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Amid global fear of terror groups, UNT officials talk student safety abroad

Amid global fear of terror groups, UNT officials talk student safety abroad

Amid global fear of terror groups, UNT officials talk student safety abroad
February 01
13:09 2016

Tiffany Ditto | Staff Writer


Despite the rise of the Islamic State, and its increasingly long reach around the world, UNT wants students to not be deterred from studying abroad in one of more than 800 programs available to the student body.

UNT’s study abroad office acknowledged the increased international threat from terror groups like the Islamic State and Boko Haram. Attacks are unpredictable, but university officials said they do everything they can to ensure the likelihood of a student being around one of these attacks is as low as possible.

According to the study abroad office the university examines three areas to determine the safety of those traveling: the country itself, the program and the student traveling.

At the country level the university looks at the destination country and monitors the safety of these locations through resources at the U.S. State Department. The program level has a “thorough application process for faculty.” On the individual level the university provides every student with a pre-departure orientation, where students are given lessons in personal safety and how to respond in emergency situation.

“[The students] are given detailed guidance on how to respond to natural disasters or other emergencies in the country,” Am Amy Shenberger, the study abroad director, said. “Incidents have certainly occurred, usually routine, like a student sprains their ankle or gets appendicitis.”

Shenberger also said the study abroad office has an emergency response plan for almost every situation.

Currently there are 27 faculty-led programs set to take place this summer alone. These programs span over 15 countries, and are anywhere from three to eight weeks long.

Professor Ozlem Altiok is leading a program in Turkey this summer.

“We will be in Istanbul, a truly global and cosmopolitan city,” Altiok said in an email. “A couple of my students who had been planning to go told me that their parents had concerns about their safety. As a parent, I understand that parents have a heightened sense of threat, but as a teacher-scholar, I have to ask should we then expect people to cancel their trips to Boston or Disneyland or New York after each school shooting?

Altiok said she takes a trip to Istanbul every year and does not feel unsafe there. Students should trust the faculty member they are traveling with, because the faculty member knows the area and the people, making the trip safer, she said.

“I suspect that a lot of fear stems from not knowing the place,” Altiok said. “Istanbul and Turkey as a whole may be going through tough times, politically speaking, but what country is not? Istanbul is a great city, and as safe as all cities its size and greatness.”

Sociology junior Allie Davila, who studied in Buenos Aires, Argentina last year, said the study abroad office did help her in preparing for the trip.

“They had a session and warned you of the dangers of walking alone,” Davila said. “They told you to try not to ‘look American,’ and try to blend it.”

Davila loved her study abroad experience and didn’t want to come back. She said the instructors not only taught the students, but made an effort to invite the students out to take in the culture. Davila wants students looking to go abroad to know that it’s these outings that make the experience so memorable.

“I [made] a lot of friends that I still talk to,” Davila said. “It’s important to pay attention to what UNT tells you, but definitely go out. Just go out and walk around, get lost and people will help you.”

Students looking to study abroad later this year can still sign up for some of the programs until March 1.

“It’s important for students to know there’s risk everywhere,” Shenberger said. “All travel comes with risk and it’s our responsibility to make sure students are well-informed when they study abroad.”

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