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Just in time for the U.S. Department of State’s travel alert in Europe, Penn has created a new way of keeping students and faculty abroad safe.

Last month, Penn launched the Global Activities Registry, a program which fosters Penn connections abroad and ensures safety for travelers.

Students and faculty going abroad have always been provided with pre-orientation sessions prepping them on what to expect, but with this new tool the University can instantly track its abroad community and keep everyone informed.

By registering on the global activities link, people abroad can not only identify every Penn person in their area, but also receive automatic e-mails from Penn based on the area in which they are residing — and even where they are visiting, if they register their trip.

Office of International Programs Executive Director Anne Waters called the tool “a way to both support our community abroad as well as help the University plan for similar activity in the future.”

Waters described a past situation in which a music group comprised of Penn students was denied entry into Great Britain due to lack of visas.

“If this tool had been available and they had registered this trip, this kind of situation could have been prevented,” she said, citing the fact that the Global Activities Registry sends e-mail blasts with pertinent travel information.

College junior Henry Litman is studying abroad in Leuven, Belgium, and has signed up with the Global Activities Registry.

Litman said that since Penn Abroad requires you to register your trip with the State Department, he would receive e-mails about crises even without the school’s help.

However, last week, Litman received three safety e-mails, and one was from Penn. The first two from the State Department told him to avoid Brussels and to stay away from crowded areas, but “Penn sent me an e-mail saying that they didn’t think I had to cancel trips.”

In this case, Litman said that “because Penn probably cares more about my well being than the State Department, I was more comfortable traveling after I got that e-mail.”

Litman had not used the tool to register for other trips earlier in his semester abroad, but listed as an example “if there was just a list of stuff to be aware of for a Munich visit from Penn then I would definitely use that.” A new feature of the program allows students to get information relevant to places they are traveling, in addition to the place where they usually study.

College senior Elena Vespoli was abroad in Italy last year before this program was available and was surrounded by people “freaking out” about the swine flu break out.

“The stores in my town in Italy were sold out of hand sanitizer because people were so scared. We didn’t really know what was going on,” she said.

Vespoli said she doesn’t know if more information would have changed her travel plans but that it “would have been nice to have that kind of information provided by Penn.”

Anthropology professor Brian Spooner thinks the initiative is a “wonderful idea” because, according to him, the world is changing faster and faster and good communication is always necessary.

Since Spooner travels in the Middle East, he said, “Particularly the parts of the world I travel in people outside the country are better informed than those within it.” He reasoned that any information from the school would be well received.

As for the social aspect, Spooner said he has made acquaintances from Penn while abroad that he would have never met on campus. “Very often one doesn’t know what people from Penn are there,” he explained.

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