Georgetown University’s Newspaper of Record since 1920

The Hoya

Georgetown University’s Newspaper of Record since 1920

The Hoya

Georgetown University’s Newspaper of Record since 1920

The Hoya

In Crisis Mode, OIP Put to the Test

After a semester wracked with international challenges, Laura Monarch, the director of the overseas studies in the Office of International Programs, got a breather this week to discuss how she orchestrated the safe removal of students from the upheaval in Cairo and natural disasters in Japan.

“Under the circumstances, things functioned well,” Monarch says, leaning back in her chair, as she calmly details the decision-making process behind Georgetown’s evacuation of 15 students from Cairo on Monday, January 31. The weekend before the forced departure was anything but stress-free.

“We had conference calls scheduled at regular intervals throughout the day on Sunday, where we would give any updates we had on the students’ situation and brainstorm about ways of getting them out,” she says. Senior university officials like Provost James O’Donnell, the general counsel’s office and the risk management team were consulted for advice.

Between calls, Monarch adds, she and OIP Executive Director Katherine Bellows would contact the parents of the students to keep them in the loop. At the same time, several people were in contact with SOS, an international helpline service, while looking into various flight options out of the city rocked by riots against Hosni Mubarak’s 30-year regime.

Revolutionaries first gathered in the streets of Cairo on Jan. 25. Initially, students expressed excitement at witnessing such an historic event. But as the violence escalated when Mubarak refused to heed the calls of the protesters and step down, the U.S. State Department issued a travel warning on Jan. 30, telling citizens not to travel to Egypt. In the wake of the warning, Monarch says, OIP did not delay a decision about the future of the semester’s program.

“We worked all day Sunday to coordinate and look at options for getting the students out. We were looking for the fastest possible way.”

That way turned out to be on a commercial flight Monday afternoon to Doha, Qatar.

The students took a bus to the airport the following morning and were on a plane that afternoon to Qatar, where the School of Foreign Service has a satellite campus. In an email on Jan. 31, one of the displaced students, Michelle Saks (COL ’12), said that Georgetown’s quick action was remarkable.

“We are now safe and sound at a beautiful complex next to the SFS Qatar Campus and have been greeted by dozens of Georgetown staff members. … We were extraordinarily fortunate to get out of Cairo today. I would be surprised if any other American students could say the same.”

Monarch explains that while Georgetown did not necessarily start planning for an evacuation earlier than other schools, its ties to Qatar made for a smooth transition.

After a few days in Doha, the students were given four options to fill the rest of the semester: return to the main campus, stay at SFS-Qatar, study in Morocco under the auspices of the AMIDEAST program or go to Koc University in Istanbul, Turkey.

Saks picked Rabat, Morocco.

“I was in love with Egypt and would go back in a heartbeat,” she wrote via email. “However, I have tried my best not to think about what I am missing in order to truly appreciate the amazing opportunity in front of me.”

Monarch explains that the students chose where to spend the rest of the semester after consulting with their deans. “It was a pretty significant delay to their semesters and we took that into account when recommending options.”

With the crisis-induced lag behind them, all of the students are on track to finish the semester and receive credit.

Another group of students forced to cut short their study abroad this spring were not so lucky, however. The spring semester had not yet kicked off in Tokyo when a 9.0-magnitude earthquake and tsunami ravaged Japan on Friday, March 11.

The following Monday, OIP sent students in Japan an email urging them to leave the country. Six students were in Japan at the time, five of whom were full-year students preparing for their second semester in the island nation. The other seven students scheduled to study there had not yet arrived or were traveling at the time.

“We recommended that students leave Japan because of the fluid nature of the escalation and the pending nuclear crisis. Things were developing rapidly, and not in a good way. We wanted to make sure they could get out before it became difficult,” Monarch says.

All six complied with the university’s warning. OIP later sent a follow-up email saying that the university had decided to cancel the spring semester program.

According to Monarch, this meant that the students’ academic status was left up in the air. With the semester already winding down on the main campus and in all other study abroad locations, they had little choice but to return home.

The students are now working with their deans to determine how to best make up for an entire semester’s worth of credits. Advisers have suggested the students take summer classes either at Georgetown or at universities close to home.

“This puts me in a difficult position in many ways. I have no summer work or internship plans, as I thought I wouldn’t need them,” Michael Goulet (COL ’12) wrote in an email to The Hoya in March. “I have paid tuition and taken out loans to pay for a semester that I am now not going to have. Also, I am now missing a semester’s worth of classes.”

According to Monarch, tuition for the semester was refunded.

Monarch admits that Goulet was not the only student upset by the abrupt end to the study abroad experience. “But our foremost concern is the safety of the students, and we were faced with a nuclear situation, the possibility of significant aftershocks, power outages and the burden the situation was placing on our partners in Japan,” she explains.

The fall semester in Japan is set to go on, she says, as the situation has stabilized and the travel warning lightened. The summer program in Alexandria is also set to take place unless there is more upheaval in Egypt. A final decision on the Cairo program for the fall will be reached by the end of May. Monarch says that hopefully future programs won’t be affected, but the safety of students abroad is always OIP’s top priority.

For OIP, dealing with the crises this year while still advising students traveling to less vulnerable regions has been challenging, but according to Monarch everyone in the office has pitched in.

As Monarch tells it, “It’s been a rough semester.”

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