Campus, News

Niger program to resume in fall

After suspending study abroad in Niger for the spring 2010 semester, Boston University has decided to resume the Niamey International Development program as scheduled for the fall 2010 semester.

Boston University and the International Programs department said it will be keeping a close eye on the conditions in Niger to ensure that the country, which recently underwent a coup, will still be safe for students in the fall.

“We will be monitoring the situation in Niger very carefully before and during the semester, and reserve the right to re-evaluate the situation on the ground and the status of the program at any time.,” said Joe Finkhouse, director of International Relations at International Programs in a release.

“This is great news for the students, the university and our staff and friends in Niamey,” said Coordinator for International Programs John Aslanian.

“Our staff in Niamey is either native Nigeriens or long-time residents, and the extensive on-site orientation to start the program will address the current issues. Our staff in Niamey have seen it all, so it’s definitely reassuring to know students will be in experienced hands,” Aslanian said.

Alexandria Ocasio-Cortez, a junior in the College of Arts and Sciences, went to Niamey for study abroad and was confident in the safety of students studying in Niger.

“Nigeriens are an overwhelmingly peaceful people. Even with the political instability that hung in the air, the most discomfort that I felt was an uncertainty about the future of the Nigerian people,” Ocasio-Cortez said. “Our security was a high priority for the U.S. Embassy and of our Nigerien friends and host families, and I never doubted their abilities to take care of us.”

The program was originally suspended for the 2010 spring semester because of a State Department Travel Alert, which was made after the kidnapping of two United Nations officials by member of al-Qaida.

Although the travel alert has been lifted, the Nigerien government is in the middle of a power shift.

On Feb. 19, a junta called the Supreme Council for the Restoration of Democracy seized power in a military coup.

Led by Salou Djibo, the junta captured President Mamadou Tandja as well as his ministers when they stormed the presidential palace.

But “there was little violence, even in the capital,” said Sue Rosenfeld, the resident director of the Niger program.

The junta took matters into their own hands because they were unhappy with actions that the president has taken recently, including a disputed referendum which extended his time in office by three years.

Leaders of the junta, which is now heading the government, have promised to hold elections in the near future and to help democracy be restored in the country.

However, this political unrest has not stopped students from expressing interest in the program.

“We have had more applications than spaces available, and we usually take a group of 15 or 16 students,” Aslanian said. “Applicants, as well as faculty and staff, have all been very interested in the status of the program.”

Despite the unstable situation, Aslanian said “The applicant pool has been consistent over the past few semesters, and we don’t see that changing.”

Ocasio-Cortez said student applicants were unlikely to be daunted by recent events in Niger.

“Our program director, Sue Rosenfeld, once told us that students who apply to the Niger program are “self-selected.’ In other words, young students who make the commitment to spending four months in the Sahel of West Africa tend to have a thirst for adventure that is not easily quieted by concern,” Ocasio-Cortez said.

“I was able to communicate and learn with people in a very new way and begin to understand what life is like in a developing country,” Ocasio-Cortez said.

This corrects an earlier version of this story that incorrectly stated the program had been suspended for spring 2009.

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