An amazing experience, discovering the world and new cultures, broadening your horizons; these are all expressions you hear when you go to study abroad. Before you leave, you are full of excitement and think of little else besides all the wonderful things that are to come. I was no different. For the first time in my life I was going to be completely away from everything familiar.
I was going to study abroad for a year in a foreign country, but after one brutally eye-opening experience I learned the hard way that when you go to study abroad there is more to consider then just everything you have to look forward to. You need to be prepared for the worst case scenarios and know how to deal with them.
The Worst Case Scenario
On Friday night, the 13th of November 2015, the world trembled. One of the most horrific terrorist attacks to occur in Europe transpired. Many were killed, injured, and/or traumatized. People around the world pulled together to pray and show their support to the victims and those affected by the terrible events that transpired that night. I arrived in Paris the night before these events were to transpire for a weekend trip with my friends from Edinburgh University. We had no idea of the storm that was to come.
Friday the 13th
At 9:00pm, we left the Louvre to go to dinner. The first attack at the football (soccer) stadium occurred at 9:20pm. We were in transit to dinner and had no idea what terror was occurring a few miles away. We ate in ignorant bliss to the horrific acts that occurring. We entered the flat we were staying at around 11pm, and once our phones were connected to Wi-Fi we got a message from one of my friend’s mom, asking if we were okay.
Curious we turned on the television and suddenly we were bombarded with reports of explosions and shootings in central Paris. Immediately we got in contact with our parents to inform them we were okay and then called the emergency line for IFSA to inform them that we were safe inside our flat.
That night we stayed up until 3am, keeping track of all the latest reports and staying in constant contact with someone at home or Scotland. What was once a fun Friday full with a full day of activities had turned into a long night of watching as the city
around us descended into chaos.
IFSA was amazing in keeping contact with us and making sure we were safe. They notified our families and home schools, and made sure that we were mentally secure and not freaking out. If you ever find yourself in a high tension/risk situation when visiting a country here is some advice that you should follow:
- Shelter-in-place for at least the next 24-hours or until the government/security officials permits movement around the city.
- Avoid any unnecessary travel.
- If you do leave your accommodations, avoid large gatherings and crowded areas.
- Avoid protests and demonstrations.
- If you see suspicious activity, packages, or if something just doesn’t seem right, notify authorities.
- Register with the U.S. Smart Traveler Enrollment Program
- Call the equivalent of 911 in case of emergency.
- Keep updated with the news and media covering the city, so you stay aware of the situation.
- Contact family, friends, and whoever is keeping track of you at your university (be it a provider like IFSA, the international office, or a family you are staying with). Also give them updates of how you are faring and the situation.
- Follow the laws of the country you are in and be cautious.
Some of the advice was given to us and some is just common sense but it is important and played a large part in how safe my friends and I felt during our time in Paris.
A Wake Up Call
When you study abroad unexpected and bad things can happen, and it is important to know how to handle these situations when they occur and try to be as prepared as possible. This devastating night did not stop my friends or me from traveling or lessen the fun and excitement of studying abroad, but it did make us aware that we are no longer safely tucked inside our hometowns.
Common sense and planning ahead can give you a firmer sense of security when venturing into the unknown, and with an eased mind I can guarantee that your adventures abroad will be more relaxing and enjoyable. Don’t let the worst case scenario stop you from experiencing the world, just be prepared.
Rebecca Blinzler is a student at the University of Missouri, Kansas City, and studied abroad with IFSA in Scotland at the University of Edinburgh in Fall 2015 and Spring 2016.