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SMC postpones Jamaica program due to Zika virus

| Thursday, March 17, 2016

After a year of planning and coordinating, the directors of the Saint Mary’s Travel Writing in Jamaica summer study abroad program decided to postpone the trip due to a warning issued by the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) concerning the Zika virus outbreak.

Directors Aaron and Dionne Bremyer implemented the three week summer program this year for students who were not able, or who did not want, to study abroad during the academic year.

There was interest in the program from both Saint Mary’s and Notre Dame students, as well as students from other universities, Aaron Bremyer said. Students were set to study at the University of the West Indies in Kingston, Jamaica, he said. 

“It’s a wonderful opportunity,” he said. “We’re really almost heartbroken over this.”

Director of the Center for Women’s Intercultural Leadership Mana Derakshani said it was not the College’s decision to postpone the trip. Since the CDC did not place any restrictions on travel, Derakshani left the difficult decision to the directors, she said. 

Aaron Bremyer said he and his wife felt it was their responsibility for the students’ safety to postpone the trip.

There are a lot of unknowns about the virus,” he said. “While the immediate risk might not be incredibly high, we don’t know potential long term risks.”

According to the CDC website, if a pregnant woman contracts the virus, it can be passed to the fetus, which could cause major birth defects to the brain. However, the CDC is still unsure as to whether or not the virus will affect future pregnancies, the website said.

With the program being part of an all-women college, this was one of the main factors taken into consideration when deciding to postpone the trip, Aaron Bremyer said. 

“The directors and the college need to feel extremely confident and assured people can be safe,” he said. “We can’t put students as risk.”

Sophomore MaKayla Roberts said she thinks the directors made the right decision.

“I wasn’t too upset because I knew they did it for the safety of us,” Roberts said. “They made the right call.”

Derakshani said she hopes the postponing of the trip will not make students fearful of studying abroad.

“There’s always a lot of growing that happens when you go out of your comfort zone and discover new cultures and environments,” Derakshani said. “There’s nothing like what you learn from studying abroad.”

As of now, the directors intend to reschedule the trip for next summer.

“My hope is that by then we will better understand the risks. It’s a very complicated issue,” Aaron Bremyer said. 

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