Westhampton College student Natalie Schull was in London for the weekend when the Paris attacks shook the world last November. Out to dinner with her friends from Richmond, Schull received the call from the Office of International Education that changed the course of her time abroad.
“As the news began to develop, I knew that I wasn’t going back on Sunday like I had originally planned,” Schull said of returning to Paris, where she was studying.
Two hundred and twenty-seven University of Richmond students were spanned across Europe when the devastating attacks hit on Nov. 13, 2015 — Europe’s worst terrorist attack in 11 years. But despite the chilling events and threats of terrorism, the numbers of students applying to Europe — and France — has increased from last year, according to the OIE. Study abroad students both past and future are undaunted by the terrorism, not wanting such circumstances to hinder their once-in-a-lifetime experiences in Europe.
David Ruffini, a junior who studied abroad in Barcelona last semester, was initially uneasy being in Europe after the attacks. Ruffini and his friends had been planning a trip to Marrakech, Morocco for the weekend following the attacks. “We considered not going, but we weren’t going to let the fear of a terrorist attack dictate our travels,” Ruffini said.
Sophomore Charlotte Marks, who is applying to Paris and Normandy for Fall 2016, is also not letting terrorism affect where she wants to study. “Everywhere unfortunately is just as unsafe, and if we’re being realistic, Paris is probably the safest city in Europe right now,” Marks said.
Michele Cox, director of study abroad for Richmond, said that a few students mentioned to their study abroad advisers that their parents expressed concerns about them studying in France. But with 11 students applying to France (a two-person increase from last year) and 251 applying to Europe for Fall 2016, study abroad is just as popular as ever, according to the OIE.
“The OIE has a robust crisis management plan for crises that may occur abroad including a terrorist attack. The dean of OIE and upper-level administration determine the university’s handling of any crisis, with an emphasis on communication strategies so our community knows what is happening,” Cox said.
Schull ended up never returning to Paris after the attacks, a tough decision she had to make given her situation. “I ultimately decided to go home early straight from London because I lived alone in the heart of Paris and had to commute 20 minutes on the RER train by myself, which I just didn’t feel safe doing,” she said.
Yet Schull was very encouraging of students who want to study there in the fall. “Knowing what I know now, I would 100 percent go back if given the opportunity to do so. Situations like these are so unexpected, and I learned that you can't live in fear because of them,” she said.
Notification of most abroad programs for Fall 2016 applications is Feb. 23.
Contact reporter Kay Trulaske at firstname.lastname@example.org.