For 26 students participating in the University of Calgary Fall 2001 Term Abroad Program in India, their unique experience has just taken an unexpected turn.
At the University of Pune, one of three host universities, the TAP provides students with the opportunity to enhance their degree program through experiential learning. Pune is also the location of an Indian military base, and in the aftermath of the events of September 11, the university has addressed this fact.
"The students were asked to attend a briefing session and were given the option before going of staying in Calgary or leaving for India," says Dr. Ronald Bond, U of C Vice-President Academic. "It seemed appropriate to give students an option [at the present time]."
Bond recently sent a message to the students in Pune extending the option to return to Calgary immediately at no cost. India has been declared safe for living and travelling but the U of C is aware that students may wish to return if world events continue to escalate. The letter received mixed reactions.
"[The letter] meant a lot because they were concerned for our welfare," said fourth-year social work U of C student Nicole Stewart. "But what they offered for people to come home wasn't sufficient. I think that they weren't going out of their way to make this an easy decision. Offering to fly us home when we've already paid for our return flight really doesn't make us feel more secure."
Most TAP participants shared Stewart's perspective.
"I was relieved that someone in the university that high up was putting some effort towards making us feel safe," said fifth-year Communication Studies student Brianna Strumm. "I still feel though that there is not enough communication going on between us and the U of C."
The university also made arrangements for the students to complete work already started upon returning, should they choose to. The International Centre, responsible for the coordination of the TAP, will be in charge of these efforts.
The details of the alternative will likely include travel from India, residency and course registration in Calgary. The issue of compensation is complicated for some TAP students who are not U of C scholars.
"[Being a non-U of C student] creates several problems," said University of Victoria third-year Anthropology student Elise Currie Roberts. "I don't know if I go back if I have to live in Calgary, which I couldn't afford. I don't know if this would hurt my credit with UVic. It's just a whole big mess."
Third-year International Development studies McGill student Alice Cohen was more prosaic.
"I expect accommodations in Calgary," she said. "I expect a refund for what I didn't use. I expect to be able to complete my courses."
TAP students expressed appreciation of the International Centre's efforts. While they were also aware of world events, most remained focused on their studies.
"There have always been tensions in this part of the world,"said fourth-year South Asian and Finance studies U of C student Naheed Gilani. "The situation in Afghanistan is not new, it has been going on for a decade and I fully plan to complete the duration of the program in India."
"We are motivated by the safety and security of the students and their program coordinator in Pune," said Dr. Bond. "It is unfortunate that world events have complicated the [TAP] experience this year."
"I am comfortable here," said Gilani. "I am confident that any situation would not escalate to India and if it's going to happen, it's going to happen. I want to keep living my life."
With additional reporting by Colleen Potter