Posted by: Alison Damast on January 8, 2009
A group of Notre Dame business school students on a class trip to Bosnia-Herzegovina got more than they bargained for when just a few days into their journey, the city’s gas supply was shut off. The students, who are in the country through Jan. 11 for a class called “Business on the Frontlines,” had to scramble to find heating just as a deep freeze fell on Sarajevo and the rest of the Balkan region.
The move came shortly after Russia – in the midst of a gas dispute with Ukraine – shut off Ukraine’s gas supply completely on Jan.7. Ukraine supplies most of the gas to the Balkan countries, including Bosnia. Gas supplies in Bosnia started declining after New Year’s Day and were completely turned off this week.
Unable to initially acquire an electric space heater – the city sold out of them in just a few hours — the Notre Dame students spent the past few days in their third-floor apartment in Sarajevo’s old city shivering as the temperatures fell to sub-zero temperatures. They tried to heat the small space by leaving the door of the apartment’s electric oven open, but “it didn’t really work out,” said Keith Flatley, a second-year MBA student at the University of Notre Dame’s Mendoza School of Business in a phone interview on Jan. 8. By a stroke of luck, they were able to eventually acquire an electric space heater from an acquaintance yesterday and have spent the past day huddled around it in the living room, Flatley said. “We have managed to keep the apartment just above freezing,” he said. “I have three or four layers on and am fully North Faced-out,” he said.
They are not the only students from the school who have found themselves in the midst of an international crisis. The other students in the 11-person class are currently conducting similar work in Beirut, Lebanon. Just this morning, rockets were launched from Southern Lebanon into Israel.
“We’re more worried about them than we are about us,” Flatley said. “We’re wondering, ‘What did we sign up for?’”
Despite the energy crisis and the Middle East conflict, the students are still going ahead with their planned schedule for the trip, which includes visits to local and international banks, companies and small businesses. The students are examining the role of business in rebuilding war-torn societies and the role private industry and foreign industry can play. They will present their findings in a detailed case study this March to Catholic Relief Services, which helped the school organize the course.
The school has received reports that both the students in Bosnia and Lebanon are safe, said Carolyn Woo, Mendoza’s dean. They are being escorted to all of their appointments by employees of Catholic Relief Services, she said. While the circumstances are not ideal for the trip, the students will walk away with a deepened understanding of the regions they are visiting, she said.
“They are studying businesses at the front line of war-torn countries and these are some of the conditions businesses operate under,” Woo said. “It’s a superb learning experience for them.”