The Observer is a Student-run, daily print & online newspaper serving Notre Dame & Saint Mary's. Learn more about us.



Students apply to go abroad despite violence

Laura Vilim | Friday, November 14, 2003

Despite an international culture that has become increasingly violent and anti-American in recent months, students at Notre Dame who are considering studying abroad have relatively few fears about leaving the country, a trend that shows students feel safer today than they did at the start of the U. S. invasion of Iraq less than one year ago.

Last year, the fear of violence against Americans kept several students from carrying out their plans to study abroad.

Meredith Foley, a senior who was thinking of studying in Dublin last year decided against it in part because of her desire to be near her family in the event of another terrorist attack.

“My decision not to go abroad was not primarily based on what was occurring internationally,” Foley said. “However, I was afraid that if there was any type of national crises and there was a reason I would need to be with my family, it would be much easier to get home from South Bend than arrange any kind of travel from overseas.”

Current students are less afraid to leave the country due in large part to the emphasis the International Studies Department has placed on informing students of world events that could negatively affect their travels abroad. The directors of the department receive constant updates on travel advisories from the State Department as well as U.S. embassies across the world. These advisories, which provide detailed information about everything from protests in a country to civil unrest, are then sent to students traveling to that particular country, so that they can be kept aware of any possible dangers they may face.

According to Anastasia Gutting, the director of the London Program, recently issued advisories do not concern countries most Notre Dame students choose to visit and instead deal with nations that have had a long history of political turmoil, such as Saudi Arabia, Bolivia, Somalia and states in the Middle East and North Africa.

When advisories do contain warnings on often-visited countries such as England, France and Australia, Gutting cites the security measures her department has established to protect its students.

“In times of political tension, we routinely monitor the situation in the places Notre Dame students live,” said Gutting. “We have a University Committee that meets regularly to discuss security matters. We consult with other universities, sharing information and learning about their safety precautions.”

For the most part, both students and their parents have realized the lengths the International Studies Department has gone to protect them, and few are fearful of the prospect of studying abroad. This sense of well-being was not felt to as great an extent last year when several students cancelled their trips due to concerns about their safety.

Junior Cassandra Gomez is preparing to spend her spring semester in Athens, Greece and is relatively unconcerned about leaving the United States despite anti-American sentiment in that country. Gomez, who has traveled the world extensively, thinks that the opportunity to experience a foreign way of life is too important to pass up. Although she understands why other students may feel endangered while abroad, she does not feel that fear. She plans to travel to the various islands that surround Greece as well as visit friends in other European nations during her stay in Athens. She said traveling is not something to fear as long as one uses common sense and is aware of the surroundings at all times.

“If you adapt to a culture and have respect for that culture, there is nothing to fear,” Gomez said. “I want to take advantage of being in a new part of the world.”

Terriss Conterato, a junior who will be studying in Fremantle, Australia this spring, is also not overly fearful about the possibility of danger abroad. She believes that, because she is American, she might be asked to explain certain policies that the United States has used in its foreign relations, but does not feel that there is a significant probability of day-to-day violence directed toward Americans. Australia has sent forces to fight with the United States in Iraq, and its government has generally been supportive of America’s efforts in that region. She stressed that her program director has given all students in Australia the freedom to travel to different countries as long as they check the travel advisories and exercise caution.

“I will still try to travel; I will just have to be safe in how I do it. If you use common sense, the administrators of the Fremantle program said it can be very safe for Americans,” said Conterato.

Although the relationship between China and the United States has also been strained as of late, Notre Dame students have shown relatively little fear about traveling to Asia. Sophomore Dana Lee has applied to the program in Shanghai for the fall of 2004 to study Chinese culture and further her interest in international relations. Lee is aware of the various dangers that are associated with traveling to Asian countries, but says they do not concern her enough to prevent her from studying abroad. She also realizes the recent outbreak of the SARS virus could pose a potential risk to her health, but said the International Studies program will inform her of any dangers.

“I trust that ND wouldn’t send us somewhere they think to be unsafe,” said Lee.

Justin Doyle, a sophomore that is in the process of deciding whether to study abroad in Dublin, Ireland or Tokyo, Japan, sums up the sentiment of many students in his remarks that he does not fear for his safety in these countries, but rather has concerns about how easy it will be to immerse himself in a foreign culture.

“My biggest fears deal with assimilating to other cultures rather than violence,” Doyle said.