Letter: Students Face Restrictions on International Internships

I spent the past month in much the same way as most Grinnellians—filling out internship applications and trying desperately to make sense of the mountain-load of paperwork that had yet to be completed. I intended to pursue a for-credit internship in a non-profit back home in Pakistan in order to fulfill the following GDS requirement:

“Two credits in an approved 300-level internship in development, strongly recommended or Four credits in an approved 397 independent project or 499 Mentored Advanced Project (MAP)”
I had an internship lined up, a flight booked and a place to stay reserved. While attempting to finalize my plans, I ran into a few college policies that didn’t really make sense.
First, I found out that the only way to have the $1275 per credit cost waived is to apply for grant funding, even though the internship was a course requirement. At first it seemed as though GDS concentrators had it worse than your average major/concentrator, but then I was told that most concentrators apply (and get approved) for grant funding. I hadn’t planned on asking for funding for my flight or lodging but considering that it was the only way to avoid paying the cost for credits, I decided to apply for it. It’s strange that if you decide to self-fund an internship, you end up having to pay more.

Second, I found out that the college’s policy regarding travel to countries on the State Department’s “Travel Warning” list is inflexible. I had assumed that because Pakistan is my home country, I would be able to apply for grant funding on the watch list. I look like an average Pakistani, I speak Urdu and I’d be staying at my parents’ house; I’m as safe in Karachi as I would be in a mildly shady neighborhood in Detroit. The assumption that my case would be regarded as an exception to this rule was not entirely baseless—I know of at least two Grinnellians who have, in the past, been awarded college funding while in a similar situation. I was informed, however, that while this matter was being “discussed” at an administrative level, the college did not have any formal policies that would allow it to consider my request for grant funding. In fact, I was told that even if I were willing to pay the requisite $2550, the college would not approve my internship for credit, primarily because of liability issues.

I am not the only person who has run into this problem; Grinnell has a 13% international population with students hailing from 84 countries, 15 of which are on the travel warning list. While I do not understand the logic behind needing to pay for credits that are required for a concentration, I do understand that the college’s policy surrounding travel to “unsafe” areas is well intentioned. However, the OCS sponsors a study abroad program in Israel, which is also on the travel warning list; I was told that the justification for this is that “the Travel Warning for Israel pertains primarily to the West Bank and Gaza, so students may attend the Hebrew University since it is not located in one of those areas.” While the State Department list does explicitly point to the West Bank and Gaza as areas where extra precaution needs to be exercised, Jerusalem, which is home to the Hebrew University, is mentioned as one of these areas. It seems as though the college does have some sort of framework to allow for exceptions to this rule.

I have received support from various offices including the CDO and OISA in dealing with this matter, but I think that given the inconsistency of the Grinnell policy, the administration needs to be more transparent. Moreover, it should consider whether any unconscious bias informs this inconsistency. Why should Jerusalem be OK when Karachi is not?

— Miriam Assaad