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Study abroad continues despite terror attacks

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PARIS  — Over a month has passed since deadly terrorist attacks here left 130 dead and more than 350 injured, part of a string of attacks linked to the Islamic State carried out around the world — and as Paris has faded from media headlines, things in the French capital have pretty much returned to normal.

The country is technically in a state of emergency, slated to last for another two months, though for most people this hasn’t disrupted daily life.

Ohio State study abroad programs continue to prod along as well, cautious but not deterred by the extremist group or other dangers the modern world poses. In the moments immediately after the attacks, however, there were plenty of questions raised internally.

In theory, the cancellation of a study abroad program is a decision that would have to be made by the provost. Bruce McPheron now serves as the interim provost after Joseph Steinmetz left the university on Nov. 23 to fill the role of chancellor at the University of Arkansas in January.

“Oversight of international programming is the purview of the provost-appointed International Travel Policy Committee. The committee would make a recommendation to cancel or suspend a program, and its recommendation would receive final review and authorization of the provost,” Dru Simmons, OSU’s international risk manager, said in an email.

Simmons said that “preliminary discussions” arose about the active programs in Paris immediately following the attacks, but ended there.

“A decision (to cancel a study abroad program) has far-reaching ramifications not only for the students’ safety while traveling, but their capacity to complete their academic studies and receive credit for their time abroad,” Simmons said.

At least three OSU students have dropped out of spring and summer programs in France citing safety concerns, but Simmons said that was a “small percentage” of the students accepted into winter, spring and summer programs.

Katherine Shirley, a fourth-year in sociology who is spending fall and spring semesters in Paris, said she’s received pressure from some family members to come home.

“I would like to stay. I feel strange leaving because none of the Parisians are leaving. This is their home,” she said, though she added she might switch programs to study in a different city in the spring at the request of her relatives, but that’s “up in the air.”

OSU isn’t the only academic body that feels the reverberation of students dropping out. At International Studies Abroad, a third-party program OSU uses for some study abroad programs, eight students — none of whom attend OSU — elected to go home from the fall-semester program in Paris before the semester’s end, said Annamaria Antonopoulos, resident director at ISA’s office in Paris.

Additionally, one ISA student studying in Brussels left early, Antonopoulos said. The city was essentially shut down for six days in November when authorities put the city on lockdown as they looked for suspects in the Paris attacks.

Some students have pre-emptively dropped out of upcoming spring semester study abroad programs, but Antonopoulos said it wasn’t clear how many were normal attrition versus students specifically dropping out in light of terrorist attacks.

“A lot of times, it’s the parents, not the students, who want the students to come home,” Antonopoulos said.

The night of the attacks in Paris, Antonopoulos said she was up until 4 a.m. making sure students were accounted for.

“I think in the future we may have some sort of drill (for the students and administrators) to practice. But even then, it’s hard to come up with something specific. I can’t just say, ‘Stay where you are,’ because in this situation, students were at the soccer stadium,” she said.

The Stade de France, France’s national soccer stadium, was one of six locations targeted by three teams of terrorists on Nov. 13.

When OSU’s Office of Legal Affairs was reached for comment on the university’s possible legal liability in the event that a student were to be killed or injured in a terrorist attack while studying abroad, The Lantern was referred to the Office of Media and Public Relations.

Amy Murray, assistant director of media relations, declined to speculate on a hypothetical.

Students sign release forms when they apply for study abroad, and the university has developed a multi-faceted protocol to maintain the health and safety of all Ohio State students studying abroad,” Murray said in an email.

This protocol includes “asking students to register with the nearest U.S. embassy, requiring international supplemental insurance and extensive methods of staying in contact while abroad,” she added.

The Catholic Institute of Paris, where Shirley studies, is still running a bag check and keeping only one entrance to the campus open. But recent events have shown that terrorist attacks aren’t just a foreign threat — stateside, two shooters, Syed Rizwan Farook and Tashfeen Malik, killed 14 and injured 21 in San Bernardino, California, on Dec. 2.

Additionally, according to statistics compiled by The Washington Post, 2015 has had more than 350 mass shootings, counting a mass shooting as an event with more than four people are killed or injured, including the shooter.

Antonopoulos said tensions regarding safety are high all around the globe.

Earlier this year, OSU had a threat of violence on its Columbus campus after an anonymous message was posted to the online gaming platform OtherSpace in the constructed international language Esperanto. The threat warned of violence against teachers and students set to begin at a specified time on Oct. 27. Although individual professors cancelled classes, no university-wide cancellation occurred.

“I think, unfortunately, these days anywhere you are you have to be on alert,” Antonopoulos said.

One comment

  1. In other news, students continue to study abroad despite the much greater risk they will be killed in a car accident on the way to the airport.

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