UNH preps students for safe travel following Bates tragedy

By Melissa Proulx
On March 18, 2014

Following the tragic death of 21-year-old Bates College student John Durkin during his semester in Italy, the University of New Hampshire Center for International Education is doing its part to thoroughly prepare the hundreds of students heading out for their study abroad experiences.

Last year alone, nearly 650 students took part in one of the more than 500 programs available to students during January term, summer, fall and spring semesters or the full academic year.

And while the task of providing students with all the tools and skills they will need to succeed overseas may seem daunting, Beth Kilinc and her colleagues at the Center for International Education continually excel in keeping students safe and incident-free through proper training.

Before each student leaves, he or she is required to participate in a pre-departure orientation organized by the center. Students are educated about safety and emergency management skills, cultural awareness and how to use the most powerful tool they have while abroad: themselves.

"Safety depends greatly on the individual choices and decisions we make on a daily basis," Kilinc said. "We chose whom to socialize with, whom to give our contact information to, how we secure our valuables and accommodation, what routes to take, what we consume, et cetera."

Even if the student finds themselves in a situation beyond their control once they reach their destination, Kilinc believes they will have the tools they need to effectively manage the issue. 

Students are provided with the International Assistance and Insurance Program, in which "students and families can be alerted in the event of an emergency situation overseas and have a 24/7 alarm center to call and seek medical and security services." A simple phone call can provide students with everything from quick advice and referrals to "full-scale medical evacuations by private air ambulance," according to the program's description on the center's website.

Kilinc said that the center is looking to increase resources for students in the future as well. Currently, they are developing an International Travel Registry, which would allow all UNH students studying abroad to enter their flight details and emergency contacts to help facilitate responses during an emergency.

And while nothing in life is ever completely risk-free, Kilinc said that the experience a student gets while abroad is a once-in-a-lifetime opportunity too sweet to pass up, one that will provide students with the multicultural and international skills they will need in future professions.

"Study abroad is a valued and encouraged educational experience - one that expands and enriches students' academic, professional and personal development and prepares them for the challenges of global engagement as part of the new generation of leaders," Kilinc said. "Students' success after graduation will depend on navigating and communicating effectively across cultures and national borders. Employers are looking for these skills."

Mollie Conant, a junior Spanish major, is currently studying in Seville, Spain at the University of Seville. Conant knew coming into college that she wanted to study abroad and is utilizing the opportunity to do more than simply fulfill a requirement for her major.

"I'm already noticing how it's improving my Spanish ... [and] opening my eyes to different lifestyles and customs that I would never have gotten the chance to experience if I weren't here," Conant said. "... It's helping me see what my strengths are with the language and what I would love to do with it in the years to come."

Tim Nash, a junior civil engineering major currently studying at Heriot-Watt University in Edinburgh, Scotland, said that studying abroad has provided him with experiences that he would not get at home and sparked a desire to travel more in the future.

"Doing this - along with traveling to parts of the world I'd never been, speaking in languages I'd never spoken, and seeing things I'd never seen - undeniably made me more independent and open to new experiences," Nash said. "Because of my time here, I want to travel more and I want to do more with my life and my education."

Even in the new environment, both Conant and Nash feel safe and at ease.

"Everyone says scary things about Europe and while it's always important to be cautious, I haven't felt that unsafe here compared to what I was expecting," Conant said. "I thought pickpocketing would be insane or I would feel like I would get kidnapped at any second, but I really don't."

"Most of the trouble people get into abroad comes from lapses in common sense and, as long as you're prepared and in a good state of mind, that is easy to avoid," Nash said.

Anyone interested in studying abroad can attend one of the study abroad information sessions, which are held every Tuesday at 1 p.m. in Murkland G02. Students can also visit the center's website at http://www.unh.edu/cie or call its office at 603-862-2398.

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