I tossed over in bed, uncomfortable and although exhausted, unable to fully fall asleep. My phone sat beside me, vibrating from texts. I heard movement outside of my door, quick steps, and feet hitting the staircase. My frustration grew, knowing I had to be up in a few hours to drive to Slovenia for the weekend. I finally sat up, trying to see if my roommate was having trouble sleeping as well. She wasn’t in her bed. I quickly slipped on a sweatshirt and made my way downstairs.
Turning the corner into our living space I saw almost half of the people in my program huddled together around our TV. No one spoke, no one even saw me enter the room. They watched the shaky cameras, the nervous newscasters, the pictures of horrified people. They watched as Paris officials reported the numbers: 130 dead, hundreds wounded.
On Sept. 11, 2001, I was too young to understand the gravity of the situation when thousands of Americans were killed in the terrorist attack on the World Trade Center. But at 20 years old, sitting among my peers and witnessing destruction in a city I had left just a week before, I understood. We sat for hours. Other than texting loved ones back home to reassure them that we weren’t in France anymore, we hardly spoke, but we sat together in solitude and shock.
As the night crept towards morning I asked the group I was supposed to travel with about Slovenia. If we were going to go we had to sleep, to get rest to wake up early. A few outright said they wouldn’t travel. A couple more said their parents didn’t want them to go. And the others just seemed confused about a course of action. We ultimately decided to cancel and all retreated to our beds.
But again, I tossed and turned. I thought of sitting beneath the Eiffel Tower, swaying in a hammock and eating lavender macaroons. I thought of sipping a Moscow Mule and dancing until 2 a.m. in a nightclub off of the Champs Elysees. I thought of the Louvre, the crepes and the winding streets. And I thought of the horrendous loss of 130 people.
But I also thought of fear. I thought of terrorism, a term that had always brought to mind images of dark rooms, closed doors, and hatred. And I thought of the goal of the people who had just torn through Paris. A terrorist’s goal is to terrorize and by not traveling we were allowing them, in some ways, to win.
I spent over five more months in Europe traveling to countless countries with my friends and experiencing some of the most incredible moments of my life. Study abroad is so much more than country hopping, pub-crawls and voluntourism. Study abroad is not just about being on vacation.
The terrorism did not end in Paris. It spread to the tourism hotspots of Belgium and Istanbul and continues daily throughout the Middle East. At times, I wondered about our safety as students abroad. We live in a world where I cannot make my way through a full day without hearing about another death or attack or bombing, stretching around the entire world. I am not saying we have to abandon caution or rational action, but we must find a balance. We must find a middle line to walk, between safety and living life to the fullest without letting fear inhibit us. . . . . .
Today, it’s Belgium. Before, it was France.
There also is Brazil, where the Zika virus is rampant. And tomorrow could bring an earthquake, tsunami or hurricane somewhere else.
The drumbeat of terror attacks, health risks and natural disaster crises around the world has directors of growing university study-abroad programs continually monitoring international security updates and advisories. Program heads on Iowa’s campuses were paying attention Tuesday, for example, when news broke of more terror attacks — this time in Brussels.
None of Iowa’s three public universities have students studying abroad in Belgium right now, but Iowa State University — for one — has an exchange program planned there in spring 2017. ISU’s study abroad director, Trevor Nelson, said he doesn’t foresee Tuesday’s attacks derailing that program.
“But we have to monitor the situation and make the best determination about whether you are putting students in harm’s way,” he said. “At this point, I don’t believe we are in a position to put that program on hold.”
Nelson said study abroad programs these days have to be “more diligent in terms of monitoring what is happening in other parts of the world.” But, he said, that’s not necessarily indicative of a more dangerous international study environment.
Rather, he credited it — among other things — to a rise in students taking advantage of the opportunity.
“It’s partly a facet of the number of students who are now studying abroad,” he said. “And they are going to every continent.”
When Nelson started as the ISU study abroad director 25 years ago, about 200 students were involved. In the 2015 budget year, ISU sent 1,633 students oversees through a variety of study programs to every continent including Antarctica.
“And the type of students who are studying abroad has changed as well,” he said. “Twenty-five years ago, those who went on semester long programs tended to be self-starters and more independent and resilient than today.” . . . .
For the past year and a half, my oldest child has been studying at a university in Amsterdam. He’s majoring in physics and — if all goes according to plan — he should be earning his bachelor’s degree in 2017. He comes home summers and over Christmas and I visit him there at least twice a year. So far, so good. But on the heels of this morning’s news of terrorist attacks in Belgium, he said something that rocked me to my core: “It seems as though the bombings are getting closer.”
Only last November, terrorist attacks in Paris — 316 miles from Amsterdam — killed 129 people. One of those killed was a 23-year-old California State Long Beach student, Nohemi Gonzalez, who had gone to Paris for a semester of study at the Strate School of Design. Not only did her death horrify her classmates, but it also made many parents of study-abroad students wonder whether kids should still be taking college classes overseas.
Now it’s Brussels — 108 miles from Amsterdam — that’s under attack, with at least 34 people killed and many more injured today in blasts at the airport and a subway station. Only a few days ago, the suspected mastermind behind the Paris attacks was arrested.
Upon hearing of the attack, I immediately messaged my son in Amsterdam on Facebook. Although he’s alarmed — and has commented that the attacks are indeed too close for comfort — he’s not going anywhere. He’ll continue living his life and attending classes this week, just as he has been. He noted his certainty that his professors will discuss the issue today with students, just as they did in the days following the Paris attacks.
But this latest incident has given me pause, and when friends ask me what I think about whether American students should continue studying abroad, I’m no longer sure exactly what to tell them.
My husband and I raised our three kids in London, and lived there for seven years before moving to the States in 2000. I’ve long been a proponent of kids studying abroad, and even wrote an article a few months back about the advantages of getting a degree overseas. At the time, I asserted that the advantages to earning a degree abroad are many, but one of the main ones is the money saved by students and families. Many programs in Europe offer bachelor’s degrees after only three years, and often at a fraction of the price charged by U.S. institutions.
Currently, more than 46,500 U.S. students are pursuing degrees overseas, roughly 84 percent of whom are enrolled in bachelor’s or master’s degree programs, according to the most recent data from the Institute of International Education. The United Kingdom is the most popular destination, followed by Canada, France and Germany. . .
It’s obvious that saying goodbye to those that you have become close to at home and abroad is difficult. I made that very clear in my article last semester about saying goodbye to Washington College. This sentiment has a unique meaning when it comes to studying abroad.
There are a lot of emotions going on, and it can be difficult to process them, especially if you get into the wrong mindset. Processing your feelings for someone is a necessary evil for getting the most out of your relationships.
I’d like to begin by saying that none of this is set in stone and that it is based solely on my experience.
There are two categories of relationships that can be made abroad: friendship and romance. Friendship is usually easier to handle than a romance, though it can still take a toll on you.
When I was in London, I made some of the best friends and couldn’t help but wish that I could just live my life with those awesome friendships.
Everything seemed like it had fallen into place, but that is not the way life works, and sometimes the only thing you can do is accept that.
Sometimes you have to accept that even though your life seems perfect in this set-up, it may just be a set-up that’s meant to work in the short term. I know that that doesn’t sound like an answer, but it’s true for me.
If you can, make an effort to stay in contact with them, acknowledge their birthday, grab a coffee when you get the chance, even it’s once every five years.
Next, we move on to romantic relationships. Long-distance relationships are always said to be doomed to fail, so a lot of times you’ll just try to avoid getting in that relationship in the first place.
Really though, isn’t getting into a relationship the same as getting into a friendship except that there may be sex? True, sex complicates things, but that just makes coming to terms with your leaving even more important.
I have seen a lot of people start romantic relationships while abroad. In some cases, it’s just a friends with benefits type of scenario, and in other cases it’s a steady, committed relationship.
From my observations, it actually seems like the friends-with-benefits structure was more stable than the steady relationship.
The couple that I knew last semester weren’t exclusive, and while I could tell that they cared about each other and would miss each other when they left, they also established what they were and who they would be when they returned home. They live so far away from each other I think it was impossible for them to avoid the topic.
Committed relationships, on the other hand, are more complicated. In a committed relationship, you are essentially saying that this person, and no other person, is who you want to be romantically involved with. That generally means that you want to continue this exclusive relationship after you leave, and while this is not impossible, it takes a lot of communication and a lot of times ends up in heartbreak.
This may seem like an article that would be better suited for the end of the year, but that is my whole point: you shouldn’t wait until the end of the year to think about leaving.
In a study abroad situation, feelings of friendship or even romance can grow so quickly that it becomes that much more difficult to say goodbye later.
You might not think that it will happen to you, because, well, what are the chances of falling for someone halfway across the world?
But believe it or not, I told myself the same thing and I was terribly wrong. The reality is that it can happen to anyone.
Falling in love while you’re studying abroad is kind of like living in a bubble. It’s all beautiful, fine, and dandy when you’re on the inside, but eventually, when it pops, the magic fades and it’s back to reality. That’s not to say, however, that falling in love on an exchange isn’t possible or something to give up hope on.
Before you ask, yes, I am indeed a victim of the study abroad love bug. My story is long and complicated, but it’s an experience I certainly wouldn’t go back and change.
Why, you ask? The answer is twofold. You’re caught up in a whirlwind of travel, excitement, and new opportunity and through meeting numerous new people in this elated state, it’s quite likely that you’ll end up “clicking” with someone you never knew existed. Chances are, they’ll even have a wicked accent to draw you in that much easier. Before you know it you might be making up failed excuses as to why you shouldn’t start a relationship while you’re abroad, but over time (even four months abroad is enough time), you might end up changing your mind completely.
Here’s what you might want to know about falling in love abroad before you let the love bug take over:
IT CAN TEACH YOU INVALUABLE LESSONS
If you start a romantic relationship while you’re studying abroad, chances are it will be with someone from a different country. Dating someone with a different vocabulary, accent, customs, and even values can teach you a lot about not only them but yourself as well and what you value in life.
YOU’LL FALL FAST AND HARD
Studying abroad can inflict a kind of illusionary state on a person at first. You’re in a new country, experiencing new things every single day and the excitement seldom ends. This means that it can be easy to get caught up in the moment and fall for someone because you’ll be less focused on the reality of everyday life and more focused on enjoying your time and meeting new people. . . . .
Coming to Geneseo, I knew I wanted to study abroad for at least a year. I knew I wanted to go beyond my past linguistic and travel experience in Europe. This semester, I am returning from three semesters of studying abroad in Vietnam, Canada and Haiti. Study abroad has been an incredibly formative part of my undergraduate career—and my future plans—in both expected and unexpected ways.
The Global Service Learning Program in Borgne, Haiti proved to be a turning point for me. Through this program, I applied my interests in foreign language, intercultural competence and international education to connecting communities in Borgne and Geneseo. My experience in spring 2013 not only focused my academic interests, study abroad plans and career goals, but also had a lasting impact beyond that one semester. My service learning project became the design and organization of a Haitian Creole language preparation component for the course.
Immediately after the Global Service Learning Program, I knew I wanted to learn Haitian Creole and return to Borgne to help develop our program and relationship with the community. I traveled to Boston to attend the Haitian Creole Language and Culture Summer Institute, working with leading Haitian Creole scholars and collecting resources and teaching methods in order to help improve our Haitian Creole crash-course at Geneseo. As a result, I was selected to the Clinton Global Initiative University in 2015 to help support the first public library in Borgne.
In the fall of my junior year, I spent my first semester abroad in Vietnam. I went into the semester expecting a wildly new experience; one where I would learn an exotic new language. What I got was a semester where I was not only independent, but also the only native English speaker in my class. After learning Vietnamese, I could communicate with the locals and also speak to the internationals that spoke English. I met an extraordinary variety of people, both in Ho Chi Minh City and on my travels in Southeast Asia.
Perhaps the most surprising group I met in Vietnam was the Saigon Swing Cats. I had fallen in love with swing dance my freshman year, but I did not expect to find a club in Vietnam. It was a fascinating mix of locals and expatriates—mostly young professionals—gathering together to dance a vintage American dance. This is where I saw the overlap between my international interests and my dance interests. . . .