“From the mountains you can see all the way to the sea on a clear day,” says Beatrice H. N. El-Hage ’11, a half-Lebanese senior planning to work in Lebanon for the next two years. “On a cloudy day, you’re literally above the clouds. It’s like you’re in heaven.”
But Lebanon is on the “travel warning list” issued by the U.S. Department of State, so the University does not fund undergraduate travel to Lebanon or provide credit to students studying in that country.
El-Hage says that as a result, she did not receive funding or credit for summer courses she has taken in Lebanon.
In order to protect its individual travelers and itself as an institution, the College follows State Department advisories to determine whether to support student travel to countries in question.
“We, as an institution, have both a moral and a legal responsibility to undergraduate students that’s different from and higher than the level of responsibility that we have to graduate students or faculty and staff,” says Todd S. Washburn, assistant provost for international affairs.
STRIKING A BALANCE
“It would be both intellectually wrong and, frankly, legally foolish for us to look at a map of the world and make a decision,” Washburn says.
“We need to rely on an organization that has the capacity and expertise. That’s not to say that its [the State Department’s] judgments are above question. It’s just to say, we’re relying on an external expert to advise us and we’re not making separate decisions,” Washburn adds.
But some students say that relying on State Department policy does not allow for consideration of individual student circumstances.
“I’ve been going to Lebanon for almost every past summer and would have liked to receive credit for studying at the American University of Beirut,” El-Hage says.
She says she thinks a release form with the parents’ consent should be enough if there is an awareness of the situation in a country and knowledge of the possible implications of traveling there.
The College's policy does support students traveling to be under their parents’ or guardians’ care, but since El-Hage’s parents live in the U.S., that option was not available to her.
Felix de Rosen ’13, an avid traveler who has been to Ethiopia, Somaliland, the Palestinian Territories, and Yemen in the past couple of years, says that based on his travel experiences, Harvard’s policy could be improved.
“One of the problems I have with Harvard’s policy is that it doesn’t [always] make a distinction between a country and the different parts of a country or, in fact, if there are countries within a country,” says de Rosen, pointing to his travels to Somaliland, which he considers a safe region in the otherwise tumultuous state of Somalia.
“It’s tricky because Harvard wants students to understand this world and go out there and be active, but not in certain regions,” says de Rosen. “For me, places where few people have been are places where there is the most to learn.”
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