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Study abroad students undeterred by international acts of terrorism

Hillary Landers relishes the freedom of being a college student studying abroad as she braces into the powerful winds above Lago Grey in Torres del Paine National Park in the Patagonia region of Chile. (Rich Landers / The Spokesman-Review)
Hillary Landers relishes the freedom of being a college student studying abroad as she braces into the powerful winds above Lago Grey in Torres del Paine National Park in the Patagonia region of Chile. (Rich Landers / The Spokesman-Review)

Angela Liang missed work at Manchester Arena in England one evening last May because she was preparing for finals. That night, a man detonated an improvised explosive device at an Ariana Grande concert in the arena, killing 23 people.

Nor was the event only near-encounter with violence Liang, a Washington State University senior double majoring in finance and international business, encountered during her time abroad. She traveled extensively last year, and during that time three attacks occurred in cities she visited: In Berlin, where her visit nearly coincided with a truck attack that killed 12 people; in an Apirl bombing in Cairo; and the stadium attack in Manchester.

Despite these near-brushes with tragedy, Liang said she was never so concerned about her safety that she considered leaving the program.

“The school provides a lot of support during the events,” Liang said.

“You can’t let the terrorists win by being afraid,” she added.

As more college students – including those at Spokane-area schools – seek international education, universities are taking steps to keep them safe. More than 300,000 U.S. students study abroad each year, according to NAFSA: Association of International Educators, a nonprofit dedicated to international education. So far, there has been little evidence that terrorist events have prevented students from seeking education overseas.

Though a localized event may impact student interest in a particular program or country, “I don’t think it’s preventing students necessarily from wanting to study abroad,” said Lindsay Calvert, manager of Generation Study Abroad, an initiative that aims to double and diversify the number of Americans studying overseas by 2020.

At WSU, the number of students studying abroad has grown steadily over the past decade, according to Christine Oakley, the university’s director of global learning.

“Student safety and security is something that we take very very seriously,” Oakley said.

In the six years that Oakley has been director, she has never had to evacuate a student. Oakley said that the Office of International Programs wants to support students in their decisions, whether that be to come home or continue in their studies, after a serious situation arises.

“Our larger mission is to ensure that all students have a global experience,” Oakley said.

Craig Lawson, communications coordinator for International Programs said that more than 800 WSU students studied abroad in the 2015-2016 school year, and the office hopes to increase that number to 1,000 during the 2018-2019 school year.

For parents, sending children to international programs can be an exercise in anxiety management.

When Laura Freibott’s daughter decided to study abroad, Freibott kept calm, telling herself that Amethyst had traveled internationally with her church on several trips.

“You can’t be there every second,” Freibott said. “Letting go is an ongoing process for a parent.”

Victoria Marie Cannon, a junior double majoring international business and German, studied abroad in Germany in 2014-2015. Cannon was abroad during an attack in Paris, and witnessed growing tensions and anti-immigrant sentiment as the Syrian refugee crisis took holdacross Europe.

Last summer, during a second study abroad trip, Cannon visited Germany just a day after a shooting at a mall in Munich. According to CNN, nine victims and the gunman died in the shooting. Eight days earlier, 84 people were killed at Bastille Day in France. Cannon said the tragedies taught her to be more cautious, but would not deter her travels.

“You can’t really let fear stop you from going places and doing things,” Cannon said.


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