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Penn students are still enthusiastic about studying abroad, despite the growing threat of terrorism in Europe. 

Credit: Jessica McDowell

With the attacks in Paris and Brussels still in recent memory, terrorism is on Penn students’ radars as a potential hazard for study abroad programs, especially in Western Europe. But a few students say they don’t see the violence as a threat to their plans.

College sophomore Bryn Friedenberg plans to study in London next semester, and she also participated in a program in Venice over the summer.

“I knew that I wanted to [study abroad] before I came to college,” she said. “It’s hard to find that kind of opportunity outside of it.”

The program in London, at Goldsmiths, University of London, ties in especially well with Friedenberg’s Visual Studies major at Penn, and she hasn’t been dissuaded from moving forward with her plans in light of the recent attacks.

“It’s just one of those things — that just as easily I could be in danger for another reason,” she said.

College junior Carrie Li is currently abroad in London, studying at the Architectural Association School of Architecture. She said she was accepted to the program late last semester, so she “already kind of knew that these things were happening in Europe.”

She also felt that there was talk about London possibly being especially vulnerable for an attack.

“Last year people were saying that London is next,” she said, but added, “I thought since it was something I’d wanted to do for such a long time I couldn’t let that keep me from doing what I want to do.”

College sophomore and Daily Pennsylvanian opinion columnist Ben Facey, who plans to study at Kings College in London next semester for the English program there, said terrorism wasn’t a factor when he applied in December, a month after the Paris attacks.

“I thought about it but not in terms of study abroad at all,” he said. “It didn’t affect that decision.”

It may be easy to think that since London is somewhat removed from Paris and Brussels, at least compared to the rest of Western Europe, students’ lack of concern would be expected. But College junior Peter Herbst, who was studying in Paris at the time of the attacks, said he still thinks he would have moved forward with his plans, had an attack already happened. He said carrying on with the things he likes to do is his “favorite form of personal protest” in the face of terrorism like the kind committed in Paris.

“[Paris] was somewhere I’ve always wanted to study abroad,” said Herbst, who is minoring in French. “I think I ultimately still would have gone because that’s the best way I know how to stand up to that sort of violence.”

Herbst still acknowledged that a previous attack would have complicated things, especially with the kind of support he would receive from his parents, and in his own decision making.

“I think it would be hard for it to not be on your mind,” he said.

Herbst also said the registration for the specific program that he participated in seems to be dropping.

“Just recently our program director reached out to us to ask us to personally campaign for the program,” he said, adding that they’ve been receiving “historically low numbers of applications.”

After attacks happen like the ones in Paris and Brussels, Penn Abroad makes every effort to confirm the safety of students in the area. Administrators at Penn and on the ground attempt to contact students via phone and email. After the Paris attacks, Penn Director of International Risk Management Jaime Molyneux sent an email to all Penn students in France on the night of the attacks to confirm that they were ok, even though she knew some of them were unlikely to be in the Paris area. Continuous email alerts were also sent out from International SOS, a partner program that is described on the Penn Abroad website as “the leading medical assistance, international healthcare and security assistance company." 

Following the Paris attacks, Penn Abroad Associate Director Rochelle Keesler, who oversees all study abroad programs in France, also sent an email to all Penn students reminding them of all on-campus resources available to students while abroad, including Counseling and Psychological Services and Student Intervention Services.

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