Terror attacks strike in countries hosting study abroad programs

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Terrorist attacks, most of them carried out by ISIS, have changed security measures in the EU and the lives of many throughout Europe and the Middle East.  The most recent attacks happened close to groups of DePaul students who were studying abroad. (Carolyn Duff  / The DePaulia)

Terrorist attacks, most of them carried out by ISIS, have changed security measures in the EU and the lives of many throughout Europe and the Middle East. The most recent attacks happened close to groups of DePaul students who were studying abroad. (Carolyn Duff / The DePaulia)

Studying abroad has become a mainstay on the list of must-have college experiences, from a quarter in Los Angeles to learning from animators in Japan, students have been encouraged to go past the confines of the city and into other cultures. Due to recent terrorist attacks in Brussels and Istanbul, venturing out has become more complicated.

Recently, students traveled to Brussels and Turkey, where there were terrorist attacks carried out by the Islamic State (ISIS) and the Kurdistan Workers’ Party (PKK), respectively. The group is an anti-government group that carried out a car bombing last week in Diyarbakır, a southeastern province of the country.

Since the attacks in Paris last November, European nations have tightened borders and some have considered closing them, since people in the European Union can move freely from country to country and many of the terrorists are European nationals. The most recent spate of attacks, though not directly harming DePaul students, have shown how complex travel and studying abroad may become in the future as traditionally safe and popular countries face the growing threat of terrorism.

Turkey has had numerous terrorist attacks in the past year, and a week before a group of 22 DePaul students led by business professor Nezih Altay left the U.S. there were attacks in the capital of the country. There were also attacks the day they landed and the day they left Turkey.

“This is the fifth trip (to Turkey) that I’ve organized and until this year it’s been the same process,” Altay said. “But there was an attack a week before we left and that alarmed us. We had to change some plans, but a majority of the students still wanted to go. We altered our plans to make sure they were safe and to make sure we wouldn’t be in areas likely to be targeted.”

The changes to the trip were played by ear and were, Altay said, talked over with students in order to make sure all of them felt comfortable. The group traditionally goes to Istanbul, which Altay said is “the NYC of Turkey.” They also visit Epheseus, a town dating back to the bible, and Cappadocia, a town carved into old volcanic rocks. The Istanbul part of the journey was cut down, however, due to safety concerns.

Around 2,100 miles away, in Brussels, 17 students were studying abroad. Many worked at Parliament during their stay in the Belgian capital and some would take a train that stopped at the airport that was bombed. On the day of the bombings, none of the students, fortunately, took that route, but a somber mood set in.

“There is also a strong sense of community that is evident, especially among my study abroad group,” Natalie Cushman, a public policy student in Brussels, said. “We pushed tables together at dinner so we could all sit together, and held a period of silence to express our sympathy for the victims and all others affected.”

As the global community continues to come together around sites of terrorist attacks and figure out how to increase security, Erik Tillman, a political science professor, said that 100 percent safety is never guaranteed. Tillman also said that countries are operating at a national level when it comes to security instead of working with one another which, after looking at how terrorists have planned attacks in one country and carried them out in another, may negatively affect their security.

“(Safety) requires a multifaceted approach,” he said. “The challenge for Europe is addressing marginalized communities and building closer ties between communities but also between countries.”

Though worrisome at the time, Cushman and Altay said that they would not let the attacks stop them from traveling or living their lives and that terrorists want people to live in fear and change their way of living, which Altay said is out of the question.

“Those students (in Brussels) didn’t go there thinking there would be an attack. Many of my students understood that these things happen and that terrorists want you to live in fear,” Altay said. “Will something happen? Who knows. But if you stay home, you lose and the terrorists win.”