I want to understand that part of the world better’

Breanne Gilpatrick

If not for 9/11, Tom Peter probably wouldn’t have spent his junior year in Egypt.

Peter, a Weinberg senior, spent last year studying at the American University in Cairo. Before he came to college — before the terrorist attacks on Sept. 11, 2001 — he considered studying in South America. His freshman year, Peter said he was torn between studying Mandarin and going to China or studying Arabic and going to Egypt.

“I was kind of at this juncture at the end of my freshman year,” Peter said. “It seemed like learning Arabic would create some opportunities for the kind of things I wanted to do.”

The number of students studying abroad is on the rise, with more looking to non-Western European countries for their study abroad experience. More than 600 NU students were scheduled to study abroad in the 2004-05 academic year, according to the study abroad office. This is an increase of almost 60 percent from about 380 students four years ago.

The number of applications submitted last quarter for both Fall Quarter 2005 and full-year study abroad for 2005-06 is also up, nearing 400, compared to just below 300 applications four years ago, said Robin Kazmier, program assistant for the NU study abroad office.

The number of students studying in Arabic-speaking countries like Egypt and Morocco also has increased. Twelve students submitted applications to the program at the American University in Cairo program for the fall, Kazmier said. Ten students have studied in Egypt in the last year, seven more than in the 2003-04 academic year.

There are no study abroad programs currently running in the Middle East because the university does not allow sponsored travel to countries where a U.S. State Department travel warning is in effect.

The only year study abroad numbers didn’t increase, Kazmier said, was in Fall Quarter 2001, as a handful of students returned to NU after the attacks. And the top five most popular countries for study abroad are still England, Spain, France, Italy and Australia.

“It’s hard to chalk anything up to 9/11 because the numbers go up every year,” Kazmier said.

Study Abroad Director Bill Anthony said a combination of word-of-mouth from returning students and publicity since the establishment of the study abroad office in 1997 has created a “culture of study abroad” at NU. About 5 percent of students in the Class of 1999 studied abroad. By the time the Class of 2004 graduated, that figure increased to 20 percent.

Associate Director Jennifer Hirsch, who advises some of the students interested in studying aboard, said she can’t remember any of the students she has spoken to mentioning Sept. 11 during their appointments.

“Students say the same thing they’ve always said,” Hirsch said. “‘I want to see the world — I want to get a different perspective.'”

Student interest in obtaining a scholarship or fellowship to study abroad also is high. More than 20 students attended a workshop on scholarships for undergraduate study abroad at an Office of Fellowships event on March 8.

But like the increased interest in study abroad as a whole, determining the exact cause of increased interest is impossible, said Sara Anson Vaux, director of the Office of Fellowships.

“We have had tremendous numbers,” Vaux said. “It has increased exponentially, but I found out when I came here that this was a campus where students were already quite intrigued with study abroad.”

For many students, including Peter, who went to Egypt, 9/11 often is mentioned as a reason for wanting to travel to that part of the world, said Lynn Whitcomb, a lecturer in the Arabic language program. Whitcomb said she has seen an increase in students interested in Egypt since Sept. 11, 2001, and most of these students fall into two categories.

“Some people have very clear career goals,” she said. “They tell you I’d like to work for the FBI or I’d like to work for the CIA, so they have very specific career goals. … But then there are also people who will tell you, ‘I want to understand that part of the world better.'”

This uptick in interest has taken place outside of NU as well, said Laurie Black, an assistant dean at the School for International Training Study Abroad, which operates programs in more than 40 countries, including the Morocco program NU uses.

“We have (the) program in Morocco and we have a waitlist every semester now, which was not the case prior to 9/11,” Black said.

In some cases, the biggest impact Sept. 11 had on studying abroad was raising parents’ fears about their children going to foreign countries. George Brandes, a Weinberg sophomore who plans to study in Paris during the fall, said applying there was his second choice. He said he wanted to go to Israel or Egypt and study Arabic, but his parents refused to let him.

“I think they had images of my getting kidnapped in Egypt,” he said. “I think it was plainly a security thing for them. I suppose that must have had something to do with Sept. 11 and the war in Iraq.”

Whitcomb called these concerns common and said she tells parents she studied in the Cairo program while in college and later lived in Egypt for two years.

“I try to be realistic in what I tell people, but also to tell people I travel to Egypt on a fairly regular basis, and I don’t feel particularly threatened,” Whitcomb said.

Those student who do go abroad to Arabic-speaking countries get to see what has occurred in that part of the world since Sept. 11.

“It’s not what you expect,” Peter said. “It’s an interesting process to kind of work out your perceptions and the reality of the situation.”

Reach Breanne Gilpatrick at [email protected]