Richard Menard, Director of Study Abroad
Did you ever see the film “Taken” where the daughter of Liam Neeson’s character is kidnapped while exiting the Paris airport? When that movie first came out, Study Abroad Offices around the U.S. were overwhelmed with phone calls from concerned parents who didn’t want their child studying abroad. Well, that movie was a hit because it preyed on a parent’s worst nightmare… and we all know that movies and reality are often far removed from each other. And didn’t we teach our kids not to get into cars with strangers?
In all seriousness, the safety of our students is always our highest priority. But studying abroad in Argentina, China, Italy, South Africa and Zambia is no more dangerous than doing a Mission: Possible to Denver, San Francisco, St. Louis, or vacationing in Atlanta, Philadelphia or New Orleans. However, we do know there are certain places we aren’t comfortable sending students. Gonzaga has carefully selected all of the programs that appear on the study abroad website, studyabroad.gonzaga.edu. These programs have been vetted not only for academic rigor but for health issues, housing, insurance, on-site orientation, safety, and security. We selected these programs because we want students to have a great experience and we know that these universities and organizations offer the services that we feel are necessary to give students the opportunities they crave.
We also continuously monitor the safety and security of the countries and cities in which our students are studying. We follow the U.S. Department of State’s Travel Warnings. We use HTH World Wide to give us another view of a country’s security. We belong to several professional organizations, NAFSA and Forum on Education, that keep us appraised of any situations happening worldwide that would affect our students. Additionally, the Study Abroad Office facilitates a pre-departure session for every student, which covers safety and security while studying abroad. We preach “common sense” to the students. If you wouldn’t do it here in Spokane or at home, why would you do it in Bangkok or Copenhagen? Once our students arrive at their destination city, they are again oriented in safety and security specific to that city. To be frank, our biggest concerns aren’t about terrorism or kidnappings, but more with petty crimes, such as wallets and passports being stolen.
We do know that injuries can happen in Florence or Tokyo just as easily as in Spokane. For that reason Gonzaga has a full and comprehensive international insurance plan to cover students, HTH World Wide. This insurance will direct students to the closest English-speaking doctor to get the help they need, with no out-of-pocket expense.
On an anecdotal note, I studied abroad twice. I studied in London during my undergrad years, and then moved to Belgium for graduate school. Since then I have traveled professionally and personally to many countries in Africa, Asia, Europe, and Latin America. Yet, the first semester I was home from studying in London, I stepped off the curb to catch the campus bus to class and broke my foot stepping in a puddle of mud. My father still thinks it’s funny that the only time I have hurt myself was in the U.S., yet I have been all over the world without a scratch to show for my travels!
We know that you worry about the safety of your student; we also worry about it. Yet, studying abroad isn’t any more dangerous than living in the United States.