Rising Wharton sophomore Jammil Telfort was playing video games when he first learned of the attack in Manchester, England on May 22.
His mother was in her room watching the news on TV, when she called out to him.
“I’m not sure how comfortable I am letting you go to London anymore,” Telfort recalled his mother saying.
For Telfort, along with many other Penn students who will be traveling to the United Kingdom this summer, the Manchester attack holds a greater significance.
He reassured his mother that he would be careful, and the question of whether or not Telfort would change his summer plans has not been revisited. Without any unanticipated change of plans, Telfort will join two dozen other Penn students for the Penn-in-London study abroad program this summer.
The Penn-in-London program is run out of the Penn Summer office — not the Penn Abroad office, which does not offer any summer academic credit programs.
The director of Penn Abroad, Nigel Cossar, said in an email that Penn did not have any students studying in Manchester this semester and that they have no plans to change any semester study-abroad programs in the U.K. for the fall.
After the threat level in the U.K. was raised to 'critical,' Penn’s Director of International Risk Management Jaime Molyneux sent out an email on May 24 to those registered to be traveling in the U.K. this summer, as recorded in the Penn’s Global Activities Registry.
Molyneux’s email included the travel advisory from International SOS, which consisted of several bullet points of advice. It noted that travelers should exercise caution especially in crowded areas. It also mentioned that they should expect, but “not be unduly alarmed,” by heightened security everywhere in the U.K. Molyneux also encouraged them to register with the United States State Department's Smart Traveler Program.
Molyneux did not respond to a further request for comment.
Less than four hours later, the program director of Penn-in-London and an associate professor of English, Michael Gamer, sent the program participants a long, personal email, in which he recounted his experience as director of the program in 2005 when the July 7 bombings in London occurred.
“Like you, I’ve been reading about the Manchester attack with sadness and with some concern about Theresa May’s raising of the threat level to critical,” he said. “I’m writing to you because I’ve had some experience with attacks while traveling abroad.”
Gamer recapped his experience in 2005 and explained how he confirmed that all the students were safe. He then explained some general safety tips that he, personally, will follow while in London. Overall, Gamer noted that, as a city, London is likely safer than Philadelphia for those living there.
“I’m hoping that there are no attacks anywhere in Europe while we’re there, but given the state of the world one can’t bet on that,” Gamer wrote. “Still, if you don’t drive, statistically you’re still probably safer in London than in a car, whether in the U.S. or U.K.”
For other students who plan on traveling to London this summer, however, it was only at the moment that May raised the threat level to ‘critical’ that their personal summer plans were even in question.
Rising College sophomore Sophia Carlson will be traveling to London with five of her other friends from Penn and some friends from home, taking a course at the London School of Economics, a very popular summer option for Penn students.
Carlson said that it’s striking to her that the same amount of fear does not exist when a terrorist attack, or something of a similar nature, occurs domestically as it does when something occurs internationally.
“Whenever something happens domestically,” Carlson said, “I’ve never seen a headline, or I’ve never heard murmurs of people saying, ‘Oh, I don’t want to go to New York City anymore, I don’t want to go to Florida anymore’ or anything like that.”
“Personally, I think unless the threat level were to be overwhelming,” Carlson added, “to keep me from traveling would be very difficult.”
Rising College sophomore Alyssa Mulé, who will be participating in the Penn-in-London program, identified with what Gamer wrote in his email about not giving in to terrorism.
“The word terror or terrorist, in and of itself, implies [that] that’s what they’re breeding,” Mulé said. “That’s their goal, so as Americans especially, it’s important to obviously not be unsafe, but to defy it in some way.”
Being faced with the decision of whether or not to cancel travel plans because of terrorism is not unfamiliar to Mulé. This past December, Mulé’s family planned on traveling to Germany to visit the Christmas markets. Just 48 hours before they planned to leave, a bomb erupted in a Christmas market in Berlin, leaving 12 people dead and 56 injured. For that reason, Mule’s family decided to cancel their trip.
In addition to those participating in the Penn-in-London program and those attending the London School of Economics, many Penn students travel to London for different opportunities.
“I really love London simply because so many different people from Penn or from the [international] high school I grew with, they’re all going to be there,” rising College and Wharton sophomore Nicholas Strauch said. “And therefore, I find London is a place where a lot of people of international background end up conversing and coming together.”
Strauch will be in London this summer interning for a private equity firm, but plans on making his way up to Manchester while in the country. Having grown up in Germany, Strauch has friends all over the world. One of his closest childhood friends currently attends the University of Manchester, and on the night of the attack his friend’s family reached out to Strauch’s family afraid that their son wouldn’t come home.
Strauch’s friend was safe that night, but when Strauch checked social media, posts from his friends in the international community flooded his newsfeed, expressing fear of another attack. Nonetheless, changing summer plans never seemed to be an option for Strauch.
“Penn students are people who know what they want to do and they will continue to do that even when these obstacles get in their way, and that’s especially true when it comes to an attack like the one in Manchester,” Strauch said.
“I think it says a lot that Penn students aren’t going to let something like that change their behavior or ruin their summer, and it shows that they are pretty pretty resilient.”
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