BY SHANNON WILEY
Throughout the country, people have been rocked by the threat of the Islamic State and other terrorist attacks that have happened as far away as Aleppo, Syria and as close as San Bernardino, California.
This has particularly affected travelers, as many now feel that they have to be more cautious deciding if or where to go. These are emphasized by warnings such as the United States’ State Department worldwide travel alert immediately following the Paris attacks on Nov. 13.
One large group of travelers impacted is college students looking to take advantage of a study abroad experience.
Instead of canceling or altering programs like many other universities across the country, Salisbury University decided to keep plans exactly as they were.
SU has not cancelled any study abroad programs based off of information gathered from World Wide Threat Analysis updates that Center for International Education Director Brian Stiegler receives daily, as well as national conference calls when incidents, such as the Paris attacks, occur.
“I wasn’t getting information from Salisbury,” Stiegler said. “I was getting information from Paris, I was getting information from these professional threat analysis companies. So based on all that, based on U.S. Department of State recommendations, and all the rest, there didn’t appear to be any reason not to go.”
SU’s CIE office did remain open to questions and concerns according to Stiegler, who talked to parents and students during the decision making process.
The university also helped students cover the money lost if they personally chose to cancel their trips abroad. According to SU policy, 30 to 60 days before departure students are responsible for half of the total cost of their trip. Given the circumstances, though, SU offered to pay about half of that, excluding the air fare.
In all, the winter global seminars programs heading to France lost between six and eight people out of the 194 students who originally signed up.
Those who ultimately chose not to go were not available for comment.
Although there were several concerns leading up to the global seminars programs, all of the students who attended remained safe and most of them enjoyed their time.
Senior Rachael Reiter was one of those students and said that after the Paris attacks, she was curious to see what the school would decide to do, but was pleased that the trip stayed on.
“I trusted the university would not send a group of students out of the country if they thought it would jeopardize our safety,” Reiter said. “We were also travelling with Julie Gittelman who had led the trip numerous times and Memo Diriker who is a seasoned traveler, so if anything happened, I knew I would be well cared for.”
Reiter also said that she felt anxiety as her departure date came closer, but this was only due to her traveling out of the country for the first time and not because of the attacks.
Once she was in France, her group spent much of their time in a “small town” named Vichy, but visited Paris for two days where she said there were military guards walking around every monument and tourist destination which made her feel safe.
The overall feel of the trip was not tense though, according to Reiter.
“We met a lot of great people abroad and I have been able to keep in touch with most of them over text and Facebook,” she said.
Before students had to think about whether they would travel after the attacks, students like junior John Thompson had to decide what to do, being in the area when the terrorists attacked France.
During the Paris attacks, Thompson was studying abroad in Brussels, Belgium. This city drew a heavy spotlight directly following the attacks as it became known to officials that some of the terrorists who carried out the attack fled to Brussels from Paris.
Immediately after the attacks, Belgium went into a level three shutdown, one level below the top threat level in the country which heightened security throughout and around the borders.
Brussels soon entered level four lockdown, meaning that the metro, trams, and the majority of busses shut down. On busses that were not shut down, there were pairs of armed guards in the front and back of each bus.
Thompson’s university canceled classes, as well.
While the city stayed on lockdown for about two weeks, on the Wednesday after the attacks, Brussels started a progressive reopening which meant that slowly, the city began reopening transportation and institutions little by little.
Thompson’s school and other universities reopened that day as well, but soldiers were placed at all campus entrances and throughout the grounds.
During the week following the attacks, Thompson decided to stay for a variety of reasons, one of which was the opportunity he saw in being able to observe and experience this international incident first hand.
“To put it lightly, I just didn’t want to go because- and this might be a very 21-year-old, dumb, naïve thing to say- but what a time to be in Europe,” he said. “What a time to be alive, and live the experiences that I was having. Were there times that I was scared? Of course… But I just said f*** it, I’m doing it.”
He also based his decision off of daily information and reports he received from the U.S. State Department’s Smart Traveler Program, his school and professors who worked within the European Union, the city government and schoolmates with family relations to diplomats. Thompson also kept in contact with Stiegler and his parents.
Although Thompson ultimately felt safe enough to stay, he compared it to the mental state he felt growing up in New Jersey after the Sept. 11 attack on the World Trade Center in New York, calling it “tense.” But looking back he said he is glad that he stayed.
“I feel like I had a very unique experience, especially in terms of the people I met and the experiences I had,” he said.
By staying, Thompson was also able to travel across Europe and be exposed to the Syrian Refugee Crisis first-hand.
One day while traveling, Thompson found himself separated from his family and in the middle of a crowd of refugees carrying “nothing but the clothes on their backs,” he said.
He said he was very close to a large group holding five or six adults and about 30 kids all looking about eight or younger, and was able to strike up a conversation through hand gestures and commonly understood words. Thompson asked a man in the group why they had left Syria, and the man pointed to the kids and said several times, “ISIS.”
“He had this expression on his face that I will never forget” he said. “And it was just terrible, absolutely terrible.”
Both Thompson and Reiter encourage other students who are thinking about going abroad to do it, even if they are cautious.
“You should be more worried about getting pick pocketed or scammed by people asking for donations to a fake charity,” Reiter said. “I never felt unsafe in my time abroad and as long as you take the necessary safety precautions and are careful, you will be okay. The security was higher than ever in France and fear should not deter you from having a great life changing experience.”
Thompson agreed; “study abroad, it’s a great experience,” he said. “There’s risk in everyday life. There’s always going to be some reason or someone telling you not to do it… But you got to do it for yourself. You go for the experience of opening up your mind so you can learn about different perspectives, different cultures, different religions and different ideals. You’re young. If you have the ability to do it, then do it.”