Global learning programs affected by Middle East unrest

The kidnapping of three Israeli teenagers this past June sparked a conflict which escalated to the point where the Global and Experiential Learning  felt they could no longer guarantee the security of the students working at an excavation in Israel. The Wheaton center for Global and Experiential Learning has had to closely monitor the situation in the Middle East consistently, especially in recent years.

When Hamas kidnapped, killed and mutilated the teenagers, Israel retaliated by killing the two members suspected of the murder. This began the Palestinians’ bombing of Gaza late in the summer, and students who had traveled to the Leon Levy Expedition to Ashkelon were asked to leave a few weeks before their scheduled return.

The Center for Global and Experiential Learning, under the Forum on Education Abroad, has committed to standards of safety declared by the US Department of State, where Wheaton prohibits foreign travel if the government-declared travel warning is high enough. In the past, this resulted in an intern’s early departure from Jerusalem, and the cancellation of Wheaton in the Holy Lands.

In past summers, Dr. Daniel Master who leads the Ashkelon Expedition has maintained close communication with Dr. Laura Montgomery, Dean of GEL, in regards to the safety of the trip. This summer, the schools in Israel began to close, and the Israeli Defense Force was actively supervising the status of the situation. Because the program’s end was near enough that students were able to receive credit, they were given the option to fly back to the United States, or to journey to the safer site of Megiddo for the duration of the expedition. Airline offices in Israel were closed, so the GEL office worked to bring students back from the United States. Montgomery stated that she has a contact in the Israeli government with whom she communicated for the status of the country’s safety.

Montgomery expressed the tension between the learning provided by visiting different locations, and the distraction of attempting to manage personal safety. You have to think, “If I can’t go anywhere, am I able to do the project I came for? , “Can I get to know people?” and “Can I do the work necessary?” These are important questions to ask, she pointed out.

Montgomery also noted that as of now, there are forty-six active conflicts going on in the world. For study abroad programs like Wheaton’s, this can have repercussions. According to Montgomery, twenty years ago the HNGR program would have been an anomaly in the realm of education abroad, due to the fact that colleges did not often send students to the developing world. The added dimension of Wheaton’s education programs also demands an added element of caution.

“It’s a shifting world,” Montgomery commented, and the safety of Wheaton’s programs shifts as well. As of last fall, Montgomery stated that the travel warning would not have enabled trips to the Holy Lands or Ashkelon for summer of 2014, but it is impossible to judge a situation so far in advance. Therefore, the most effective approach was to formulate a fallback plan.

“For any program, we have to be aware of what circumstances are, because the college is committed to the safety of students and employees,” said Montgomery summing up her role. . She also pointed out that there “are lots of factors to keep in mind, not just political unrest.” However, the turmoil in the Middle East will continue to be a factor of consideration in upcoming programs.

Preparing and thinking about how to be safe in differing locations is important, according to Montgomery, as well as making choices on college trips that are responsible and acknowledge the college’s consideration for students’ safety.

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