Last week, terror attacks in Brussels brought Belgian transportation and other parts of Europe to a halt.
In the immediate aftermath of the attacks, the USF World and the Education Abroad Office sent out notifications to students studying abroad in Europe at the time.
According to Roger Brindley, Vice Provost and USF System Associate Vice President for USF World, the two USF Sarasota-Manatee administrators in Brussels at the time of the attacks, Regional Chancellor Sandra Stone and Director of Global Engagement Amela Malkic, were both contacted by 5 a.m. on the morning of March 21.
“Depending on your attitude, the world is equally safe or equally dangerous,” Brindley said. “There is risk to travel in the (U.S.) and there’s risk to travel outside the (U.S.). We don’t minimize that risk, but what we make sure we do is we take every reasonable opportunity to make sure that we create programs where our students will be safe.
“We will not send students abroad if we’re not satisfied that we have made a very strong effort to make sure that it’s a well thought out of and secure program.”
Brindley said USF World advised the two faculty members to follow the directions of their Belgian hosts. The two returned to the U.S. on Friday, unharmed.
To him, the swiftness of USF’s response and the level of contact USF World had with the two show a kind of assurance he wants students to take to heart.
“We don’t take this lightly,” Brindley said.
What Brindley doesn’t want is for students to see the events in Brussels and be scared to travel abroad. While he finds the attacks appalling, he emphasized that students must put the risk of themselves being the victim of such an event in perspective.
According to research from the Forum of Education Abroad, based on work from a statistical analysis firm, studying abroad is just as dangerous, though often less, than staying on campus.
According to data reported in the Chronicle of Higher Education, “students in the (U.S.) are an estimated 2.18 times as likely to die as their classmates overseas.”
The data was collected from travel insurance claims for 147,000 students. This was compared to a 2013 study focused on mortality rates on 157 college campuses in the U.S. The mortality rate for those abroad was 13.5 per 100,000 students while the mortality rate for those staying on their respective campuses was 29.4 deaths per 100,000 students.
According to the Florida Department of Law Enforcement, there were 489 murders from January 2015 to June 2015 in the state of Florida alone.
Brindley did not want to downplay the Brussels tragedy but wanted students to understand that traveling abroad is not as dangerous as they may think. USF World and Education Abroad have a series of resources in place for abroad students, including a 24/7 emergency hotline.
“You might be abroad, but you’re still a USF student and that’s our commitment,” he said.
Each program USF creates in Education Abroad is evaluated by Ben Chamberlain, International Risk and Security Officer for USF World, to ensure they are safe for students to go on.
In cases of serious disasters such as the 2011 tsunami that struck Japan, USF students studying abroad are brought back to the U.S.
Brindley advised students to talk to the Office of Education Abroad if they are nervous about traveling abroad or are signed up for a program this summer and are now wary.
“It’s important that students don’t throw a whole continent out,” Brindley said.
No students were evacuated after the Brussels attacks.
The last major attack in Europe took place in Paris, France in November 2015. Terrorist bombings have also happened in Turkey, Russia and Yemen since January.
“Those individual, isolated events stick in our minds, but they’re not the norm,” Brindley said.
He emphasized the ability for students to put risk, safety and security into context. He pointed out that USF ranks 16th in the nation for most graduates who have gone into the Peace Corps, tied with University of Illinois at Urbana-Champaign, University of California Los Angeles, University of Oregon and James Madison University.
He thinks students do understand the value of being active in a global world.
“Otherwise, we’d never leave our houses,” Brindley said. “We’d stay at home, we’d put bubble wrap around us and we would have our groceries delivered. But that’s not how we want to live in our world.”