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Global Learning seeks to instill safety following Paris attacks

Terrorism can evoke fear of travel, but the global learning department gives students the tools to be safe as possible while abroad, according to Dr. Per Anderson, associate dean for global learning.

The recent attacks on Paris have led to some uneasy feelings for many people. Should I study abroad? Is it safe? How can I have a positive global experience due to events such as this? Questions like these are running through the minds of students studying abroad or considering studying abroad, Anderson said.

Anderson assures students that the global learning’s number one priority is to take care of students’ needs.

“We all have our phones at our bed stands,” Anderson said. “We understand that our job is to be available 24/7.”

Global learning encourages students to inform them of any situations that hinder their study abroad experience, especially when safety is involved. Though Anderson said he would drop everything else until the problem is solved, some students do not inform them of a problem until they get back. Each situation is handled differently due to the uniqueness of all situations.

“There’s no one-size-fits-all way to respond,” Anderson said.

When the attacks on Paris occurred, the global learning department stopped what they were doing and reached out to students in France immediately. Assistant Director of semester study away programs Kristin Lettner found out about the attacks while she was a passenger on an hour long drive.

“I immediately sent them an email from my phone informing them of the situation, get their whereabouts, and ask if they needed any assistance,” Lettner said in an email interview.

Four students are studying abroad in Tours, France, located about an hour and fifteen minutes out of Paris. These students were contacted and asked to check in with global learning through email. Anderson said it did not take long for all four students to report back that they were safe.

Megan Shelden, who is currently studying in Tours, France, said that daily life did not change much specifically where they are living after the Paris attacks, with the exception of a few classes being cancelled. One difference she has noticed is the increase in police presence.

“There was a lot more security everywhere, especially in Paris,” Shelden said in an email interview. “More police officers, more bag checks and more questions.”

Even if not much changed in the city she is living in, Shelden has noticed a change throughout France.

“After the attacks in Paris, the whole atmosphere in France changed,” Shelden said. “Everyone just seemed shaken.”

French faculty, in conjunction with the global learning office, also contacted the students in France, said faculty advisor for the French study away program Dr. Zacharie Petnkeu. They also reminded the abroad students of security rules.

“We are on alert, so to say, in case any of our students over there would uncomfortable to stay,” Petnkeu said in an email interview.

Global learning is also concerned for those traveling in, through and around Paris, making sure they are aware of the situation and know how to be cautious. Shelden went to Paris less than a week after the attacks so she could fly to Spain. Global learning helped Shelden with her safety inquires before she traveled.

“They wanted to make sure it was safe for me to go to Paris and travel safely to another country,” Shelden said. “They were helpful in that process. They also gave me advice to maybe stay away from super crowded areas, remain vigilant and always be aware of my surroundings.”

After contacting the students in France, the global learning office contacted others on campus. Anderson talked to Risk Management, the Dean, and President to make sure everyone was informed.

The students abroad have a large support system behind them if they are to need any assistance. Along with contacting the students in France, all other students abroad were contacted through Terra Dotta, a computer program that quickly locates the email addresses of students abroad. No one abroad was in Paris at the time of the attacks, Lettner said.

“We felt it was necessary to reach out to the greater region because Paris is such a popular destination for students studying in Europe,” Lettner said.

The global learning department looks at, the website of the U.S. Department of State’s Bureau of Consular Affairs, to receive alerts and warnings. The Paris attacks happened on Nov. 13; the U.S. Department of State’s Bureau of Consular Affairs sent a worldwide travel alert Nov. 23 about possible traveling risks due to terrorist activity. This alert does not expire until Feb. 24.

In order to keep students informed, global learning crafted a message containing relevant information that was sent out Nov. 24 to all students abroad. The message was intended to be a continuation of the caution that already existed before the attacks on Paris.

“The world is changing, and the advent of new terrorist groups, of course, has to be accounted for,” Anderson said.

Global learning had pre-departure orientations with students who are studying abroad next semester in mid-November. In this meeting, they addressed the attacks, reviewed the appropriate procedures to follow during these situations and answered questions. Global learning is also creating an informational email to these students, expanding on the discussions in the meetings.

Along with global learning’s efforts to keep students safe and informed, they also do not want to instill a fear, according to Anderson.

“What people are going to do now is jump to the conclusion that the world is much less safe, but we don’t know that,” Anderson said.

Students may have a fear of studying abroad in France because of the recent attacks. Petnkeu said that students should know that terrorism could happen anywhere. Petnkeu advises students who wish to go to France pay attention to security and safety precautions.

“It’s normal to feel nervous when terrorist attacks happen elsewhere than home; when we hear about 14 people and wounded 21 others in San Bernardino, Calif., on American soil, we deplore the situation, but we feel safe because it’s far away from us,” Petnkeu said. “Let’s not belittle the fact that it could have been in our region, in our city, or in our neighborhood.”

In order to provide a place for students and parents to see data collected about a region where someone is interested in studying, Minnesota has invented a reporting law that may become a model piece of legislation for the entire country. Once per year, global learning offices are required to submit to the Minnesota Office of Higher Education the number of death and hospitalizations that occur in each study abroad location. The first reporting period was due November 1, 2015, and reflected August 1, 2014 through July 31, 2015.

The Minnesota Office of Higher Education has not released information to the public because the database has just begun. Once this database has collected more information, students will be able to look and see how many deaths and hospitalizations of students abroad have occurred in certain areas, to help make their decision.

“Clear Cause is a group based out of Minnesota that was instrumental in the creation of this new legislation,” Anderson said.

This new database can be a resource for students. Also, global learning has begun a compulsory meeting for all students going abroad within the last year where risk management is discussed. Anderson expects this training to expand in the future.

Now, global learning encourages students abroad to communicate with the department more compared to the past. Although there are many ways of instantaneous communication, students abroad do not respond and many times do not reach out, according to Anderson.

“The hard situations are when we hear about something a week too late, when we could have intervened,” Anderson said. “Understanding that making that phone call or sending an email is a real way of becoming responsibly engaged in the world.”

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