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    Students studying abroad undaunted by recent terrorism

    15studyabroad - R??ichard Nzekwu, a student at Northeastern University, visiting "Le Louvre" museum in Paris, France on May 10. (handout)
    Richard Nzekwu, a student at Northeastern University, visited the Louvre in Paris.

    Days after gunmen attacked the Charlie Hebdo office in Paris in 2015, killing 12 people, Katharine McCarthy was saying goodbye to her daughter Laurel, a Barnard College student leaving to study abroad in France’s frenzied capital.

    “It was certainly nerve-racking,” McCarthy said, recalling her concern.

    A year and a half later, with France convulsed by further terrorist attacks, the Maryland family is bracing for another emotional farewell: Their youngest daughter, Andrea Brown, a rising junior at Harvard, is heading to Paris in August to study. Like her sister, Brown is undaunted.


    While the drumbeat of terrorism has complicated study-abroad decisions, Brown and other students say they believe the richness of the experience still outweighs the potential dangers.

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    Brittany Ellis, a rising junior at Harvard studying archeology and anthropology, has several last-minute tasks before leaving Thursday for a nine-week trip to Jordan, including brushing up on her Arabic. Stressing out over safety is not among them.

    “I don’t want fear or anxiety to stop me from pursuing what I want to do,” Ellis said. “Be smart, be cautious, but ultimately, nothing is predictable.”

    It’s too soon to know how many students have been deterred by the recent terrorist attacks in leading study abroad destinations like London and Paris. But between 2010 and 2015, the number of students studying abroad grew by 39,419, according to the most recent data by the Institute of International Education.

    Boston-area universities also say they aren’t noticing a trend suggesting that international terrorism is keeping students home.


    Madeleine Estabrook, vice president for student affairs at Northeastern University, said the number of students participating in the school’s study abroad programs continues to grow.

    “If we weren’t making it safe, I don’t think students would want to go on these trips,” she said.

    Though no one can prepare for the unpredictable, Estabrook said, Northeastern works to keep students safe through pre-departure sessions, orientations, and individual safety plans.

    “When something does happen in the world, we reach out to our students who are in the area, and we reach out to parents to explain what we’re doing,” she said. “The communication part has to happen.”

    In the event of a terrorist attack, the college contacts students immediately via social media, text, or e-mail. Even with safety checks in place, Estabrook said, some students have opted to cut their trips short in the aftermath of tragedy.


    “In the Paris situation, we offered people the ability to come home,” she said, referring to the shootings and bombings in Paris in November 2015. She added that none of Northeastern’s students in Manchester, England, wanted to come home following the attack there at a concert on May 22.

    Kalpen Trivedi, executive director of the International Programs Office at the University of Massachusetts Amherst, said the university hasn’t noticed any downturn in study abroad programs this summer and fall. Each year more than 1,200 UMass Amherst students participate in campus-sponsored international programs on every continent but Antarctica, according to their website.

    TOPSHOTS French soldiers patrol in front of the Eiffel Tower on January 8, 2015 in Paris as the capital was placed under the highest alert status a day after heavily armed gunmen shouting Islamist slogans stormed French satirical newspaper Charlie Hebdo and shot dead at least 12 people in the deadliest attack in France in four decades. A huge manhunt for two brothers suspected of massacring 12 people in an Islamist attack at a satirical French weekly zeroed in on a northern town Thursday after the discovery of one of the getaway cars. As thousands of police tightened their net, the country marked a rare national day of mourning for Wednesday's bloodbath at Charlie Hebdo magazine in Paris, the worst terrorist attack in France for half a century. AFP PHOTO / BERTRAND GUAYBERTRAND GUAY/AFP/Getty Images
    AFP/Getty Images
    French soldiers were on patrol at the Eiffel Tower.

    “Students, like a lot of people, are beginning to realize that the sorts of things we see in London and Paris are no different than the things we see in San Bernardino, or Orlando, or New York,” Trivedi said. “These are not risks you can plan for.”

    Still, there’s a balance when considering where students should study abroad. Don’t be fearful, but don’t be foolhardy, he said.

    “We’re not going to send a student to Cairo or Libya,” Trivedi said. “But at the same time we’re not going to cut off all avenues, because things can happen anywhere.”

    That mentality is the reason why Tucker Williams, a rising senior at Bowdoin College in Maine, said he was never worried about terrorism during his recent year abroad.

    “It’s like someone who says they’ll never fly because of those two plane crashes,” Williams said. “I never really was afraid of it.”

    He spent the first semester of his junior year in Copenhagen and the second semester in Budapest, although he traveled all over the world during his time abroad. Of all the places he visited, he said, the threat of terrorism felt tangible when he visited Paris and Berlin.

    “In Paris, everywhere, you’ll see groups of three or four soldiers walking around with large rifles — that’s when it became real,” he said.

    Even so, he said he was never actively worried about terrorism; it was something he never really thought about.

    “My parents were more worried about terrorism than I was,” he said. “My dad would say, ‘Oh, you’ve got to avoid major tourist centers, and tell us where you are.’ ”

    Richard Nzekwu, a student at Northeastern, has been studying in the city of Annecy, in southeastern France, throughout the summer. He said he wasn’t going to let fear factor into his decision to study in France, since, as a French minor, it’s important he practices the language with native speakers.

    “While you should be vigilant, take opportunities that come your way,” Nzekwu said. “You never know when you’ll get them again.”

    Bowdoin College student Tucker Williams, right, and a friend in Amsterdam during Williams' past year studying abroad.
    Bowdoin College student Tucker Williams (right) and a friend in Amsterdam during Williams' year studying abroad.

    Kiana Cole can be reached at Follow her on Twitter @kianamcole.