Amidst political unrest, Penn students are still seeking study abroad programs in the Middle East.
Each year, Penn Abroad sends students to countries in the Middle East such as Jordan, Egypt and Israel. The Abroad office has maintained partnerships with international universities and allows for students to study in these areas despite the turmoil last semester.
The unrest seems to have little impact on student’s decisions to go abroad to the Middle East in the upcoming semesters. Applications for next fall have actually increased from last semester, according to Penn Abroad.
Four students have already applied to study abroad in Cairo, up from only one or two applicants in previous years. Overall, 28 students have applied to study in the middle east next fall, said Barbara Gorka, director of Penn Abroad.
Gorka also said that if students are studying abroad in a country with a U.S. State Department travel warning, the study abroad office makes sure that the student is aware of this. They address issues of safety and security in various orientations for the students.
“It’s got to be a good fit, whether it’s academic or something else,” Gorka said. “We know where our students are going so we monitor those locations all the time.”
If there is an increase in tension during their time abroad, the office makes sure to stay in touch with students and also notify them of what’s going on in the country.
Additionally, students applying to the Egypt programs are given the opportunity to apply to a backup program and are also allowed to reapply in a different semester if the country becomes unsafe for any reason.
College sophomore Amy Cass is planning to study abroad in Cairo next semester and says the conflict does not deter her. “I find [the] Middle East really interesting because there has been so much conflict, so for the unrest to be a reason not to go would seem like a silly reason.”
She felt that Penn Abroad was cautious, but not overly so.
“They just wanted to be sure that we as students were fully aware of the risks and ready for them,” Cass said.
Cass said that her parents feel if there is stability in the region and Penn continues to permit students to study in these countries, then they will trust Penn’s judgment and allow her to study in Egypt.
“There is definitely political instability, I’m not going to deny that, but it’s an incentive to go abroad,” said Diana Gonimah, a College sophomore and former Daily Pennsylvanian staff writer, who is originally from Egypt. “I know that their lives won’t be at risk and they will gain so much from the experience. Even during the revolution, I’ve never felt like my life was at risk.”
Arabic Language Program Coordinator and professor Emad Rushdie, who is currently in Egypt, feels that the country is very safe.
He believes that the situation is currently stable and very different from how the media has perceived the unrest.
“Egyptians are naturally kind people and very welcoming and receptive, so I don’t think it is unsafe for foreigners in general — not only students — to come and live here,” Rushdie said in an email.
Some students are interested in pursuing their studies in other countries in the Middle East where there are currently no programs affiliated with Penn.
Adrian Rios, a sophomore in the College, is looking to petition Penn Abroad for the opportunity to spend a semester in Lebanon. He attributes his interest in the area to his majors — international relations and modern middle eastern studies, as well as his interest in the Lebanese dialect of Arabic.
However, his parents are not too excited about him studying in the Middle East. Rios said that his mother is afraid for him, because “all she cares about is bad things that happen [there]; she doesn’t hear about any of the good things.”
For Rios, however, both the good and the bad draw him to the country, because it gives him the opportunity to learn and experience more.
Despite his mother’s concerns, Rios is still set on going to Lebanon. “She’s very adamant about me not going, but she understands that if this is what I want to do, I’m going to do it anyway,” he said.
Gonimah added that it often is safer than it seems from depictions in the media.
“Sometimes I feel safer on the streets of Cairo than I do in West Philadelphia,” she said. “You just have to be smart about your decisions.”
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