors at Drake, and the affected students,” said Hogan.

All three chose to continue their semester abroad in either Oman or Morocco.

“For the students that were relocated, it was like going through culture shock all over again,” said Hogan. “They’ve had to adjust to new living situations and overcome the disappointment that accompanied not being in Egypt to get to the point where they can enjoy the rest of their experience.”

Drake was not the only university that initially lacked an alternative plan for students studying in Egypt. According to the Institute of International Education, 260,327 American college students studied abroad for credit during fall 2010.  With an equitable quantity of students abroad during this spring term, many universities were required to act quickly to resolve their students’ situation.

Nearly a month later and 10,000 miles from Egypt, Sam Hellwege had an abrupt change in his study abroad plans when an earthquake hit Christchurch, New Zealand.

Courtesy of Sam Hellwege

“I started in Christchurch but unfortunately that was short lived because of February’s earthquake. My program (The Education Abroad Network) moved us out of Christchurch within 12 hours of it to a safer location in O’Kain’s Bay, about an hour and a half southeast of Christchurch,” said Hellwege.

Once again Hogan and other Drake faculty undertook the necessary communication, academic and student safety measures.

“In cases like these being flexible, aware and connected really helps the students. The coordination of policy and coordinating the different communication links to make sure academic advisors, the study abroad department, parents and students were all on the same page was very important,” said Hogan.

“After the earthquake I was basically at the beginning stages again of going abroad. I had to meet all new people and get settled in again to a new foreign location,” said Hellwege. “Fortunately the Drake students that already were in Wellington were a huge help in getting situated.”

The recent earthquake, tsunami and nuclear plant crisis in Fukushima, Japan, has impacted additional students’ study abroad plans.

“I still plan on studying abroad next year because my program is in Osaka which wasn’t really affected by the earthquake that hit northern Japan,” said Cherri Cathi. “I know another Drake student who postponed her trip until next year because of parental fears for her safety.”

Another Drake student determined to carry out his plans. He left the United States to pursue his study abroad program within a week of the earthquake and tsunami.

The recent crises around the world have exposed the inability of people and governments to be completely prepared for unanticipated events. Despite all of their preparation, Drake students and staff learned this the hard way, yet they still managed to offer affected students fulfilling study abroad opportunities.

“Studying abroad has been everything I expected it to be and then some,” said Hellwege.

Abroad advice

“There are a lot of things you have to think about before going abroad.  First and foremost is your passport, obviously.  Then choosing your program, getting your Visa for whatever country you’re going to and even what classes you’ll be taking once you get back to Drake.” — sophomore Kristina Vann, studying in Vichy, France

“Other things like shopping, cooking for myself and maintaining a workout program have all been really exciting for me. I like the sense of living on my own and staying on top of things including schoolwork, cooking, shopping, working out, etc. In addition, we are constantly planning on seeing new things around New Zealand during the weekends and mid-semester break (spring break in America) which requires planning out transportation, housing and activities all weeks in advance so we can get the cheapest of everything.” —sophomore Sam Hellwege, studying in Wellington, New Zealand

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