College study abroad boycott misguided

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T he war in Iraq has consumed a lot of time in Americans’ lives. Surely, most everyone has been involved in debates about who should be in Iraq, why we should or shouldn’t be there, and how to get out. And anyone who was alive in November remembers the passion that channeled through the country in support of John Kerry or President Bush as they verbally sparred over the Iraq War.

Passions seem to have subsided now, at least temporarily, and Americans have mostly gone back to their lives as they were before the candidates stirred up the war debate.

In Mission Viejo, however, the passionate support for the war rages on. Earlier this month, the South Orange County Community College District voted on a measure that would halt the study abroad program between its colleges and Spain. Students from Irvine Valley College and Saddleback College will no longer have the opportunity to learn in Spain.

The reason? Spain made the decision to withdraw their troops from Iraq.

Surely, there must be another reason besides Spain’s troop withdrawal from Iraq for ending the 14-year-old program. In fact, there were two other reasons given.

The trustees argued that the Madrid train bombings did influence their decision because of safety concerns, but the article also mentioned that a class was sent to Spain just three months after the bombings. The other reason given was that the program was a financial burden, a reason that seems unlikely considering the fact that they are sponsoring a program in Italy that costs more per day.

No, the real reason that the study abroad program is being abandoned is because of the issue of Spain’s withdrawal from the war in Iraq. As trustee Tom Fuentes put it, “Spain has abandoned our fighting men and women, withdrawing (the nation’s) support. I see no reason to send students of our colleges to Spain at this moment in history.”

But what Fuentes and the other four trustees who voted the program out of existence seem content to ignore is the loss to the students that this action represents. Many students go into study abroad programs with the idea that a year in another country has the ability to change lives through changing perspectives.

The chance to learn a language in the country where it is spoken is an amazing opportunity that most of the people in the world will never have the chance to experience. In the United States, we are blessed with the resources to provide these types of programs for our students so that they can become interesting, intelligent and cultured people.

According to the International Studies Abroad website, Spain is one of the most popular locations for American students who choose to study in a foreign country. It’s likely that most students from Southern California find the opportunity to spend a year in Europe more interesting than spending a year in Mexico, or another country in South America that doesn’t seem to offer the same distance from their current homes. But the students enrolled in the SOCCCD system no longer have that option.

The trustees didn’t really think this move through. As a patriotic move, the action to ‘ban’ unsupportive countries from our curriculum is ridiculous. Where do you draw the line? China didn’t follow us into battle, nor did France, Russia, Brazil, or Germany. Should all study abroad programs to these countries be banned? Should students only be allowed to study in member nations of the so-called “coalition of the willing?” Pretty soon, students will only be able to study abroad in Poland and the Maldives, even though the Spanish language program in Poland is probably slightly sub-standard.

The board of trustees at the SOCCCD seems to have missed the point of studying abroad altogether. If changing perspectives makes students better people, surely that has something to do with being put in the presence of others who may have differing viewpoints from the ones here at home. The trustees, however, killed the Spain program because they don’t believe in supporting any viewpoint but one that puts American patriotism before education, experience or development.

Ryan Skinnell is a graduate student studying English.