Safety concerns must not stop student travel

By Kara Mercer

Recent attacks in Brussels and Paris could make students feel apprehensive about studying abroad, but students shouldn’t be discouraged because there are resources provided by NIU to ensure safety.

Students should know all of their options before travelling for their study abroad experience. The Study Abroad Office can help students with their concerns in terms of travel. The department holds pre-departure orientations in which they discuss health and safety with students. They also encourage students to enroll in the Smart Traveler Enrollment Program, said Lauren Mock, associate director for enrollment and outreach for the Study Abroad office.

The Smart Traveler Enrollment Program allows students to register with the closest embassy wherever they are studying abroad. Once travelers enroll and select the region they will be travelling to, the U.S. Department of State can send alerts to those traveling abroad.

On March 22, an email notification was sent by the U.S. Department of State to those registered to travel to Europe about the attacks in Brussels. The email advised U.S. citizens to exercise vigilance in public places and when using mass transportation. It also recommended U.S. citizens stay in touch with family members back home while traveling and to enroll in the Smart Traveler Enrollment Program.

“I think right now students are more aware of these incidences, and the issue I think right now at this time is, you know, no one can ever guarantee your safety, so we have plans in place,” Mock said. “We’re in safe locations, we trust our staff in country and we have full confidence in the people that are there supporting our students, and that’s the best that we can provide.”

Some trips are faculty directed and so the department is always able to stay in contact with faculty and students while abroad; other trips are part of third-party provider programs in which those providers communicate with the university and let them know students are accounted for, Mock said.

Students considering studying abroad should continue trying to explore places outside their comfort zone despite some safety concerns.

“I’ve thought about [the Brussels attacks], but I’m like the chances of that happening are so slim … it hasn’t discouraged me,” said sophomore art major Paul Zollinger. “I think students need to realize that the more you live in fear, the less opportunities you’ll have as a person.”

The attacks that occurred recently in different countries are extremely unfortunate but should not scare students away from learning about the world. Studying abroad is an opportunity for students make themselves more well-rounded.

“I think as the world is getting smaller, globalization is happening, we’re interacting with more and more cultures, we can’t let terrorism stop us from understanding other cultures… I think we have to believe in the goodness of humanity that’s out there and continue to learn about one another, ‘cause I think we are better people for it,” Mock said.