For LSA junior Jennifer Rosen, Israel was the only place where she wanted to study abroad.
“I wanted to be a part of the culture and live their life,” said Rosen, who is spending her winter semester in Israel at the Ben-Gurion University of the Negev in the city of Beer Sheva.
At Hebrew University in Jerusalem, LSA junior Sol Adelsky is also fulfilling his strong desire to study in Israel.
“Although words can’t do it justice, Israel is a country where I feel at home,” Adelsky said.
But Rosen and Adelsky are not studying in Israel through a University program. No such program currently exists; students must go through another university’s program or apply directly to a school in Israel if they are interested.
The American Movement for Israel is trying to change this through a petition, which the group hopes will compel the University to create a study-abroad program to Israel, said Jen Gonik, an LSA sophomore and vice chair of AMI.
“I think for a school that strongly encourages studying abroad, it’s disappointing that they’re limiting the options for students who would prefer to study in alternative places,” Gonik said.
Without an Israel study-abroad program, Gonik said, University students longing to study in Israel face many obstacles.
“That creates a lot of barriers for students who would like to do that … (including) no advisors, losing financial aid and scholarships and hassles dealing with credit transfers,” Gonik said.
AMI, in cooperation with Hillel, started the student petition this semester. Gonik said hundreds of students have expressed interest in studying in Israel.
Carol Dickerman, director of the Office of International Programs, said the University does not send students to Israel because the U.S. Department of State has issued a travel warning — an alert advising Americans that travel to an area is dangerous. The University does not sponsor programs to any countries with such warnings from the State Department.
“While we (ourselves) don’t sponsor programs right now, there are certainly programs right now, there are certainly ways in which students who want to study in Israel can,” Dickerman said. “It’s not impossible for students to go.”
Gonik said instead of waiting for Israel to be removed from the list, the University should establish a program but require students to sign a waiver absolving the University of any liability. AMI is currently working with lawyers to develop such a waiver.
Programs like this have been very successful at the University of Arizona, the University of Pennsylvania and all of the State University of New York schools, Gonik said.
“We don’t want to put any students in harm, but we feel that studying abroad in Israel is such a valuable and important experience, and many students are very interested and shouldn’t have to deal with the barriers that the University of Michigan is imposing,” Gonik said.
Adelsky said the value of studying abroad in Israel outweighs any risks involved in traveling there and that many people have misconceptions of Israel as a heated war zone.
“That risk is largely exaggerated by the media. The situation here is quite calm, and I feel extremely safe,” Adelsky said.
Rosen agreed, saying she believes people are mistaken in their fear of traveling to Israel, when in reality, the experience has been invaluable.
“For me, the benefits clearly outweigh the risks. Life is full of uncertainties, but to finally be active about beliefs I’ve had my whole life is incredible,” Rosen said.
“The pride I feel for being here, in Israel, is inexplicable.”
When a series of terrorist train bombings rattled Spain last March, the OIP did not cancel any study abroad programs to Spain.
There was no travel warning in effect, but the U.S. Department of State did release a public announcement directing U.S. citizens in Spain to “remain alert and avoid large crowds when possible.”