Orange County district ends study abroad program in Spain

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The trustees of the South Orange County College District voted Feb. 28 in favor of terminating a 15-year-old study abroad program to Spain, citing Spain’s withdrawal of its troops from Iraq as one of the reasons for ending the program.

According to Carmenmara Hernandez-Bravo, Spanish instructor and coordinator for the Spanish Study Abroad Program at Saddleback College, during the review for the renewal of the study abroad program in Santander, Spain, Trustee Thomas Fuentes presented the Iraq conflict as an issue.

Hernandez-Bravo, who usually takes between 30 and 45 students to Spain every year, said she was shocked when the trustees voted 5-2 to cancel the program.

“Whatever Fuentes believes about Spain and its role as our ally, his personal political beliefs should have no part in determining the fate of a long-standing, successful academic program,” Hernandez-Bravo said.

Tracy Daly, the district’s public information officer, said that during the meeting, one of the reasons Fuentes cited as leading him to vote against the program was because Spain had recently abandoned American soldiers by withdrawing its troops.

Hernandez-Bravo said that during the meeting, Fuentes also cited other reasons for ending the program, including student safety, and the high cost of the program.

Hernandez-Bravo said she did not agree with his arguments.

As an instructor, the safety of the students in the program has always been a top priority, Hernandez-Bravo said. Last year, Hernandez-Bravo said she and the students went to Santander just four months after the terrorist train bombings in Madrid, and experienced no threat to their safety.

“In fact, Saddleback currently has a large number of students this spring semester in Salamanca, Spain,” Hernandez-Bravo said, “Santander, where the summer program is located, is one of the safest cities in Europe.”

Citing cost as a reason to cancel the program is inaccurate as well, Hernandez-Bravo said.

During the same meeting, Fuentes approved a program for Italy that will cost $100 more a day than the program to Spain, Hernandez-Bravo said.

However, Trustee Nancy Padberg, said she voted against the program not because of political reasons, but out of concern for the students’ safety.

“I did not base my vote on the political war in Iraq,” Padberg said. “My vote was based on the risk posed to all people in Spain, and our placing our students in jeopardy.”

Padberg said she had intentions to request a reconsideration of the board’s decision.

“If the State Department and our consulate offices can provide me with assurance that (safety) is not an issue, then I will support the trip,” Padberg said.

Hernandez-Bravo said she has sent a memo to the chancellor of the South Orange County College District regarding the termination of the study abroad program, and said she plans to get in contact with the Spanish ambassador and the U.S. ambassador in Spain to discuss the issue.