November 19, 2012

Upheaval Forces Cornell Students Abroad in Israel to Adjust

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Of the two Cornell undergraduate students studying abroad in Israel this semester, one was forced to seek shelter during an air raid last week and the other has been relocated to a city further from the Gaza Strip, a site that has been the target of Israeli missile strikes. Still, the two students are safe and the University is monitoring the situation, according to Alexis Santi, coordinator of travel safety for Cornell Abroad.

But continued clashes in the region could jeopardize the future of study abroad opportunities in Israel, he said.

Santi said that both students are “concerned” about the ongoing conflict and have been following the recent events as they unfold in Israel.

“They have been in contact with Cornell Abroad throughout the time of this conflict. We have spoken to them individually and [to] their universities,” Santi said in an email. “Their trips have changed and been adapted due to what is happening in the Middle East.”

The students are studying at Ben-Gurion University in Beersheva and Tel Aviv University. According to Santi, the student at Ben-Gurion University was relocated this week to another city as a precaution.

Jeremy Roberts ’14, who is currently studying at Tel Aviv University, said Monday that he heard sirens Thursday evening — almost immediately after he had contacted his parents to assure them that the attacks were occurring nowhere near the city.

“We all sprinted to the shelters …We heard two booms in the distance, and there was a lot of commotion among the students in the dorm area,” Roberts said. “After about 15 minutes, everyone … headed back to their rooms to read Twitter feeds and live updates of news sources, and assure all their friends on Facebook that they were alive and thankful to be so.”

Santi said security has increased on the Tel Aviv University campus and throughout the city of Tel Aviv in response to the recent clashes. The nation’s turbulent history gives it “time-tested experience with preventative measures, security training and bomb shelters,” he said.

For the Cornell students studying abroad, Santi emphasized that safety is a top priority.

“The universities that Cornell students are studying at handle conflict and security better than anyone,” he said. “We also have someone who is highly competent working on the ground there to help our students and to keep communication with everybody.”

Roberts said that he has maintained contact with Cornell and that Cornell Abroad has been supportive throughout the conflict.

“Cornell Abroad has contacted me and let me know that I will be forced to go home only in the most extreme scenario, where it would not be safe or productive to be in Tel Aviv,” he said. “In addition, the Cornell coordinator for students abroad in Israel, Rivka Sillam, has kept in touch with me daily to hear how I’m holding up, provided updates she may have and offered me to stay over for safety.”

Roberts said he intends to remain in Israel until his program ends in January — but noted that he has become more cautious in light of the recent events.

“Though my life has continued on as per usual, there have still been some changes in my mindset,” he said. “I am struck with fear just hearing ambulance sirens … On radio stations, I hear ‘Tzeva Adom’ — Code Red — and know that somewhere, people are running for cover.”

Cornell Abroad is closely monitoring the current situation in Israel, Santi said. He noted that while it is too soon to know how the conflict will develop, continued violence in the region could compromise Cornell students’ ability to travel and study abroad in Israel in the future.

“It is hard to get a good feeling for how things are changing day to day there, so we need to look forward to how we will ensure the safety of our students involved in similar programs in the spring,” he said. “If the violence continues, and especially if Israeli troops move into Gaza, then I believe that it is safe to say that we would consider revising our policies around student travel to Israel.”

Still, Santi said that five students have already applied to travel to Israel this spring, and that several organizations are planning trips to the region during winter break and spring break.

Santi urged students who are planning on traveling or studying abroad in Israel to be aware of the potential risks and to continue following the situation as it develops.

“We’re concerned, and we want to make sure that if there is any person who is planning on doing solo travel over there or if there are any administrators who have plans to go to Israel, that we can support them,” he said.

Rebecca Harris contributed reporting to this article.

Original Author: Lauren Avery