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Terrorist attacks in Paris reminded the Laurentian community that while traveling abroad we should be aware of our surrounding and of the constant risk, says Associate Dean of International and Intercultural Studies Karl Schonberg. Yet he reminds that St. Lawrence has a fantastic tradition of study abroad in the French city Rouen, just 80 miles northwest from Paris, which is actually one of our oldest study abroad programs. “We have had generations of student going there to learn a lot about the French culture and the global Francophone world. I don’t think violence is the reason to stop doing that,” says Schonberg.
At the same time, Schonberg points out that we have to take the current threat seriously. “You have to think realistically about what the risks are, and we tell students that during our orientation process. We talk to them about what those risks are and how to handle them, and the things they need to do to make their travel safe.”
SLU study abroad office takes advice of the State Department in order to assess the risk of international travel. “Currently, the state department isn’t saying you shouldn’t go to France or Paris, and I don’t think they will,” points out Schonberg. “Americans, and everybody should be aware of the risk of terrorism and political violence. Yet there are risks to studying abroad that you would have to face even if you were on campus, risks that would be true anywhere.”
Schonberg strongly believes that it would be a real shame if we stop travelling simply because we were too concerned about those things “That’s what I would tell student going abroad,” he says. Visiting Assistant Professor of Modern Languages Alessandro Giardino has a personal connection to the attacks, his brother was visiting Paris last weekend and literary heard some of the explosions. Giardino similarly encourages SLU students to leave their comfort zone and discovers the world of possibilities that travel offers. “Terrorists do not discriminate between the U.S. and other countries, and therefore I do not see any reason why staying in the U.S. would be safer,” says Giardino. “The only way to overcome the fear of difference is to feel different, free and connected to a larger world.”
According to Giardino, the only way to avoid closure is by opening ourselves to the understanding of other cultures, other dramatic situations and other ways of thinking. “For instance, I do believe that it is time for serious reconsideration of a language requirement at SLU, something that used to allow each student to temporarily feel different, vulnerable and foreign, that is to feel what any immigrant feels at a much more dramatic level in any western society.” To change the world for better, Giardino believes that each single one of us should start from our immediate reality. “Even here at SLU, we have to keep insisting in the value of the humanities as our main weapon against the world where individuals are treated as numbers. As a liberal arts university, this is our primary mission after all,” Giardino adds.
Click below to see interviews with SLU students/faculty/alumni who are in or have previously been in Paris.