A year following Sept. 11, many concerns about international security have changed the way study abroad programs deal with student safety in their particular host country. However, while policies have been modified and tightened in relation to specific international communities, there is not a sense of worry or anxiety present in the minds of some students here in the relatively calm realms of Western Europe. Gyula Csurgai, Academic Director of the School for International Training's (SIT) Geneva, Switzerland program provided some insight into the policy changes as well as the student and European attitudes towards international security post-Sept. 11.
First of all, Csurgai said, "I must stress the importance of our geographic location," because there are definitely places in the world where foreign students would be more at risk. While it may seem like a pillar of common sense to most people, geographic location has not always been such an important factor in where students travel. As recently as three years ago, SIT hosted extensive programs in both Jerusalem and Zimbabwe. However, due to widely known political unrest and volatile communities, those programs were eliminated from the school's curriculum. SIT's spring program in Jerusalem had to be evacuated to Geneva two years ago, when such political unrest severely undermined the safety of the students studying there.
As far as student travel while involved in the SIT program in Geneva, Csurgai said that geographic location is, "one of the main reasons we limit student travel [while residing here] to countries that are members of the EU." This seemed to be rather contradictory and arbitrary criteria for travel, taking into consideration that Switzerland is not yet a member of the European Union (EU) and there are other countries such as Turkey and the Czech Republic that are comparably safe to visit and also nonmembers. In response to student comments along those lines, Csurgai and his associate Academic Director Earl Noelte told the current group in Geneva that it was not a stringent requirement, but a general recommendation so that students remained within countries considered universally the most stable. Csurgai commented in addition that, "before Sept. 11, it was not that limited ? however, now there are places in the Middle East and elsewhere where students would be more at risk." In contrast, Csurgai added that SIT's program in China, for example, has gone smoothly for a number of years and is one of the school's best run programs.
Csurgai also said when it comes to SIT's contingency plan and the creation of their security policy, that SIT has to follow the instructions of the U.S. State Department and their home office in Brattleboro, Vt. However, there is not now an overwhelming sense of concern as it relates to security according to Csurgai, in the western European community. Csurgai observed that after one or two months post-Sept. 11, apprehension and preoccupation with security issues waned, and now, a year later, it is more in the periphery.
As far as student concern goes, Csurgai said that SIT has seen an increase in student applications to all of their programs--a distinct contradiction to the assumption that Sept. 11 may have deterred student desires. "Americans," Csurgai said, "I think realized that they need to learn more about other countries," in the wake of the Sept. 11 attacks.
Students involved in the Geneva program expressed similar sentiments as well as various thoughts they had on study abroad post-Sept. 11. Angela Mazar, a junior from UCLA who has studied and traveled in both Bolivia and Croatia said that she, "felt safer in Europe than in the U.S.," and that she continually welcomes the opportunity to show Europeans that not all Americans prescribe to the same politics. In addition, Mazar added that she agrees with most European opinions towards American foreign policy, so in essence, she can show people that Americans vary in their attitudes and beliefs.
In response to questions about anxiousness and student concern for safety, most students agreed that they were not hesitant to study abroad, but geography did make a difference in their country choice. Emily Walgenbach of the University of Wisconsin said, "my mom was glad I was going to Switzerland because I guess she feels like it's safer than any other place in the world--even the U.S."
But for the most part, every student agreed that security issues were ultimately out of their control after a certain point. Megan Richer of Stanford University said, "That kind of security is out of your control no matter where you are."
Here in Geneva, there is not as much worry about student security because of Switzerland's long history of neutrality and its long-standing tradition as an eclectic international community. But there is an awareness of the events of Sept. 11, and the wake-up call that it represented for America as well as the rest of the world. Times are changing, and the need for a consensus on international peace and conflict resolution is paramount to the sustainability of our global community.