A general view of Silwan in East Jerusalem, on Wednesday, Oct. 1, 2014. (Quique Kierszenbaum/MCT)

Guest Opinion: Studying abroad is valuable, not always dangerous

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For a large majority of University of Iowa students, studying abroad is an important and exciting aspect of the college experience, myself included.

Last year, I expressed my interest of studying abroad in the summer of 2017. The only obstacle that stood in my way was my choice of destination: Israel.

The problem with studying in Israel wasn’t my choice of program but rather, the country. I was planning on going for a Hebrew-Intensive program because the University of Iowa doesn’t offer Hebrew classes. Because Israel had a state department travel warning, I would have to overcome many obstacles to get there. First, I created a safety proposal about how I would stay safely in Israel. Because I had been to Israel the summer before, I knew that even though the news and the State Department framed Israel as a dangerous country, it is not any more so than your typical American city such as New York City. Of course I knew the risks, but I didn’t see a reason, if I took the necessary safety precautions, I wouldn’t be able to study there.

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I typed up a four-page safety proposal that covered every aspect of the State Department’s safety warning. I had etched out every detail I could to emphasize that I would be safe. I submitted my proposal, and I waited. Two months later, I received my response — No. This rejection of my proposal prompted me to re-evaluate, and in doing so, I saw new paths for exploration that would still get me to my intended destination.

The Study Abroad Office noted that studying abroad in a travel-warning country was “highly discouraged for undergraduates,” and I questioned if this response would have been different if I were a graduate student. The university was hesitant to allow me to travel because I wasn’t going through a “vetted and affiliated program provider.” I found this logic troubling, but I knew that the UI had accepted credits from and had sent students to the University of Haifa before, so I wasn’t dissuaded.

After receiving its response, I initiated a conversation with the director of safety abroad at the UI, Autumn Tallman. She said that there was a third-party provider that offered the same program I was looking at, and this would allow me to go to Israel. From there, it was a quick turnaround from rejection to going to Israel through USAC’s facilitation of Haifa’s Hebrew program.

Despite the obstacles I faced, I had a wonderful time in Haifa learning Hebrew this past summer. The experience allowed me to further my Hebrew-language skills and fall in love with Israeli culture and society in a way I could have only done by being there.

— Yena Zerkel

UI sophomore

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