UNH cancels course's trip to Nicaragua

Classwork during semester prepared students for two-week long trip

By Ken Johnson
On March 1, 2013

  • Students and locals stand together for a picture on a previous trip to Nicaragua in 2012. Courtesy

Three weeks into the semester, students walked into their study abroad course to learn that the class trip to Nicaragua, to take place at the conclusion of the class, had been canceled. 

International Service Learning in Nicaragua, course COMM 525, is offered through the College of Health and Human Services and spends the semester meeting once a week in the classroom. At the end of the semester, the class goes on a faculty-led, two-week trip to Nicaragua.

Professor Pamela Broido explains the trip works with the poor and on environmental projects, spending one week in Managua, the capitol of Nicaragua, and one week in the rural town of La Paz.      Each student stays with two families during the duration of the trip.

Senior Danielle Olean, who is currently enrolled in the class, said they were told that the trip has been canceled due to safety concerns. Interim Dean Neil Vroman of CHHS said via email the decision to cancel the trip was made on Feb. 6 after he had conversations with Broido and other unidentified people around the university. 

"There was insufficient time to assess and manage issues related to the risks associated with the Nicaraguan study away experience," Vroman said. "There are very few study away experiences in the college; that said, I would characterize the situation this semester as atypical."

UNH's Registrar Office doesn't track canceled faculty-led study abroad trips. The College of Liberal Arts offers the majority of faculty-led study abroad trips available through UNH. 

Lisa Mulvey, Study Abroad Coordinator for COLA, said that typically a study abroad trip will be canceled if the course fails to meet the minimum number of students required. The class can also be canceled if some students drop the course so it is unable to meet course costs. Different courses have a differing cost and require differing amounts of students.

Another reason that a trip could be canceled is if it was deemed to be too dangerous. Mulvey has been with COLA Study Abroad for just over two years and doesn't know of any COLA Study Abroad trips that have been canceled for that reason. According to the State Department, there are no current travel warnings for Nicaragua.

Broido said the class has gone on 12 successful trips to Nicaragua since January of 2006. On past trips there have been a scorpion bite, respiratory issues, traveler's diarrhea and rashes. Kyla Jones, a junior who took the course in the spring of 2012 and went on the trip that June, recalls one person falling off a wagon and cutting her knee, requiring a Band-Aid.

The class stays on a property with a nurse and surgical technician. Two teaching assistants accompany the class on the trip, as well. Broido brings a first aid kit, and both TAs are trained in basic first aid. While on the trip, there is a curfew and no drinking.  

"I do everything within my power to mitigate risk," Broido said.  

Broido explained that the trip is done through Compas de Nicaragua, a 501(c)(3) non-profit organization that coordinates study abroad trips to Nicaragua for universities, high schools, churches and private organizations. 

They have been in business for 22 years.

Olean said that the class prepares students for the trip, and doesn't have much relevance without the trip. She explained that the trip to Nicaragua is the most valuable learning experience of the course and the classes during the semester prepare students for the trip. She hates to see a program like this vanish, she said. 

"Value is not being placed on (the course)," Olean said.  

Jones also said that the trip is necessary for the class. She said the course was practical application of what they would be doing on the trip, where they would be going and what to expect for the trip.  

Actually going there, seeing the poverty, seeing how the people there live and seeing how happy they are was part of the experience.           It "opened up everyone's eyes," Jones said. The trip was "awesome, life changing - it was a hidden gem that wasn't advertised."

Broido said that International Service Learning in Nicaragua is a four-credit course. At UNH, four-credit courses require a total of 40 hours per semester. COMM 525 was on track for a total of 20 hours in the classroom, while the trip would account for the remaining 20 hours. 

"I've pledged to work with Professor Broido and the Department Chair to identify alternatives for the students' successful completion of the course," Vroman said. 

A course amendment for the semester has added three lectures, two fundraising events and a Spanish Immersion event with past trip participants and guests to complete the missing 20 course hours with the trip canceled. Vroman expects the students enrolled in the class to receive the full four credits.  

Senior Stephanie Hill took the course in fall of 2012 and is currently a TA for the course this spring. She said she is upset other students won't get a chance to go to Nicaragua.  

"You learn a different type of appreciation," Hill said. Hill said the class was speechless when they were notified that the trip was canceled.  

"I learned more from this experience than anything else at UNH," said senior Zac Porter, currently a TA for the course. Like Hill, he took the course in the fall of 2012 before becoming a TA this Spring.

 "Devastated is the best word I can give," Porter said of his feelings when he found out about the trip cancellation. "To lose something this meaningful hurts." 

Vroman said he doesn't know if the course will be offered again in the future.  

"This was close to Pam's heart," Porter said. "She invested a lot of time and heart into this program."

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