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Paris attacks: An update from OSAC and URMIA's International Committee


Copyright Moyan BrennBy Rick Rosenfeld, Vice President of Risk Management & Client Services at WorldStrides, and Kathy E. Hargis, MBA, Associate Vice President of Risk Management & Compliance at Lipscomb University, Co-chair of URMIA's International Committee, and President-elect of URMIA.

We know many of you are looking for updates on the situation in Europe as it relates to study abroad. One of the members of URMIA's International Committee, Rick Rosenfeld, was with many of our members at the Overseas Security Advisory Council (OSAC) Briefing in Washington last week. Rick has compiled the following report that we wish to share with you.

As a member of URMIA's International Committee and a constituent who participates in OSAC's Academia Working Group (AWG), we would like to provide an update to the URMIA membership on actions within the study abroad community following the Paris attacks. OSAC created Sector Specific Working Groups to provide US private sector organizations a networking platform for discussing security issues and challenges unique to their individual industries or communities. Working groups are led and organized by the private sector and facilitated by OSAC personnel.

More than 30 members of the higher education community attended the 30th Annual OSAC Briefing in Washington on Wednesday and Thursday last week, including many URMIA members. Some of the discussion focused on the aftermath of the Paris attacks. Presenters during the briefing included Secretary of State John Kerry, Director of the CIA John Brennan, and a cross-industry panel specifically focused on the Paris attacks. Julie Anne Friend, director of Northwestern University's Office of Global Safety and Security, represented the university/college sector on that panel. In addition to the core briefing, time was spent during the OSAC AWG meeting discussing Paris and study abroad.

Below is a brief summary from the presentations and discussions of our peers. If your school varies significantly from the norm mentioned below, please email as he will be providing feedback to the OSAC AWG.

  • More than 300,000 American undergraduates participated in some type of study abroad program in 2013-2014, and 53 percent of these students studied in Europe. France was the fourth most popular destination, following the United Kingdom, Spain and Italy (IIE Open Doors Fast Facts, 2015 Report).
  • None of the presenters or participants at the OSAC Annual Briefing advocated either a withdrawal of students from France (or other locations) or the cancellation of programs slated to start in January. 
  • All colleges/universities and travel providers are being supportive of the small number of students who wish to return home.   
  • University efforts immediately following the attacks focused on safely accounting for all students, faculty and staff. The efforts in the days that followed shifted to talking with students and parents and arranging for and offering counseling services for students who felt they needed support. Many of these efforts have now been replicated in Brussels.
  • The biggest challenges that schools are facing is not the logistical return of large number students but the arrangement of academic credit for the small number that wish to return early.   
  • Students who do remain overseas are being reminded to avoid all protests, demonstrations and memorial services, and to remain mindful of their surroundings when they are in public. This advice applies to all global destinations.
  • A few universities with short-term programs (e.g. faculty-led, group travel of one to three weeks) have asked to reroute Paris segments to other destinations. Most programs, however, are taking a "wait and see" approach over the next several weeks. These programs most typically travel in January, March, May and June.
  • Note that the tragic killing of Cal State Long Beach student Nohemi Gonzalez in Paris is the first known overseas terrorism-related death of a US study abroad participant since the deaths of 35 Syracuse University students 27 years ago on Pan Am 103 over Lockerbie.

For those interested, John Kerry's presentation to OSAC can be found here from C-Span.  It is approximately 20 minutes long.

If you have additional questions about OSAC's recommendations for higher education study abroad travel or would like to speak with Rick Rosenfeld, please contact the URMIA National Office. You can also track conversations about higher education travel and study abroad on the URMIAnetwork.


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