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In Wake Of Violence And Unrest, Area Colleges Account For Students Abroad

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In the wake of the terror attacks in Paris and Lebanon and massive street protests in South Korea over the past few days, area colleges are making sure students studying abroad are safe.A series of attacks Friday killed more than 125 people in Paris while bombs killed roughly 40 people in Beirut a day before. The Islamic State group has said it orchestrated both attacks. Over the weekend, more than 60,000 people protested labor reforms in South Korea, some wielding metal pipes and sharpened bamboo sticks attempting to break through police barricades. Authorities used water cannons to disperse the crowd, arresting about 50 people.

But the world’s attention remains on France, the fourth most popular study abroad destination for American college students, according to U.S. News & World Report. In the 2012-13 school year, more than 17,000 U.S. students were studying in the country, a figure that’s been on the rise. 

The University at Albany says one student studying in Paris through SUNY Oswego’s program is safe. UAlbany’s Education Abroad director Jim Pasquill says a number of students studying in Ireland, London and Madrid were in Paris for the weekend, but have all returned to their programs. Pasquill says about a dozen UAlbany students are in Seoul, where the demonstrations are happening.

“We are in the process of communicating with students right now in South Korea because that event was actually overshadowed completely by events in France,” Pasquill said. “The usual sources that we use to get information on world events haven’t even mentioned it. I got wind of it late Sunday and we started to write to the students and advise them to stay away from demonstrations – basically it’s the only advice we can give – and to let us know that they’re safe and to get in touch if they have any concerns. At this point things are calming there. They’re not calm, but they’re calming.”

Pasquill expects those students will be able to stay in South Korea. UAlbany has also reached out to current students from France, none of whom have family or friends directly affected by the attacks. He has not gotten any calls from students who are slated to study abroad in the spring or their families.

“Experience has shown that over the next week or so students who were planning to study abroad in Europe or their parents may start to call concerned about whether it’s the right time to go or not,” Pasquill said. “They generally do. Things in the world tend to calm down until the next incident comes along.”  

University of Massachusetts Amherst has 22 students in its France program, the majority in Paris. Education Abroad Director Kalpen Trivedi says the school got in touch with them on Friday.

“In the first instance they all confirmed their safety which is what we had asked them to do,” Trivedi said. “Some of them mentioned that they were traveling away from Paris. A few of them mentioned that they were quite overwhelmed by the events that were taking place.”

Trivedi says a couple of parents have contacted him interested in talking about having their child leave France for the semester. He says UMass reached out to four students in Seoul Monday, but had not heard back by mid-afternoon. Trivedi says a pre-departure conference for roughly 600 students slated to go abroad in the spring was held Saturday, an event that had been scheduled for some time. He says a few students are apprehensive about going abroad and the school plans to talk with them on an individual basis.

Williams College in western Massachusetts has 10 students studying in Paris through other universities such as Smith College, according to Williams’ media relations director Mary Dettloff.

“The college has reached out to all of those students to confirm that they’re all safe and sound, which they are,” Dettloff said. “We are working with each student individually and the programs that they’re in just to make sure if there are any concerns and if there is anything we can do to support them from here. We’ve also been talking to students who are planning to go to France in the spring – going over things that have happened and if they or their families have any concerns that we can address for them to make sure that they have adequate support.”

Williams does not have any students in South Korea. Dettloff added that school leadership is reaching out to students who are from the countries that have experienced recent violence to make sure they have support systems like counseling services.

Meanwhile, Union College in Schenectady says 13 students and one faculty adviser in Rennes, France, about three and a half hours from Paris, are safe. 

All of the people interviewed for this story said they had not heard of any retaliatory comments or actions against Muslims on their respective campuses. None of the schools have any students in Lebanon. Siena College said it was hosting a vigil for victims of the Paris attacks at 4:30.

Massachusetts College of Liberal Arts Vice President of Academic Affairs Cynthia Brown says the school doesn’t have any students studying in the affected areas nor are there any students from those areas at MCLA. The school is planning a panel discussion regarding the larger context of the recent violence next Monday evening.

Jim is WAMC’s Associate News Director and hosts WAMC's flagship news programs: Midday Magazine, Northeast Report and Northeast Report Late Edition. Email: jlevulis@wamc.org
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