After Barcelona attack, how students should prepare to study abroad

UT's International Office facilitates about 3,000 student trips to study abroad each year. (KXAN/Chris Davis)
UT's International Office facilitates about 3,000 student trips to study abroad each year. (KXAN Photo/Chris Davis)

AUSTIN (KXAN) — Following the news of the violent attack in Barcelona Thursday, which authorities there are investigating as terrorism, a University of Texas at Austin spokesman said Thursday there were no students studying abroad in the Spanish city.

But the attack is just one of a string of recent outbursts of violence in major European cities, often popular destinations for college students looking for new experiences outside of their schools. UT wants its students to prepare before they book their stay abroad.

“Going into health care, I’m really interested in international medicine,” UT junior Mason Stevens said, walking around campus Thursday evening. She’s in town before the fall semester starts studying to get into medical school.

Like a lot of college students, Stevens’ future plans aren’t yet clear; she’s not sure, for instance, if she’d like to spend time studying health care systems in Europe, or where specifically she might like to go.

But the recent violence, she said, won’t play a role in her decisions. “It’s definitely scary,” the Houston native said, “but honestly I feel like so much of that happens here, too.”

“These kinds of attacks are going to continue,” Fred Burton, a terrorism and security analyst with Austin-based Stratfor Enterprises. said. As hard as local and national authorities across the globe try to stop the kind of attack on display Thursday, he said, they won’t be able to stop them all.

That’s why he and UT’s International Office, which handles study abroad trips, want students to have a plan. “It’s important to stay abreast of local news,” Burton said. “It’s important to register with the State Department all your trips through Europe.”

Each year about 3,000 UT students study abroad, the university said.

Along with risk and safety resources the International Office provides students, including travel restrictions and international travel policies, the university provides an individual emergency action plan form and checklist for students.

The checklist includes, among other recommendations:

  • Register your travel details with the U.S. State Department’s Smart Traveler Enrollment Program (STEP)
  • Save important international phone numbers, like the nearest consulate or embassy, in your phone’s contacts
  • Update your local contact information as soon as possible when you reach your destination
  • Make sure your emergency contact information is correct

“And then also make sure that you have a plan,” Burton said, “in the event that something looks wrong, to move yourself out of harm’s way.”

Whatever she decides, Stevens said she won’t let the violence decide for her. “I don’t think it should deter us from going to other places and learning about it,” she said.

UT sends students to Barcelona for spring, summer, and fall semesters; the next study abroad starts there Aug. 31.

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