Campus study abroad forces balance between education, safety

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In the month of July alone, the campus community has been devastated by two student deaths in terrorist attacks overseas. With more than 1,200 UC Berkeley students studying abroad annually, the campus has taken measures to keep students safe in light of global unrest.

UC Berkeley’s study abroad program was put in place nine years ago, but this year marks the first instance when campus student deaths have occurred. Following the attacks, 14 students elected to return home from study abroad programs with assistance from campus.

“I think it’s important that Berkeley students continue to stay connected to the world, to continue to reach out and study in far reaches,” said ASUC President Will Morrow. “It’s a scary world we live in, but I think through interconnectedness and education and exchange, we can help to take some of those walls down and start building bridges.”

Last week, campus junior Nick Leslie was killed during an attack that took place in Nice, France, while three other UC Berkeley students sustained serious injuries. The attack occurred only two weeks after campus sophomore Tarishi Jain was killed in the Bangladesh terrorist attacks that began July 1.

Campus sophomore Suhani Abdullah, who was a friend of Jain, was particularly devastated by the attacks in Bangladesh. Her uncle is the owner of the cafe-bakery in Dhaka, Bangladesh, where the hostage crisis took place.

“For the first time ever, I genuinely found myself afraid,” Abdullah said when describing life in Bangladesh after the attack. “My grandmother has not left the house since the attacks, a single time in 18 days. Isn’t that terrifying?”

Abdullah was in Bangladesh for a summer internship with Microsoft. She decided to fly home to the United States after the attack largely because the situation in Bangladesh was not representative of what she recognized as the country of her heritage.

“Students need to think carefully about how to preserve education and earn experiences, as well as preserve their life,” said campus peace and conflict studies lecturer Peter Bartu.You really have to exercise caution wherever you go — that’s the sad reality of political circumstances right now.”

Bartu said that despite the tragedies in Dhaka, Bangladesh, and Nice, France, however, students should not be deterred from studying abroad. He added that even within the United States, people are experiencing unpredictable and dreadful violence.

“Avoid large public events — and the same thing applies within the U.S. right now,” Bartu said. “Really take the commonsensical approach to it.”

The campus makes academic program decisions whether or not to continue a program based on the information they receive on a case-by-case basis, using the information provided by its travel program. Campus has elected not to cancel any of its study abroad programs this summer, but all students have the option to independently elect to leave a program at any time and return home.

“Our travel program provides real time updates about situations and emerging conflicts across the globe to our travelers … about how a situation is progressing where the travelers are located,” said campus spokesperson Janet Gilmore in an email. “The information includes how to stay safe, places or areas to avoid, or directions to shelter in place. We also provide evacuation assistance if needed.”

The UC Education Abroad Program student agreement also advises students to “avoid all demonstrations, which could become violent without notice.” If a student does choose to actively participate in a riot or demonstration, the UCEAP travel insurance may not cover them.

“Many students greatly value the cultural and educational experience of studying abroad, but individual students should decide what is right for them,” Gilmore said.

Campus sophomore Kian Talaei who is studying in Sussex, England, for the summer said his family is worried about him.

“Why should we be afraid when there are so many millions of people who are living here — it can happen to anyone,” Talaei said. “I personally feel like I don’t want to run away.”

Since May, the U.S. State Department has issued a travel alert throughout Europe, citing popular tourist destinations as being especially prone to terrorist attacks. Warnings have also been sent out for countries relating to political instability, disease outbreak and weather conditions.

On Thursday, the ASUC will discuss a bill, introduced by Senator Anthony Carrasco, to promote student awareness and resources when abroad that will be the official stance of the ASUC.

“Berkeley is a global campus and we’re a global student body,” Morrow said. “I think it’s important that we continue to be a globally engaged university.”

Contact Cassie Ippaso at [email protected].