Rise of global terrorism not deterring study abroad at UW-River Falls

Posted April 13, 2016

The rise of global terrorism has not affected Americans looking to travel abroad or students looking to take advantage of the study abroad options at UW-River Falls.

On Friday, Nov. 13, suicide bombers and gunmen attacked several locations in Paris, killing about 130 people. On Tuesday, March 22, two bombs were set off at an airport in Brussels and one bomb was set off at a train station. In this deadly attack, about 35 people were killed. Incidents like this underscore how important it is to look at how to stay safe while traveling abroad.

To educate students on how to deal with emergencies when studying abroad, all students at UWRF who are looking to study abroad must go through an online orientation through the Office of International Education. Part of this orientation includes what to do when one finds oneself in an emergency situation, such as a terrorist attack, according to Executive Director for International Education Katrina Larsen.

When it comes to dealing with the idea of an emergency abroad, the university has a response plan that includes setting money aside for evacuation of students and faculty. Program leaders for each study abroad program must also submit an emergency plan that is catered to the specifics of the trip. By paying their study abroad fees, students are also signed up for an insurance policy that pays for a flight back to the United States in case of an emergency.

However, the rise of global terrorism has not stopped Americans from packing up their suitcases and traveling abroad. The amount of Americans traveling to Europe has gone up significantly in the past few years, with an increase of 4.2 percent from 2013 to 2014 and a 5.9 percent increase from 2014 to 2015, according to the U.S. National Tourism Office.

And UWRF is no different. Larsen said that although concern was expressed after the attacks in Paris, there has not been a significant decrease in students wanting to study abroad. Larsen attributes this to the growing economy and the fact that traveling to Europe has become relatively inexpensive compared to past years.

“Anything is possible. You could be at the Mall of America and a terrorist attack could happen, it is possible,” said Larsen. “I don’t blame people for being concerned or upset, but when you look at the reality of things, you’re more likely to get hurt while you drive and text.”

Toria Lodzinski is a junior at UWRF who is double majoring in French and psychology. In the fall 2015 semester, Lodzinski was part of the Semester Abroad: Europe program and spent two months conducting research in France, spending much of her time in Paris.

During the November 2015 attacks in Paris, Lodzinski and her colleagues were in Italy. Learning about what had happened in the middle of the night, the students didn’t hear from their program leader of the university until the morning. They were told to continue traveling, but to avoid any tourist attractions and to not return to Paris. With these instructions, Lodzinski traveled to Ireland where she spent the rest of her time abroad with her family.

Lodzinski said that there isn’t much one can do to prepare for a terrorist attack, and UWRF and the Office of International Education is no exception. She said that the only thing that someone can do to prepare for an emergency is simply to be educated and continue to make good decisions while traveling abroad.

“We had our classes, we knew what we were supposed to do in the event of (an emergency),” Lodzinski said. “But if you’re caught in the wrong spot at the wrong time I don’t think there was anything else the university could have done for us to help us with that.”

Although one cannot necessarily plan for an emergency, Larsen said that there are things students and anyone traveling abroad can keep in mind to stay safe. She said people should try to fit in and avoid hanging out in large groups. People should also avoid protests and sign up for the Smart Traveler Enrollment Program (STEP) through the U.S. Department of State. A free service, this program sends notices and alerts to travelers about what is going on around the world.

Most importantly, Larsen said that people should practice common sense when traveling abroad.

“If something feels a little funky, avoid that,” said Larsen. “Just be an alert, safe kind of person.”

Most of all, Larsen said that the recent acts of extremist groups should not deter students from expanding their minds through studying abroad.

“If we really believed it was unsafe,” Larsen said, “we would not send people.”