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Student Petition to Travel to a Destination at Risk Abroad - Colombia

Jill Pritts

I am a Junior at the University of South Carolina majoring in International Studies and


Spanish, with a minor in Health Promotion, Education, and Behavior (HPEB). Following
graduation, I am planning to pursue graduate studies in the field of International Development
with a focus on Global Health and Sanitation. During my time abroad, I am hoping to conduct
public health based research surrounding the issue of access to health care in rural regions of
developing countries. My proposal focuses on working with health care workers in both large
metropolitan hospitals and rural clinics, as well as government and public health officials, to
investigate how allocation of governmental and non-governmental funds, prevalence of certain
diseases, lack of sanitation resources, transportation challenges, and low incomes affect the
availability of equipment (ex. MRI machines) and other resources (ex. prescriptions) in rural
areas compared to their urban counterparts. The goal of my research is to provide information
and recommendations for public health officials and non-governmental organization workers to
allow them to see the needs and barriers of rural populations in maximizing their access to health
care.

With this petition, I am requesting approval to participate in the "Latin American Studies,
International Business, Engineering, and Courses with Locals" program hosted by the
International Studies Abroad (ISA) provider in Barranquilla, Colombia during the Spring 2016
semester. The host institution for the program is the Universidad del Norte, which is also located
in Barranquilla, Colombia. In accordance with the host university's academic calendar, the
program would begin in mid-January and run through early June.

I would like to study in Barranquilla, Colombia through the ISA program because I
believe it is the ideal program and location to pursue classes towards my majors and to partake in
undergraduate research. Colombia, Barranquilla in particular, has a reputation for being one of
the Latin American countries with the purest Spanish, making it an excellent location for courses
pertaining to my Spanish major. Unlike many other programs with a research component, the
ISA Barranquilla program allows me to simultaneously take courses focused on the history, art,
and politics of Colombia, enabling me to stay on track with earning credit for my International
Studies major. Additionally, I believe that Colombia is the best location to pursue my
undergraduate research. My research proposal focuses on visits and interactions with health
professionals, government officials, and clinics in rural areas to study the challenge of access to
health care resources in rural regions of developing countries. The Colombian people are known
for being extremely friendly and willing to welcome foreigners into their lives and culture, which
makes Colombia an excellent location to pursue research that will involve interacting with
numerous individuals throughout the course of the semester. I lived in Colombia prior to
matriculating to the University of South Carolina and the country played a large role in sparking
my interest in public health and shaping my career goals. While living in Colombia, I became
aware of the large disparities in basic sanitary tools (ex. toilet paper and soap in public
restrooms) between rural and more populated areas. The opportunity to return to Colombia for
my research is very close to my heart because one of my main motivating factors in focusing on
the sanitation and health sectors of international development was the desire to improve the
quality of life for my host family and others in Colombia.

The ISA Barranquilla program offers opportunities that I would not be able to achieve
through any other program currently offered. The SIT program provider offers several programs
in Latin America with an independent research component, but after extensive research I did not
find these programs to fit my individual academic goals. The "SIT Argentina - Public Health in
Urban Environments" program focuses extensively on the Argentine health system in major
cities and includes coursework in epidemiology and other public health areas. While this
program would provide ample public health preparation for my research project, the program is
designed for students who are interested in pursuing the medical field and does not provide
opportunities to integrate into the culture or learn about the nation outside of its health system.
My research is a very important part of my desired study abroad experience, but as a double
major in International Studies and Spanish, being able to have cultural experiences is equally
important to my desired experience. After speaking to several program alumni and program
representatives, the program incorporates rigorous science-based coursework that many students
found difficult to balance, especially if they were not public health majors. Additionally, the only
course offered in the program that fits either of my majors is one Spanish course. The other
programs in Argentina offered by SIT, CIEE, and several other providers are all based out of
Buenos Aires, the capital city. Buenos Aires is not an ideal location to conduct my research
because my focus on rural medicine and clinics will require traveling outside of the city on
multiple occasions. While Argentina has an abundant bus network, prices for transportation (and
overall) are much higher in Argentina, making it extremely costly and time consuming to travel
outside of the city and the large metropolitan area surrounding Buenos Aires. Buenos Aires can
be a dangerous location for travelers with incidence of violence and crime increasing over the
past few years. Culturally, the Argentine people are very particular about distinguishing
themselves from other South American countries as they believe they are more similar to Europe
than Latin America. This attitude and Argentina's economy take away from the nation being an
ideal location for my research focused on developing nations in South America. While several
providers offer programs in Brazil, my Portuguese language skills are at an intermediate
proficiency, which I think would greatly limit my ability to communicate effectively while trying
to conduct my research. Many of the other programs offered by SIT, though providing a research
option, are focused on topics outside of public health and require that the research be conducted
around the designated program theme. USAC provides a program in San Ramon, Costa Rica
with a research option, but this option is designed for students pursuing ecology or other research
in a lab setting, which is not designed to provide opportunities for field work and interactions
and interview s with locals. Other programs in Latin America do not offer research opportunities
and sufficient class offerings to obtain enough transferable credits towards my programs of study
to equal at least the majority of a semester (7-8 credits minimum). Through my discussions with
program representatives from several different providers, I have discussed thoroughly my desired
research plan and goals and I believe that the ISA Barranquilla program is the program that is
best equipped to accommodate my research needs while simultaneously providing transferable
credits towards the Carolina Core and both of my majors.

I have spoken with Morgan Quijano, the ISA Site Specialist for Barranquilla, and he
reports that the ISA Barranquilla program began in Spring 2013 after a long vetting process that
involved multiple visits and research into the safety of Barranquilla and Colombia as a whole.
Student safety is the highest priority to ISA and locations must be thoroughly investigated and
weighed to determine if they are suitable for students. Mr. Quijano also notes that Barranquilla
and the Universidad del Norte far exceeded their expectations for safety and accessibility, which
is why it was selected as a program location. It has been one of ISA's quietest sites in Latin
America in terms of incidents involving students.

The ISA Barranquilla office is located on the 6th floor of the engineering building on the
Universidad del Norte campus. Students are encouraged to stop by with any language questions,
assistance with making travel plans, or just to chat. ISA has two staff members on site during the
semester, who are available to students 24 hours a day/7 days a week via their contact phone
numbers. The staff leads the on-site orientation programs, excursions, assists with housing, and
provides support to students off and on campus at all times. Students are expected to inform staff
members of all travel plans so that the staff can contact students with important information at all
times. There is also a 24-hour emergency contact number for callers within the United States,
which can be reached by calling the ISA office outside of business hours.

ISA homestays are provided with host families that have been thoroughly vetted (as well
as the homes) by the ISA Barranquilla staff. Since the program has been running for several
sessions, many host families have past experience hosting ISA students. Students provide
detailed housing evaluations at the end of each program to determine if the family is providing a
quality experience to students and will continue to be used to host students. All homestays are
located in middle to upper-class neighborhoods with easy access to the Universidad del Norte.

Upon arrival, students are given a specific orientation on safety during the Bridging
Cultures Program orientation. The Bridging Culture Program assists students in adapting to the
local language and culture through interactions with local students at the Universidad del Norte.
These students will assist ISA participants with understanding the educational system at the
university, navigating the various forms of transportation in Barranquilla, and learning key
phrases and cultural practices. The Universidad del Norte also aids in this orientation by bringing
in members of the local police department to speak to students about areas, behaviors, and
actions to avoid in order to lessen the chance of becoming a target for theft and petty crime, the
most common kinds of crime in Barranquilla. ISA also maintains close relationships with the US
Embassy in Bogota and the US Consulate in Barranquilla, who also share their security briefings
with the ISA, which are presented to students during an extensive onsite health and safety
orientation. While there are parts of Colombia that are unsafe, Barranquilla has a low crime rate
and does not have any FARC or rebel group presence, or other particular safety concerns.
Students must use common sense, as in any city environment, and should follow all safety
recommendations from the onsite staff and orientation leaders.

The US Embassy in Colombia is located in Bogota at Calle 24 Bis No. 48-50 Bogota,
D.C. Colombia. Their phone number is (572) 275-2000. The American Citizens Services Section
is open to US citizens by appointment only. Non-emergency calls are answered Monday-
Thursday from 2:00 PM to 4:00 PM. Emergency walk-ins are accepted Monday-Friday from
8:00 AM to 4:00 PM. The after-hours emergency phone number is (57) 1-275-2000. In case of an
emergency requiring police, fire rescue, or emergency medical services, the proper authorities
can be reached by dialing 123. The US Embassy in Bogota's website provides information about
hospitals, legal services, and emergency money transfers in case of any incidents. The Embassy
will occasionally release "Messages for US Citizens in Colombia" with important information
regarding events taking place in the country. Travelers can subscribe to this email list on the
Embassy's website.

While Barranquilla does not have a US Embassy, there is a US Consular Agency located
at Calle 77B No. 57-141, suite 511. The Consular Agency can be reached by phone within
Colombia at (5) 353-2001 or (5) 353-2182. From the United States, the Consular Agency can be
reached at 011-57-5-353-2001 or 011-57-5-353-2182. The Consular Agency handles routine
services including passport applications, notary services, documents children born abroad, and
answers general inquiries. The office is available Monday-Friday from 8:00 AM to noon. In case
of an emergency situation, US citizens should contact the Embassy in Bogota at the American
Citizens Services number above. After hours, citizens should request the operator connect them
to the Duty Officer.

The United States Government also provides a Smart Traveler Enrollment Program
(STEP) that travelers can register with online. This program allows users to register trips to
various countries and receive country and region-specific information from the US Consular
Agencies as quickly and effectively as possible. The STEP program distributes predominately
safety and security information, as well as assisting family members in the United States with
contacting you in case of an in-country or family emergency. The US Embassy in Bogota also
maintains a Twitter account for updates.

I am aware that Colombia is under a Travel Warning issued by the United States
Department of State and I understand the risks associated with living and traveling in Colombia.
The warning has been issued in regard to the presence of FARC and ELN (narco-trafficking
terrorist organizations) and renewed as recently as June 5, 2015. The travel warning lists
Barranquilla, the location of my desired program, as a city that has greatly increased safety in the
last several years and as a location where United States officials and family members are
permitted to travel. The road connecting Barranquilla to Cartagena and Santa Marta (Highway
90) is also listed as an approved location where US officials and their families can travel freely.
The roads between Bucaramanga-Bogota and Bogota-Ibague are also approved for travel by US
personnel and tourists, as well as the regions making up the Coffee Triangle (or Zona Cafetera).
The travel warning warns about using caution on public transportation and permits travel outside
of the aforementioned areas by road. US personnel are permitted to travel to many of the larger
cities by air, including Bogota, Medellin, and Cali. My own research into the safety and security
in Colombia shows the main areas affected by narcotics trafficking as the southeastern region of
the country, as well as the borders with Ecuador, Panama, and Venezuela. The southeastern
region is almost entirely uninhabited jungle and known to be the headquarters of FARC. I will at
no time be entering this area. Bus hijackings and armed robberies are not uncommon along the
border crossing to Ecuador, but this border is on the opposite side of Colombia from
Barranquilla, where I will be located. Reaching this border from Barranquilla would take 28
hours by car. The borders with Panama and Venezuela are considered caution areas
predominately because of their use in drug smuggling operations, which makes it extremely
unlikely that trouble from these regions would spread away from the border towards
Barranquilla. I do not plan on traveling to any of these borders, nor are any trips sponsored by
ISA led into areas close enough to these locations to be considered a safety risk. My personal
contacts in the country also warn against travel to Cali, where terrorist groups are said to have
influence and can create problems for tourists. This southern city is another area that is far away
from the city of Barranquilla where I will be residing. The State Department also warns that
some rural areas may be dangerous due to potential involvement with FARC or ELN. My
research will involve some travel into rural areas surrounding Barranquilla, but I will be given a
personal research advisor from the Universidad del Norte who will assist the development and
execution of my research project. This advisor, along with the onsite program directors and my
host family, will work to help locate safe rural areas for my research. As locals, they will be
aware of the current political safety and by having at least three separate sources, I believe I will
be able to compare information and advice to make informed decisions in regards to travel plans
and identify rural communities that will provide a safe experience.

ISA monitors the Department of State Travel Warning closely and prohibits students from
travelling to areas or countries that pose a risk to travelers. ISA has also created an additional
Travel Restrictions document, which I have attached. This document lists areas where students
are free to travel, areas where students may petition to travel, and areas that are prohibited from
travel. Failure to follow this procedure will result in expulsion from the program. The ISA staff
in the Barranquilla and the United States (Austin, Texas) offices will monitor the safety situation
in Colombia and update the Travel Restrictions at any time as deemed necessary. Petitions made
by students for travel within Colombia are reviewed by the Site Specialist, Onsite Staff, and
ISA's Health, Safety, and Security Team. All petitions must be submitted two weeks in advance
of the travel dates to allow the staff sufficient time to research the proposal and make an
informed decision. ISA plans numerous excursions throughout the semester, so the majority of
my independent travel during the program would be to reach sites and locations relevant to my
research. I will ensure that any travel outside of Barranquilla is registered with the ISA staff
members in accordance with their procedures and guidelines.

All excursions through ISA are led by the on-site staff members. Cartagena, Tayrona
National Park and Minca, Usiacuri, and Totumo Volcano are all in the Northwestern part of
Colombia, near Barranquilla and away from dangerous regions and border areas. The Guajira
Peninsula is located in the Northern region of the country along the coast. Travelers should use
caution in this area and should not venture close to the city of Maicao. I would be traveling with
my entire group and onsite directors, so I would be with locals who are aware of how to best
navigate any situations that could occur. The excursion to the Coffee Triangle is in an area listed
by the State Department as being safe for travel. I have previously traveled to several of the sites
visited on this excursion and did not feel unsafe at any time. The excursion to Leticia is optional
and I would choose to take part in it only if I felt the travel arrangements were safe. From my
research, the town has a reputation for being quite safe, with the only incident being an attempted
invasion by FARC in the early 1990s. Many travelers safely visit the area every year and it is
hundreds of miles away from areas where guerilla activity is reported. My only concern with this
excursion would be our method of travel to Leticia, but this is something I would discuss in
detail with the staff if accepted to the program, and I would make my decision on partaking in
this optional excursion based on the route and safety information provided. The ISA staff is very
strict and thorough with their research into areas, even for travel requests, so I have no doubt that
the locations and routes have been designed to ensure student safety.

In regards to the health situation in Colombia, I am aware that care levels will differ from
those in the United States. Wait times are often very long and payment is almost always expected
before the rendering of services, even in emergencies. Barranquilla is the fourth largest city in
Colombia and has a well-equipped and recognized hospital by Latin American standards. I
understand that I will have more limited access to resources on days that I may be traveling for
my research. Prior to leaving the United States, I will be getting vaccinated for Typhoid,
Hepatitis B, Rabies, and Yellow Fever in accordance with CDC recommendations. I will also be
taking preventative malaria pills and I have previously received the Hepatitis A vaccine. I will be
taking an ample supply of my medications with me upon consent of my doctor, as well as copies
of my prescriptions. If for any reason my prescriptions are stolen or lost and the local pharmacies
are unable to provide replacements, I will not suffer any negative effects as none of my
medications will greatly affect my health or wellbeing. I am also aware that certain sanitation
items may not be available in all locations I visit. I will be bringing hand sanitizer from the
United States and will travel with a supply of toilet paper as many Colombian citizens will do. I
am at high risk for sunburn because of my fair skin, so I will always apply sunscreen to any
exposed skin before leaving my host home. The water in Colombia is potable in most locations,
but I will be careful to drink from bottled water in locations where I am unfamiliar with the
cleanliness of the water. I have no food allergies other than lactose intolerance, which is not
difficult to accommodate among typical Colombian fare. There is some danger of food poisoning
or parasites associated with street foods or "bush meat" (ex. monkeys, bats, wild game), but I
will be eating almost all meals in my host home and will practice good judgment when faced
with street food. Barranquilla is a coastal city so altitude sickness will not be an issue.

My personal safety plan when in Colombia is to follow all safety recommendations of the
onsite staff and to consult staff members and my host family if I am ever concerned about my
safety or certain travel plans. Barranquilla is a larger city, so I will exercise caution and avoid
walking alone, especially at night. I have researched extensively how to safely utilize the public
transportation options, which will also be discussed in ISA orientation sessions. Taxis should
never be hailed from the street, but one should always call an official taxi company and have a
car dispatched to your location. The company will provide a confirmation number that the driver
will repeat to you upon arrival as well as the car's license plate number to verify that they are a
registered taxi driver. Taxis can also be taken from a taxi stand, who will also make a record of
the trip. Most restaurants, hotels, and stores will call a taxi for you if requested. When using
ATMs, I will be extremely careful to make sure I am not being watched or followed. Individuals
using ATMs on the streets are often targets for robbery, so it is recommended to only use ATMs
inside of shopping malls or other public buildings. In addition to only using ATMs in public
locations, I will try to drive to and from the ATM location and only withdraw money when in a
group of trusted friends. I will be careful not to display my money and to quickly secure it on my
person or in a secure location immediately until I can return to my host accommodations. During
my time abroad, I will avoid wearing any expensive looking jewelry or carrying handbags or
items that may make me a target for robbery. I will not wear earrings as there is a risk of having
them ripped from your ears on the streets. Extra caution should be used in crowded public areas.
I will not leave my drinks or food unattended and will never accept food, drinks, cigarettes, or
gum from strangers. Demonstrations are not uncommon in Colombia and in some cases may turn
violent. A popular tactic used is to create roadblocks. Even demonstrations intended to be
peaceful can escalate and end in the use of homemade explosives by protestors and tear gas by
police. I will leave immediately if ever in a situation or location that turns into a demonstration
or other potentially dangerous situation. I will not be traveling to any areas that are listed as
dangerous by the State Department or that the ISA staff, my research advisor, my host family, or
the USC Study Abroad Office believe would put me in any type of danger. Additionally, I will
work with my research advisor to ensure that my research is conducted in a respectful manner
and in accordance with the local cultural standards to avoid any kind of negative attention.

While I understand that Colombia does have multiple areas of concern in regard to safety,
I fully trust ISA to ensure that I am aware of pertinent safety and political information at all
times. I will receive permission from both ISA staff and my host family before making any travel
plans to ensure I do not travel into unadvisable areas. Barranquilla's location on the northern
coast separates it from all of the danger areas listed on the State Department's travel warning. My
prior experience spending an extended period of time in Colombia makes me confident that if
proper caution and awareness is utilized, it is completely possible to have a safe and memorable
experience in Colombia.

I have obtained a high advanced proficiency in the Spanish language. I began taking
Spanish in sixth grade and have now been studying the Spanish languages for over ten years. I
placed into SPAN 309 at USC as an incoming freshman (prior to living in Colombia) and have
since completed the following coursework: SPAN 310, SPAN 312, SPAN 404, and PORT 299. I
am enrolled in SPAN 316 for the Fall 2015 semester. Following high school graduation, I lived
in Colombia for one month with a host family that only spoke Spanish, so I have experience
living independently in Colombia where I had to communicate exclusively in Spanish. While I
am not a native speaker and there will always be vocabulary I do not know, I am completely
confident in my ability to communicate effectively within Colombia and other Spanish speaking
countries without the need of assistance from ISA program representatives. My proficiency
extends to speaking, writing, and listening comprehension so I have the skills to effectively
understand what is going on and being said around me in a large majority of situations. (I can
submit writing samples in Spanish if requested)

I spent one month living in Chinchina, Colombia in the Caldas region, also known as part
of the 'Zona Cafetera", during June and July of 2013. I lived with a host family in Chinchina, but
also traveled to Manizales on several occasions, as well as Medellin, and Guatape. Additionally, I
have spent short periods of time in Spain, France, Switzerland, and Canada on both school trips
and family vacations.

Within Colombia, I have a host family in Chinchina with whom I am still in regular
contact. My host father works for a coffee company and my host mother is a stay at home mom. I
have three host sisters: two attending universities in Manizales and one who is in primary school.
I also have connections to ten other families within Chinchina who also participated in my
exchange program, as well as three teachers at the local high school in Chinchina. I also have
relationships with two families in Manizales through my exchange program and family
connections. If any security situation were to occur, my contacts would work to ensure that steps
are taken to maximize my safety. When in Colombia, I will travel with contact information for
the US Embassy, the US Consulate in Barranquilla, as well as contact information and addresses
for my in-country contacts. They are prepared to offer emergency housing if any incident were to
occur where I was no longer safe in Barranquilla and unable to leave the country.

ISA is a professional and reputable program provider with numerous years of experience
providing safe and enjoyable study abroad experiences to students across the globe. I have
complete confidence in the safety measures they have in place for the Barranquilla location and
know that I will have a remarkable study abroad experience if permitted to study through this
program. The ISA Barranquilla program website can be found at the following address:
http://studiesabroad.com/barranquilla.

Respectfully submitted,

Jill C. Pritts