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Heightened terror threat in Europe

Spring and summer destinations for the Concordia College Global Education program recently received attention when the U.S. State Department issued a travel alert for Europe.

The State Department issued the travel alert Oct. 3 in response to an increased threat of terrorism. The statement was not meant to deter people from travel to Europe, but to make them aware of a threat that has recently come to light in Europe.

The travel alert is in effect until Jan. 31, 2011.

“I’m glad the State Department has raised this concern,” Per Anderson, associate dean for global learning, said. “However, this does not mean we shouldn’t travel to Europe.”
The State Department posted the alert in response to information that suggests that al-Qaida and other unspecified organizations may be planning terrorist attacks in Europe. In addition to the threat of terrorism, Europe has recently faced increased political unrest. Protests broke out in France in late October over a decision to raise the retirement age from 60 to 62. Life in Paris was disrupted by the protests.

Anderson said a terrorist threat, while real, is not as much of a tangible threat as other factors that may interfere with a student’s experience while abroad. Terrorism in its nature is unpredictable. More realistic threats that students might face while abroad are transportation, traffic and alcohol abuse.

Junior Grant Schneider experienced a combination of events while studying abroad in France in April. The volcano Eyjafjallajökull erupted in Iceland while he was touring Rome during a break in the semester. When he attempted to take a train back to France, he was stalled in southern France due to a transportation industry strike.

The unexpected turn of events didn’t worry him, though. His only concern was the exam that he missed while he was delayed.

“The people work around it in France,” Schneider said. “It was kind of a French thing because they strike all the time.”

Schneider said he didn’t need the assistance of the Office of Global Education to deal with his predicament. Instead, he maneuvered through the situation with the resources available to him in Europe.

Elna Solvang, associate professor of religion, is one of three faculty members who will take students to South Africa in May. Solvang said the risks are present in South Africa, but not any more than other places.

As a faculty leader, she plans to keep students safe by dealing with the logistics of the trip, such as safe, reliable transportation and appropriate locations to bring groups.
“We’re also keeping in mind that we’re not traveling as tourists,” Solvang said. “We are traveling as learners and respectful visitors.”

The Global Education Office receives intelligence reports from two sources: the U.S. State Department and iJET, a daily intelligence service designed for the travel industry.
With these sources, Anderson monitors conditions in the various study abroad locations. He also compares these reports to British and Australian intelligence reports to get a complete and fair perspective on situations abroad.

“Sometimes I will send a report to a partner abroad and say, ‘What do you see,’” Anderson said.

A new problem has given way in recent years through the widespread use of social networking sites. Students are in closer communication with their friends and family while abroad than they were before.

Anderson said this becomes an issue when parents call in to the Global Education Office with worries about their students’ safety without the office’s prior knowledge of the concern.

“Students will be texting and tweeting and Facebooking before we have even heard about it,” Anderson said.

Anderson sees the study abroad program as a learning tool for students to experience the world with an appropriate amount of oversight by the Office of Global Education. For many students, this will not be the last time they travel abroad.

“This is a kind of a dress rehearsal for what we want our graduates to negotiate,” Anderson said. “There’s no place in the world that is without risk.”

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