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Don’t let safety concerns prevent studying abroad

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The most popular study abroad destinations for American students. (Carolyn Duff / The DePaulia)

The most popular study abroad destinations for American students. (Carolyn Duff / The DePaulia)

When DePaul junior Charlotte Mukahirn was planning to study abroad in Germany for Fall 2015, she recalled her family’s major concerns about the decision due to the recent terrorist attacks and the refugee crisis. They would rather have her avoiding a trip to Europe, as many people have.

Andrew Lobbenberg, head of European transport equity research at HSBC, told CNBC that November’s Paris attack dampened the travel volumes for two months. Though the warning and alerts exist, it doesn’t seem to discourage the students’ desire to go abroad.

“I still felt pretty safe in Germany. It was just kind of frightening that it’s so close,” Mukahirn said. “Both universities (Bonn and DePaul) had contacted us (to make sure we are safe) and asked us if anyone else is outside of country or in Paris at the moment.”

Daniel Makagon, an associate professor of the College of Communication, said communications students are still energetic about the opportunity to study abroad in Europe despite recent events.

“For the College of Communication, a lot of students are still studying abroad and they are excited about studying abroad,” Makagon said. “I had students contact me about projects that they are working on and hope to study in a variety of locations.”

According to Nobi Hayashi, the Director of Study Abroad at DePaul, there are systems in place to best ensure the safety of study abroad students.

“We have a comprehensive emergency response plan that we do enact,” Hayashi said. “We also work with an insurance agency, which specializes in abroad situations. A lot of measures are being taken to ensure students’ safety and respond to any situations that may arise.”

Mukahirn visited Brussels when the country had just backed down to level three security clearance from level four, which is the maximum.

“We had taken a trip to Belgium to visit NATO,” Mukahirn said. “We had to have a group meeting with the administrators and the teachers to decide whether or not we should still go on the trip. Some students backed out because they didn’t feel safe. There were lots of soldiers and tanks. It was kind of scary but also reassuring that they are aware of this.”

According to Institute of International Education (IIE), there has been a five percent increase in the number of U.S. students that studied abroad in year 2013-2014, despite the terrorist attacks that have been happening.  While all the regions saw positive growth, only two regions, sub-Saharan Africa and Middle East & North Africa, showed a drop (-1.1 percent and -1 percent) from the 2012-2013 academic year to the 2013-2014 academic eyar.

According to Hayashi, the United Kingdom and Hungary are the two most popular destinations for the long-term programs for DePaul students. Nationwide, about 53 percent of study abroad destinations are in Europe, while Latin America with 16.2 percent is second and Asia with 11.9 percent is third.

“The reality is that obviously that (the Paris and Brussels attacks) were in Western Europe, but I think people still have a general sense of safety in terms of going to Western Europe,“ Makagon, who is co-leading a rerun Spain program this summer, said. “If anything happens to the State Department warning, that will change how we move.”

Mukahirn’s main concerns were not about safety but rather traveling alone and getting lost. She soon overcame those fears when she met a friend who helped her to break out that comfort zone. Now, she looks to travel more on her own in the U.S. Mukahirn said that what she learned and gained out of her traveling definitely outweighs the concern of a terrorist attack.

Media also plays a strong role in affecting students’ decisions.

“A program that I used to co-lead went to Mexico City,” Makagon said. “It was certainly harder to get students to look past the general discourse about violence, even though Mexico City, general speaking, is an extremely safe city, safer than many U.S. cities. But the media discourse is that ‘hey, there is violence there.’ I think it’s important to educate people.”

Cities and countries across the world can be dangerous. Protecting one’s safety comes down to education and awareness, which is the ultimate goal for study abroad programs, to provide a unique experience and engaging experience.

“The security situation, there is a reason for it,” Hayashi said. “There are a lot of things going on this world that you might not hear in the regular media. Just hearing we might react, but if you learn more about it and understand it better, your response would be different.”

The truth is that anywhere can be dangerous. It all comes down to education and awareness. Studying abroad not only provides an environment for learning a new language, but it also contributes to students’ personal growth through being uncomfortable and exposed to new ideas and culture.

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Don’t let safety concerns prevent studying abroad