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News & Stories: 2009-10

Honduras semester moved to Mexico
August 18, 2009

In late July the Calvin travel safety committee made a decision to change the destination of the fall semester in Honduras because of political instability in that country. Students who would have spent September through December 2009 in Tegucigalpa, Honduras, will now spend that semester in Merida, Mexico.

Director of off-campus programs Don De Graaf"We feel very blessed that we had an alternative location that we could switch to,” said Don De Graaf, Calvin director of off-campus programs.

Political instability

The decision was influenced by the June coup in Honduras, an event wherein Honduran president Manuel Zelaya was forced from office and into exile in Costa Rica. “Initially we were very hopeful that the situation would resolve itself, not only for our program but more importantly for Honduras,” said De Graaf. The committee —De Graaf along with dean of multicultural affairs Michelle Loyd-Paige, off-campus programs committee chair Dan Miller and director of financial services Sam Wanner—imposed a July 29 deadline on the decision to either continue with the Honduras program or switch locations, he said. “All our sources indicated that there was greater risk associated with going to Honduras.”

Those sources include travel alerts from the U.S. State Department and the Canadian government and travel restrictions by the Christian Reformed Church in North America and other NGOs. Calvin’s insurance company, MEDEX, also cautioned the college about allowing students to travel to Honduras during this time. Though the travel safety committee has made decisions about interims traveling to unstable countries, this is the first time the group has changed the location of a semester program.

Regular communication

De Graaf said: “One of the major lessons that was reinforced for me throughout this process was communicating with all involved,” he said. The office of off-campus programs regularly sent letters to the students signed up for the Honduras semester and their families, updating them on the status of the program. “I think it was important because it allowed people to know we were on top of what was going on and also allows them to know how we were making decisions,” he said.

De Graaf is grateful that, of the 25 students originally signed up for the Honduras semester, 23 have signed on for Mexico. He’s also grateful that Spanish professor Olga Leder is available to lead the trip. “She has led many interims to Merida, as well as leading the semester program in the spring of 2008.”

It is impossible to control the many variables involved when students travel off campus, De Graaf said: "Ultimately our aim is to create a safe and stable environment where learning can take place for our students. … We recognize that we can’t eliminate all risk. Perhaps if we eliminate all risk, people wouldn’t go. But we want to make it as safe a situation as possible.”

He noted that even as the demand for off-campus programs is increasing, there is a concurrent rise in threats to travelling safely around the world. “While these challenges may increase, we will remain committed to helping students understand this complex world through off-campus experiences,” he said.

~by Myrna Anderson, communications and marketing

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