The war in Iraq has raised new security issues for college administrators working with American students studying abroad. Even if those students aren't at universities in the Middle East, school officials say a wave of international animosity toward American policies has raised personal safety concerns that both parents and students must address. But these worries aren't keeping American students at home.
In many respects, security has always been an issue for college administrators. Many things can happen to a student while he or she is away at school, things that have nothing to do with war or terrorism, and which could just as easily happen here in the United States as they could abroad. But the cultural and language differences students have to deal with when they study in a foreign country do raise security issues. And Margaret Riley, Assistant Dean of Duke University's Study Abroad Program, said the anger some people are feeling toward America and its policies has also become a source of concern.
"We reminded students of what they should be doing in situations like this, and that's keeping a low profile, avoiding demonstrations, not going to places where Americans hang out, like Hard Rock Cafes, or the embassy, or things like that," Ms. Riley said.
Duke's not alone in issuing these warnings. Administrators at many schools are advising students to keep a low profile while abroad, and some officials are even thinking of canceling summer programs in the Middle East. Michigan State University, for example, has three students signed up for internships in Turkey this summer. But the director of that school's study abroad program told a local television station those internships may be canceled or postponed, depending upon what happens in neighboring Iraq. Still, college administrators say students are interested in studying abroad now more than ever. And according to Mark Lusk, Associate Provost for International Affairs at the University of Georgia, these students aren't necessarily interested in maintaining a low profile.
"The number of American students studying abroad today is greater than the number of students studying abroad prior to 9/11. I attribute this to an increased interest in international affairs and a willingness on the part of students to go out and represent the United States," Mr. Lusk said.
Mark Lusk said his staff monitors the U.S. State Department's web site daily and makes sure students know about any relevant travel advisories posted there. He also said the University of Georgia has an emergency fund students and their faculty advisors can draw on, should they need to get out of a country on a moment's notice. But Americans studying abroad aren't the only students who could be effected by the war in Iraq and the on-going campaign against terrorism. Effie Köhn is director of the University of Montana's Foreign Students and Scholars Office. She said the U.S. invasion of Iraq coincided with plans by many foreign students at American universities to leave the country.
"My concern is that they're taking off for Spring Break, so they're going to be spreading all over. So I needed to make them aware that they should be vigilant and conscious and careful and have all their documents with them, and that when crossing borders, you know, like Mexico and Canada, expect some delays. And to also, you know, help them know what their rights are," Ms. Köhn said.
She said most of the foreign students she works with know that increased security measures mean they could encounter some problems when trying to re-enter the United States. But that hasn't kept them from traveling to Canada and Mexico for Spring Break. Ms. Köhn also said world-wide protests against the war in Iraq do not seem to have had a negative impact on the number of foreign students looking to study in the United States next year.