Student exchange trips are a victim of the war


MID-WINTER ordinarily would find high school students looking forward to their spring break, particularly if there's travel in the offing. But for many Baltimore area students it's become a disappointing time as trips abroad are being reconsidered and even canceled in the wake of war in the Middle East and the threat of international terrorism.

At Notre Dame Prep, where about 20 students from two French classes were planning to spend their Easter vacation in France, the trip was called off last week after war broke out in the Persian Gulf.

Teacher Jeanne Guay said that apprehension among students, parents and teachers had grown steadily over the last month as they hoped for a peaceful settlement in the Mideast. But after the war began, they decided that foreign travel during an international crisis was too risky.

"The girls were very disappointed," she said of the 10th-, 11th- and 12th-graders who, ironically, had planned to include the battlefields of Normandy in the nine-day trip.

At Friends School, where Russian language is taught, a decision on travel is still pending for seven students who hope to leave for Moscow Feb. 12. The month-long trip is Part 2 of an exchange program with the Soviet Union that involves more than 300 schools in the two countries, said Upper School Principal Stanley Johnson.

Part 1 took place in October, when seven students from Moscow School No. 15 came to Baltimore to live and attend school with the Friends students. This is the third year for the exchange program.

Johnson said the school will be guided in its final decision by the program's sponsors -- the American Council of Teachers of Russian and the National Association of Secondary School Principals -- and by any travel warnings that might be issued by the U.S. Department of State.

"The students want to go very much because they have already met the students they will be staying with, but they're also anxious about terrorism and what's happening in the Persian Gulf, as well as civil unrest in Moscow," said Johnson.

A similar decision is being weighed at the Baltimore County Board of Education, where countywide foreign exchange trips this spring are in jeopardy. Joanne Murphy, executive assistant and community liaison with the board, said a decision on whether the three programs would go on as planned might not be made until mid-February.

The programs call for the county to send 50 students from five high schools to the Soviet Union over Easter break and another 100 to Italy when the school year ends. Another group from Hereford High hopes to go to Germany in June.

In exchange, students from schools in the Soviet Union, Italy and Germany will spend two weeks living in the United States with the families of their counterparts, either at Easter or in May.

But fears are mounting as the threat of terrorist attacks looms and security measures are increased at airports worldwide. At Pikesville High, one of the participating schools in the Italian exchange program, principal David King said many parents are understandably concerned. "We're still operating as if the trip is on, but we are wary."

Andrew Dotterweich, principal at Towson High, another participant in the county's Italian exchange program, said that Towson had already canceled its own annual exchange program with France. That trip, which would have sent 20 Towson students to Pornic, France, for two weeks over Easter, was called off in November as international hostilities heated up.

"The kids would have had to raise all the money themselves. And instead of going through all that and then being disappointed, we decided early to call it off."

In Howard County, dozens of parents and students have had to rethink their plans for spring break. Students from eight different high schools had signed up to participate in visits to England, France and Mexico between March 28 and April 7, said Peter Adams, assistant principal at Hammond High in Columbia.

But last Thursday, parents of 34 students destined for a London theater and Paris tour voted to cancel the trip. Each student will forfeit a $75 registration fee, but they feel it's a small price to pay for peace of mind.

"A lot of our parents work for companies that are restricting their employees' travel, so logically they are concerned about their own children's safety," said Adams.

Another 18 French language students, who also were headed to London and Paris, are now working with their travel agency to change their destination to Montreal and Quebec, Canada, Adams said. "They want to do a French experience, but not in Europe," he said.

The only tour that may go off as planned, he said, is a visit by 22 students to Mexico's Yucatan Peninsula.

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