Study abroad office ensures safety to students abroad

Kennedy Nolen, Staff Reporter

When unexpected or traumatic events happen in other countries, the Office of Study Abroad at Eastern has one main priority for students who are overseas: their safety.

Disasters like the terrorist attacks in Paris last November and an earthquake that shook up central Italy on Sunday, Oct. 30 are examples of these unpredictable events.

Kurt Olausen, the director of study abroad, said Eastern students studying in Italy were all out of the country because of fall break and were not affected by the earthquake.

In regards to the attacks last year in Paris, no one studying in Europe was in France at the time.

The Office of Study Abroad emailed students studying in Europe immediately after the terrorist attacks in Paris. Olausen said since the countries are so close and traveling is fairly cheap, the office wanted to be sure no one was there for the weekend.

Randall Beebe, an English professor and director of graduate studies, was in London with a group of Eastern students when Aldgate, Russell Square and Edgware Road tube stations and a bus in Tavistock Square were bombed in 2005.

After the bombings happened, the whole city of London had no cell service, so he had to call people back at Eastern using a pay phone.

The group did not have any plans made out ahead of time about what to do in case of such an event, he said.

“It’s very different now. The Office of Study Abroad helps faculty leaders plan for various emergencies before the trip,” Beebe said. “Emergency events may not happen in any scripted way; however, helping students think ahead of time about a range of things to do may help in those first critical minutes.”

Olausen said if students are potentially in a dangerous situation the Office of Study Abroad reaches out to them to make sure they are safe.

“If an event happens, the national insurance plan covers you in case you need to go home,” he said.

The national insurance company emails the office daily with risk advisements about natural disasters and even transit strikes.

The Department of Homeland Security emails a compilation of news from around the world, including travel warnings and alerts.

Certain U.S. embassies also issue warnings and alerts for certain countries, cities and areas.

Olausen said he gets all of these emails as well.

The Office of Study Abroad works with the insurance company and their services to get students home as quickly as possible or evacuated from a dangerous situation.

Olausen said he wants to ensure students that there is no way he or the Office of Study Abroad would knowingly send a student to a dangerous place or country.

At the last place Olausen worked, the University of Cincinnati, a student was studying abroad with a program provider in Egypt during the Arab Spring, a series of democratic uprisings all over Arab territories.

He said the program worked to get the group of students there out of the country, which took about four days.

“We are ready for these things. We know what to do when it happens. I hope we never have to use the insurance, but we have it just in case,” Olausen said.

After the Study Abroad Fair in late September, some students had interest in going to France, but their parents were skeptical because of the multiple attacks in Paris and Nice, Olausen said.

He said the Office of Study Abroad wants students to make their own decision on what they are willing to risk.

Olausen said unstable countries like Syria and others in the Middle East do not have a high demand for study abroad options.

He said the United Arab Emirates and Jordan have great programs for students who would like to go to that part of the world; however, no students are in that area.

To stay safe while abroad, Olausen said students should pay attention to their surroundings and follow the news.

The Office of Study Abroad encourages students to register with the “Smart Travelers Program,” which is organized by the U.S Department of State.

Members will get texts and emails from the U.S embassy in the country they are staying in.

Olausen said not to let traumatic events deter students from seeing the world and not to let the possibility of these disasters scare them.

“The only way we can get past this violence is people getting to know each other,” he said.

He said terrorism could happen in any city around the world.

“If you hole up at home and don’t do anything, the terrorists win,” Olausen said. “They scared you into not living your life.”


Kennedy Nolen can be reached at 581-2812 or [email protected]