Recent security concerns in Europe over threats of terrorism have had a limited impact on Yale students studying abroad this semester, though they have taken a heavy toll on students from countries that have been targeted over the past month.
The U.S. State Department issued an advisory on March 22 alerting travelers to the risks of going to Europe, following a series of coordinated bombings in Brussels earlier that day that killed 32 civilians and wounded over 300 others. Subsequent investigations into the attacks, which were perpetrated by the Islamic State, also known as ISIS, revealed a larger terrorist network in Europe and linked the Brussels attacks to last November’s Paris attacks, which left 130 dead. While no Yale students are participating in study abroad or fellowship programs in Brussels, 26 students are currently in continental Europe on programs coordinated through the University.
Government officials in Europe have since warned that further attacks could occur in other major cities. Jane Edwards, dean of the Center for International and Professional Experience, said her office has not been in contact with students abroad in Europe, as coordinators for individual programs can be more effective at providing oversight and support to students than the Yale administration.
“When a broad warning of this kind is issued by the State Department, we ordinarily only communicate with students abroad if it suggests that there is significance of which students might not be aware, or if there is something that we can do to be helpful, or reasons why we are anxious about their safety,” Edwards said.
The State Department also issued a warning on Tuesday against travel to Turkey following recent terrorist attacks in the country’s major cities. On March 19, a suicide bombing took place on a busy Istanbul shopping street, killing four foreigners. Six days earlier, a bombing took place in the capital city of Ankara, killing 37 people and injuring 127. The State Department’s message cautioned that terrorists may be explicitly targeting U.S. tourists. No Yale students are currently studying in Turkey, Director of Study Abroad Kelly McLaughlin said.
McLaughlin said none of the students abroad in Europe have contacted the CIPE expressing safety concerns with respect to terrorism. Edwards, however, said “one or two” students have indicated that they will not be participating in programs in Brussels this coming summer because their parents are anxious for their safety.
Three students interviewed on campus said they would not be any less likely to study abroad in Europe because of the recent attacks or warnings by the State Department.
“To not would be ceding victory to the terrorists, and terrorism is just something we have to deal with in the 21st century,” Thomas Yabroff ’16 said.
But this sentiment appears not to be shared by the general population: The Wall Street Journal reported on Monday that hotel occupancy rates plummeted in Brussels, Paris and London within days after last week’s attacks. After the Paris attacks, the United Nations World Travel Organization in January predicted a smaller rise in tourist arrivals in Europe in 2016 compared to last year.
Charlie Bardey ’17, who is studying abroad in Amsterdam this semester, said recent events have had no bearing whatsoever on his daily life. He added that he has not noticed an additional police presence and life in the city has remained unchanged.
Likewise, Leigh Vila ’17, who is participating in Yale-in-London this semester, said the attacks have not impacted her daily life in the city. She suggested that the lack of major change may be due to the attacks that London has endured over the years, and the sharpened security measures as a result.
“Londoners have always known that their city is a major target for attacks, but they don’t let this knowledge stop them from going out, using the metro, et cetera,” Vila said. “That would just put life to a standstill, and the last thing that they or anyone else should do is let the fear of terrorist attacks stop them from living.”
However, Stephanie Anaya ’17 said the coordinators of her study abroad program, the Consortium for Advanced Studies in Barcelona, have become very strict about ensuring students register their trips with the program for safety reasons. Anaya said she was in the airport in Barcelona on the day of the bombings in Brussels and saw special police with large guns on patrol there and in the metro.
Besides the Brussels bombings, however, Anaya pointed to several other incidents that have made her uneasy about safety while abroad in Europe, even though they were not connected to terrorism. Last week, a bus returning to Barcelona from a music festival in Valencia crashed, killing 13 international students. Her professors also commemorated the first anniversary of the crash of Germanwings Flight 9525, in which 150 people died after boarding the plane in Barcelona.
“All of this tragedy occurring really makes us nervous about traveling and wanting to enjoy our time abroad,” Anaya said.
Though no students are currently studying abroad in Turkey or Belgium, students who come from the two countries say they have been significantly impacted by the attacks, with many having been home on spring break when they occurred.
Taha Ramazanoglu ’17, a student from Istanbul, spoke to the emotional strain the attacks have put on him.
“I started thinking more about comforts like safety and security that we take for granted in our everyday lives, particularly when we are focused on our studies at Yale,” Ramazanoglu said.
Mehmet Saka ’17, who is also from Istanbul, said he was home in Istanbul when the bombings happened on March 19. He said the explosion occurred 50 meters from his high school, and that most of his friends were depressed and afraid to leave their houses that day.
Leyla Levi ’16, a student from Istanbul, was in San Francisco during the bombings, but said this was even more difficult as her family and friends were at home in Istanbul and she felt disconnected from the events and a community with which to grieve. This sense of disconnection was enhanced by the apparent lack of media coverage of the bombings in Turkey by Western news media, she said.
Other students also spoke to the lack of media coverage of the bombings in Turkey. Saka said that once he returned to Yale from spring break, he was disappointed to find that some of his friends were unaware of the bombings, at times mistakenly believing that he was referring to the Brussels bombings in their conversations.
Vila said she was concerned about how much more attention was being paid to suffering in Western cities like Paris and Brussels when compared with Yemen or Afghanistan, which see terrorist attacks regularly. Dozens of people were also killed earlier this month in blasts in Pakistan and Nigeria.
Amen Jalal ’17, who is from Lahore, Pakistan, where a bomb exploded on Easter Sunday and killed 72 people, said waking up and having to call her family to make sure they were unharmed was incredibly stressful.
“Even though my friends and family were safe, I am, to this moment, still deeply disturbed, frustrated and angered by the fact that Lahore, after all these years, has once again been targeted by terrorism, and that too through its women and children,” Jalal said.
Jalal added that she has accepted that strife in Pakistan will always receive less media coverage.
Though Levi was frustrated with how much less attention was being paid to the bombings in Turkey, she said these instances are opportunities for people to come together and grieve for the victims of attacks that happen all over the world.
“If anything, we should be latching onto the similarities of these tragedies everywhere as sort of a radical project in empathy,” she said.
The travel alert for Europe expires on June 20.
Correction, March 31: A previous version of this article used an unauthorized quotation from a Belgian student. The News regrets the error.