By Claudia Leslie, Contributor
Furman flew home 20 students studying away this semester in Brussels, Belgium following the Nov. 13 Paris terrorist attacks that killed 130 civilians and injured hundreds more.
Two of the 20 students, juniors Chelsey Dawson and Carsyn Ciuba, were in Disneyland Paris at the time of the attack.
“The area we were in was on high alert. When we went to get lunch the next day we saw police and military forces by the dozens, and a bunch of them had dogs with them and other weapons,” Dawson said via email. “It was just very different than it had been the day before. At one point they shut down the road that our buses to and from the area had been on because of a security threat.”
Dawson and Ciuba joined Furman’s program in Versailles later that night before returning to Brussels the next morning.
By Sat., Nov. 14, Furman’s Rinker Center for Study Away and International Education administrators had accounted for all students studying abroad in France and Belgium thanks to constant email communication Friday night. But the work did not end there.
Following the Paris attacks, an “imminent threat of terror” fell on Brussels. Belgian Prime Minister Charles Michel said Brussels had been placed on its highest level of terror alert in response to information about the risk of an attack like the one in Paris.
Classes at universities and offices at the European Parliament were closed. All students in the city, including Furman students, were on lockdown, according to Nancy Georgiev, assistant director of the Center for Study Away.
Seven students on the program requested that they take a leave of absence from the remainder of the semester and come home. Dr. Brent Nelsen, professor of political science, was the faculty advisor for the Brussels program.
“I was supposed to leave Brussels last Sunday [Nov. 15], but since Chelsey Dawson and Carsyn Ciuba were still in Paris, there was no way I was leaving. We have had about half of the students decide (or their parents have decided for them) to leave early,” Nelsen said via email. “Several are home already. My visa has expired, and I plan on returning Nov. 22.”
Furman officially ended the program after the threat of terror was announced, requiring all students to leave Brussels as soon as possible. The majority of the remaining students were on planes out of Europe by Mon., Nov. 23, although one student remained as late as Thanksgiving Day.
Administrators were proud of the pace of response and caution exercised in responding to threats in Paris and Brussels.
“This was a ‘One Furman’ moment. Our faculty abroad responded exactly as they were supposed to in accordance with our risk management policy,” Georgiev said. “Furman will continue to do what it has been doing with our risk management training, but we’ll potentially use this as a case study.”
A worldwide travel alert was issued for U.S. citizens Nov. 23 recommending they exercise caution due to increased terror threats. The Center for Study Away has yet to cancel another study away program but is asking some May Experience programs to revise itineraries.
“We will reroute programs, change our itineraries or even cancel programs when absolutely necessary,” Georgiev said. “Student safety is of utmost importance.”