World events and study abroad: Is it still safe to go?

The events of Sept. 11 and the current war on terrorism may have an impact on the number of Williams students studying abroad this spring and in years to come. Although it is too soon to tell if there will be a decline in the number of students studying abroad as a result of the terrorist attacks on America, it is clear that the new state of international affairs is causing many Williams students to take a closer look at study away.

Laura McKeon, dean of the Study Away program, said, “My guess is that study away for this spring will probably be less than it was last year.” However, McKeon stressed that there “has not been any dramatic student reaction” as of yet.

McKeon runs the required study away meetings for sophomores who may want to travel in the 2002-2003 academic year, and said that the first mandatory meeting, which took place on Sept. 18 in Brooks-Rodgers Auditorium, was full. McKeon said, “The whole room was filled, even the standing room in the back. Everyone was very focused, and you could have heard a pin drop. And I thought study abroad was going to plummet!”

McKeon indicated that the turnout at the Sept. 18 meeting was one of the largest ever, despite what had happened just a week prior to the meeting.

The Dean’s Office is not taking an official standpoint on the issue of studying abroad, but they are fielding many phone calls from parents and are advising caution.

Nancy Roseman, Dean of the College, said, “I don’t think it is our job to discourage or encourage students. Instead, we need to paint as accurate a picture as possible about the realities of the world around us so that students can make as informed a decision as possible. We are always happy to talk these things through and provide as much information as possible.”

The Dean’s Office is keeping in touch with the directors of study away programs about student safety. “The programs are pulling in their reins, and being very careful about State Department warnings. We receive explanatory letters with their rules of travel and advice, such as to not be visibly in large groups of Americans,” McKeon said.

Jen Doleac ’03 decided not to go abroad this spring because of Sept. 11 and events since then.

“One of the most appealing aspects of going abroad is having the opportunity to travel around once you’re there,” Doleac said. “I have no idea how difficult it would be to travel now: would I still be able to hop on a plane to Madrid at the last minute for a long weekend?” The uncertainty of what will be happening in the future with terrorism was a limiting factor for Doleac, and the choice to stay in Williamstown seemed to be the safest option.

Other students are proceeding with their programs as planned. Kimmie Kemper ’03, who is currently in Zanzibar, indicated in a letter to a friend that she is not worried about finishing her time away. “I am doing great here in Zanzibar, no troubles, but am worried about the state of affairs in America,” she wrote.

Thomas Cubeta ’03, who still plans to go to Japan this spring, said “I have just learned that the government of Japan is fully supporting the US as a policy, so I am wondering, if countries retalliate against the US, will they also attack US allies like Japan? Also, being in Tokyo, the capital of Japan, do I have a greater chance of being affected by the war? I am concerned that if there are attacks, what would I do, as I am only just learning the language? On the other hand, with all the recent anthrax cases, maybe Tokyo will be a safer place than the US.”

The housing office has responded to the possibility of having more students on campus in the spring semester by sending out a letter to all sophomores, juniors and seniors currently living in doubles as singles. The purpose of the letter was to notify them that they may receive an assigned roommate for the spring semester. There are currently 52 doubles that are half occupied, and only 13 of these have juniors residing in them. The letter immediately raised the question of whether the number of returning students was linked to concerns about safety while abroad.

Tom McEvoy, the director of housing, said, “In this letter, we did make a reference to the State Department advisory for Americans abroad, our thinking being that there may be an increased need for campus beds.” Students will be notified by the beginning of December whether or not they will have a roommate, and the housing office will be speaking with House Presidents before making any final decisions on how students will be placed.