As one of the top universities in the nation for number of students studying abroad, University of Wisconsin must take precautions and considerations when evaluating program safety.
The recent terrorist attacks in Belgium and France have caused UW to reevaluate its travel guidelines and put some of its safety precautions into action. It also caused the university to evaluate the safety of these European study abroad locations.
Calculating the risk
The university monitors a variety of resources when assessing the safety and security of study abroad programs, Ronald Machoian, UW international safety and security director, said.
Several of these resources include the U.S. Department of State travel warning system and the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention. In addition, Machoian said UW exchanges information with more than 50 colleges and universities around the nation with international programming, and is part of a network of professional international safety and security directors.
“We believe that the scope and credibility of these resources provide us with a strong basis to assess locations overseas and to consider risks that are present, our exposure to those risks as a university community and how we can minimize that exposure,” Machoian said.
When it comes to assessing whether a program may need to be closed or suspended, UW also considers program affordability, academic outcomes and course availability in addition to safety and security factors, he said.
A large part of assessing the safety and security of students, however, comes from the ability of the program’s local infrastructure to respond and investigate terrorism or criminal violence, Machoian said.
For example, in 2010 during the Jasmine Revolution in Tunisia, student study abroad programming was suspended because the university had no way of assessing the nation’s public infrastructure due to its lack of a cohesive government structure, he said.
After two-year hiatus due to Arab Spring, Tunisia study abroad program continuesAfter a two-year hiatus due to violence related to the Arab Spring uprising, University of Wisconsin is again offering a Read…
Machoian said the program in Tunisia was moved promptly out of the country because the university “lacked the confidence” to help students caught in the crossfire of the revolution as well as help plan student programming avoid the risks in Tunisia at that time.
Though this “period of uncertainty” passed, Machoian said Tunisia remains on the U.S. Department of States’ travel warnings list, and under UW travel guidelines policy, any student that wishes to travel there must first obtain a waiver reviewed and approved by the vice provost and dean of the International Division.
Egypt was also placed on this list in 2011 during a period of violence and uncertainty in the government’s infrastructure. But it has since been taken off the list, Machoian said.
Monitoring the situation
With the recent terrorist attacks in Belgium and France, UW analyzed the safety and security of students traveling to those countries and agreed the factors that resulted in the suspension of the Egypt and Tunisia programs were not present, Machoian said.
In fact, Machoian said UW participated in several meetings with universities across the country. All the universities overwhelmingly agreed the public infrastructures in France and Belgium were capable of providing resources to students in need and were safe environments.
“While there have been horrific events in Paris and Brussels, the public agencies and infrastructure in both France and Belgium remain intact and able to interdict, respond to and investigate terrorist and criminal actions,” he said.
Though neither France or Belgium are deemed to be “unsafe environments,” Turkey is currently under the U.S. Department of State’s travel warning, Machoian said. Like Tunisia, students interested in traveling there must first acquire a waiver approved by the vice provost and dean of the International Division.
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An inside perspective
Max Walczyk, a UW junior, has been studying at SciencesPo in Paris since late August 2015. After the November attacks in France, Walczyk said the university told him to follow the instructions of local authorities — the best advice he thought they could give considering the situation.
Walczyk said he received directions from the French government and police as well as the U.S. State Department. He said their help made him feel “a lot more secure.”
Many people were on edge and alert, Walczyk recalled, and many exchange students at Science Po returned home. But, he said he felt safe in Paris as anywhere else.
Update: All UW students abroad in Paris are safe, university officials say[Update 9:33 p.m.: UW spokesperson John Lucas confirmed all UW students studying abroad in Paris are safe and accounted for.] All Read…
Despite the attacks in November, Walczyk said he has enjoyed his time studying abroad and “wouldn’t trade it for anything in the world.” He said he hopes anyone considering applying to a study aboard program is not deterred by the previous events.
“In my case, my program has allowed me to discuss and process these events with students from all over the world, an opportunity that I likely would not have had if I had stayed on Madison’s campus all four years,” Walczyk said. “I think that it’s that type of dialogue that allows us to deal with the pain of these tragic events and hopefully prevent similar events from occurring in the future.”
This article was updated to state Egypt had been under travel warning during Egypt’s revolution in 2011.