Op-Ed: Is it still safe to study abroad?

Op-Ed: Is it still safe to study abroad?

With the world seemingly in turmoil, and random attacks affecting nearly every major country, some college students (and their families) are beginning to wonder if their lifelong dreams of studying abroad are still worth reaching for. So, is it still safe to study abroad?

What, if any, are the threats of studying abroad?

Just as with any sort of travelling, there is always some inherent risk, and that, of course, varies by location. Obviously, the Middle East is a more dangerous place to be than the U.K., and it’d be better to be in Italy than Russia. That said, other students may worry about coming to the United States, particularly with the amount of domestic terrorism and rioting we have been dealing with lately.

But, it may calm your nerves to learn that this is not a new issue. Students have been studying abroad since colleges were invented, even during times of war and crisis. This is nothing unheard of. According to Inside Higher Ed, less than a decade ago, over one hundred American students were studying abroad in Syria!

Moreover, less than 40 students travelled to Egypt in the 2013-14 academic year, when just five years prior, over 1,000 chose the country as their study aboard destination! When the United States government recognizes an actual threat, they’ll pull the students out of there, as they have done in the past. But, for now, if your school has a program set up with another country, you’re probably safe to go there.

What are other students doing?

Most students are still interested in furthering their education elsewhere in the world, despite the risk. In fact, after the attacks in Brussels, Belgium, last spring, most students didn’t want to (and did not) return home. And schools aren’t requiring them to, so long as the U.S. government doesn’t issue a formal warning.

The real concern lies in the eyes of parents, who, oftentimes, demand their children return to the U.S. after a terrorist attack plagues another country. It’s pretty natural for parents to worry, though: it’s generally up to the student if they want to comply with their family’s wishes or not. One thing’s for sure: students don’t seem to be slowing down their travel plans just yet.

So, what’s the verdict?

In my opinion, it would be foolish to give up your dream of studying abroad for such a small risk. While there clearly is danger in some parts of the world, similar problems could be seen on college campuses in the United States. It seems that it is no safer to stay here than to go halfway around the world.

That said, many officials do recommend being vigilant while studying abroad. Be aware of your surroundings, travel in groups, and avoid largely-populated events, like concerts and festivals. Check on your friends if they get separated from you, and try not to lose valuables like wallets, passports, and phones that could be of use later. Additionally, with the threat of diseases like Zika looming, be sure to stay healthy, get vaccinated, and wash your hands often: your body may not be as immune to these foreign diseases as they would be back in the States.

If you’re looking into the possibility of studying abroad, I suggest you go for it! Be careful about it, for sure, and trust your instincts when deciding on where to go, but odds are, it will be the time of your life. 

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