Recent terror attacks abroad have shocked the global community, including bombings in Brussels, Istanbul and Ankara that took place over Spring Break and the November 2015 attacks in Paris. Several Bowdoin students were abroad in Paris when the attacks took place, and there are students studying in Paris and Istanbul this semester as well. 

Director of Off-Campus Study (OCS) and International Programs Christine Wintersteen said that despite the frightening nature of the attacks, OCS is not planning on canceling programs in those countries. She added that all of the abroad programs that Bowdoin has accredited have strong processes for keeping students safe and communicating with them in case of an emergency. 

Maggie Rose ’17 studied abroad with the Vassar-Wesleyan program in Paris, and was with friends in a restaurant in Paris during the attacks. A shooting took place next door to her, and she was two blocks away from the Bataclan theater where 89 concert goers were killed. 

Rose said that when the attacks took place, she immediately received communication from her program checking that she was safe, and helping her to get out of the area. 

“They locked us down for about an hour and then they evacuated us and told us in French to run as far as possible to the left, which was terrifying.”

After getting out of the area of the attacks, Rose said that the central part of the city was still locked down, so she and her friends slept at her program director’s house. She said that she knew the program would confirm her safety with Bowdoin.

“Vassar and Wesleyan made sure that Bowdoin knew I was safe and sound and accounted for, but I had no interest in being further in touch,” she said. “Being in my situation I didn’t want to have to tell [Bowdoin] the details.”

One of the more difficult aspects of recent attacks is that they have taken place in areas that are not typically considered dangerous, and Wintersteen said that despite the processes in place for identifying areas of risk, it is impossible to predict these types of attacks. 

“The U.S. State Department is a great resource because they issue travel warnings for certain countries. That being said, the places where recent attacks have taken place have not always been in these countries, so it is a resource but it is certainly not a predictor for places where everyone, students and citizens, should exercise caution.”

However, some areas come with more safety concerns than others. Turkey, for example, has seen several attacks take place over the last few months, including deadly bombings in Ankara and Istanbul. OCS sends students to a program in Istanbul, and Wintersteen said that it is the nature of the program (run by Duke University) there that allows this to continue. 

“We’ve received a lot of communication from Duke about their guidelines. They’re advising students to stay close to campus, the campus is not in the downtown area,” she said. “There are certain places where it is certainly advisable to study abroad with a program rather than as a direct exchange student. That provides a little more of a safety net.”

Wintersteen also said that despite the seeming increase in frequency of terrorist attacks, students are vulnerable to other, potentially more dangerous situations, while abroad. 
“I still think the majority of risk abroad is really around alcohol use and vehicle and transportation issues,” she said. “Of course terrorist attacks are the ones that are newsworthy and frightening and ones that are very difficult to control, so I think that it’s a personal decision on what types of travel and opportunities you want to take advantage of or not.

Kayla Kaufman ’18 is studying abroad in Paris next year, and said that the attacks have not changed her mind about her desire to go.

“Obviously it’s a little concerning, but it’s something I’ve wanted to do for so long and I feel like the goal of these terrorists is to inspire fear in people to not do things that they were planning on doing,” she said. “I feel like it can happen anywhere, it happened in California, you’re more likely to be hit by a bus or a car. It’s very random, you can’t control these types of things unfortunately.” 

Rose echoed both Wintersteen and Kaufman’s sentiments.

 “If you don’t feel you can rely on yourself and that you feel safe in your own knowledge and capability, then maybe don’t go to Paris, maybe don’t go to Brussels,” she said. “But if you feel you’re a community oriented person, and someone who is strong enough to get through something that is going to affect everyone around you, [going abroad] is not an experience that can be missed out on. It also only made me love Paris more.”