University will again allow students to study abroad in El Salvador
THE SANTA CLARA
January 11, 2017
After 11 months of suspension, the university reinstated Casa de la Solidaridad (CASA), a beloved and long-running study abroad program in El Salvador. After an onsite safety assessment by external and internal consultants, it will reopen for fall 2017.
Based in Antiguo Cuscatlán, El Salvador, the CASA program is an immersive experience that enables participants to learn about the country’s economic and social realities and live in solidarity with the Salvadoran people. Students take classes through Universidad Centroamericana (UCA), and interact with locals in various contexts, including in the school kitchen.
Andrea Muilenburg, Santa Clara’s study abroad director, said the university relaunched CASA after a thorough assessment of the program’s safety by a committee of outside consultants and Santa Clara faculty. The committee was overseen by the Office of the President and Provost. The committee spent a week in El Salvador over the summer where they spoke with Salvadoran officials and people involved in the program.
Muilenburg said that student safety is always a priority in study abroad programs, not just in El Salvador.
“It’s (our) responsibility to educate students about what’s happening. Whether it be El Salvador or a program in any other place, a program can be suspended,” Muilenburg said. “(Safety) is something we have to monitor, not specific to El Salvador, but anywhere where we’re sending students.”
Though the U.S. State Department has not removed a previously issued travel warning for El Salvador, the overall homicide rate has declined in 2016. In 2015, there were 104 homicides for every 100,000 people. However, in 2016, the number dropped to about 82 homicides for every 100,000 people, according to Reuters World News.
Michael Nuttall, interim director of the Ignatian Center, applauded the university’s efforts to continue the program, despite justifiable reasons for halting it.
“I (am) thrilled. It would have been much easier for the institution of the university to not continue their programs,” Nuttall said. “There would have been sound grounding to say we can’t devote the resources that it did to go through the review process. I think it’s a huge testament to an understanding of the impact of the program.”
Senior Hollynd Boyden, a CASA alum from fall of 2015, said the program was a profound experience that sparked her interest in global health initiatives.
During her time there, Boyden worked with a nonprofit medical clinic where she treated locals, including victims of violence.
In learning about the program’s reinstatement, she expressed content, but also acknowledged the harmful aftermath of halting the program.
“(It was) unfortunate for students and also for Salvadorans in their time of great suffering. (The university) backed out of its commitment to living in solidarity with them,” Boyden said. “It’s hard to go back to the way it was, as (it) was hurtful to Salvadorans.”
When asked about the future of the program, Nuttall recognized potential obstacles but also expressed optimism in its continued success.
“I think there are still going to be challenges. There are still issues in El Salvador. Realities can change on the ground. I think there’s still great reason for us to be there,” Nuttall said. “I also think it’s going to be important for the Santa Clara community to be able rally together… to be able to get folks to participate in this great program.”
To students considering the program for their study abroad experience, Boyden said they should research the program and apply. According to her, the experience was different from the more widespread portrayal of El Salvador as overly violent and dangerous. She said that safeguards were built into the program to protect students and that in her experience, gang violence was never targeted toward Americans.
Andrea Garcia, a CASA alum from Fall of 2014, said that her experience with the program taught her to value meaningful interactions with others and the importance of solidarity.
She expressed satisfaction in her decision to participate.
“There’s something really powerful in the uncertainty. I was just taking a leap of faith, hoping that this study abroad would be good to me,” she said. “I was completely swept by this wonderful culture and beautiful people that I would not have otherwise met.”
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