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Keeping students safe: How international health, safety concerns affect travel abroad

Belmont students had their first glimpse of the studying abroad options on Wednesday, from Australia and Morocco to Italy and Ireland, but with many exotic locations come health and safety concerns.

Among student and parent concerns are the Zika virus and terrorism and travel warnings.

Sophomore study abroad assistant Christopher Hansen was able to set students at ease.

“An example of precautions for students safety would be that we no longer go to Turkey. We switched to just staying in Israel and going to the area of Jordan because of the advisories that were put out nationally about safety and disease. Many were not happy about this, but Belmont felt it was in the best interest of the students protection,” Hansen said.

As far as being protected from disease and sickness, Belmont informs the students if there is an advisory out from the Center for Disease Control and if vaccinations are necessary.

“We do require that all students purchase within their application fee and within their student fee universal insurance for any medical emergency,” said Hansen.

Sophomore Erika Howard experienced this concern of sickness and ultimately made her parents feel studying abroad would not be in her near future.

“I have a friend who went to Guatemala this summer, and she got really sick and came back with a lot of parasites. So we keep seeing the horror stories behind it all,” said Howard.

However, sophomore Natalie Sherburne traveled to Haiti, a country with Zika virus, in May and had a positive experience.

“I was lucky enough to stay healthy throughout my entire trip. Despite the media coverage of the Zika virus, I felt safe during the trip because I knew I was being responsible with my bug spray and malaria pills. I also felt safe because our group always traveled with two Haitian bodyguards who took great care of us,” said Sherburne.

Safety is a concern to many students and their families.

“I honestly never felt unsafe during our time in Haiti. Because of Heartline Ministries and the choices that our faculty members made, we were never put in a situation where I felt like I was in danger,” said Sherburne.

There are cases where cultural differences cause a boundary and can seem like you are in an unsafe situation, but these are spoken and made aware of to students planning on attending trips to other countries.

Shelley Jewell, study abroad director, explained how the safety precautions work before and during study abroad.

“Our students’ safety is of utmost importance when we are planning and offering study abroad programs.  We conduct site visits prior to offering programs as work with reliable partners on the ground that have security protocol in place,” said Jewell. “We ensure that all students are provided with international health and evacuation insurance should an incident occur either medically or otherwise.  We are constantly monitoring reports from the US Department of State about events happening all over the world and would not move forward with a program should we feel our students’ safety is compromised.”

Many students have traveled abroad with Belmont, and no issues have been named. Any worries are able to be put at ease by speaking to the designated professor for the trip or going to the study abroad office where students and faculty are more than happy to answer any questions about studying abroad.

This article was written by Shelby Vandenbergh.

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