Students deal with Italian disaster abroad

Daina Amorosano

None of the 13 Villanova University students currently studying abroad in Italy was adversely affected by the recent 6.3 magnitude earthquake in central Italy, but the Office of International Studies is taking a series of steps to ensure the safety of all students studying abroad.

All students studying in Rome, which is only about 60 miles away from L’Aquila, Italy, where the earthquake occurred on April 6, are safe and able to complete their semester abroad, according to the Office of International Studies.

“We are happy to report that all of our students were accounted for within a few hours of the incident, all safe, and all out of harm’s way,” Assistant Director of International Studies Levi Brautigan said.

But the shock of the earthquake was not completely unnoticed by students abroad in Italy.

Junior Elizabeth Rowland, who is one of just a few students studying abroad in Rome this semester, is safe in Italy but still felt the tremor.

“We’re really lucky because Rome wasn’t affected except for a few small side affects,” Rowland wrote in an e-mail. “Last Sunday night my building shook enough to wake me up, but nothing that I know of collapsed in Rome. We were all able to go about our normal routines on Monday. Then again, Tuesday evening we experienced a little more shaking due to another, much smaller earthquake.”

The earthquake, which was the worst to hit Italy in nearly three decades, has also left 289 dead, 1,500 injured and up to 50,000 homeless, according to CNN.

“We’re all praying for the victims and their families,” Rowland wrote.

In most cases, students abroad in Bologna, Florence, Milan, Perugia, Rome or Urbino, Italy are participating in a program hosted through another organization or university, with a few studying directly at an Italian university.

“These programs all have extensive on-site staff and know to contact us if any of our students have been adversely affected by an event such as the recent earthquake,” Brautigan said.

“The health and safety of our students studying overseas is the Office of International Studies’ top priority,” Brautigan said. “If, and when, events like this occur, we will be in contact with both our domestic and overseas program affiliates, resident directors and the students to ensure that they are safe and out of harm’s way. Mobile phones, e-mail and instant messaging are a few methods which have made it much easier for us to contact our students and on-site colleagues.”

In addition to staying in touch with on-site staff, the Office of International Studies also subscribes to and stays in contact with various professional organizations, including the Forum for International Education and NAFSA – the Association of International Educators – according to Brautigan.

It also subscribes to a number of international resources to ensure the health and safety of all students, including the State Department and the Center for Disease Control.

The University “cannot guarantee or assure the safety of participants or eliminate all risks,” according to the Student Handbook for Overseas Study, which provides information on health and safety issues abroad and about campus and off-campus resources in the event of emergencies, though it makes no explicit mention of natural disasters.

In the Student Handbook for Overseas Study, Director of International Studies Lance Kenney encourages accepted international program applicants to pay careful attention to the section on health and safety, writing, “It has been said that ‘travel is aphrodisiac,’ meaning that, oftentimes, people suspend their common sense because of the euphoria of being in a different culture.”

And while the devastation of the earthquake may provide something of a reality check on the euphoria that most associate with studying abroad – an opportunity that approximately one-third of last year’s graduating class took advantage of – the possibility of such natural disasters will not prove to be a deterrent for most.

“You can’t let fear of things like this that can happen anywhere stop you from living your life,” said sophomore KellyAnn Zimmer, who still plans to study abroad in Italy next spring.