On July 14, when a truck plowed into Bastille Day revelers
in Nice, France, University of California, Berkeley student Nicolas Leslie was
among the crowd.
The 20-year-old was studying abroad as part of a Berkeley
entrepreneurship program in Nice when he was struck and killed by the vehicle,
which took the lives of 84 people and injured more than 200.
Among the injured were three other Berkeley students.
Leslie was the second Berkeley student to be killed in a
terrorist attack this year while studying or working overseas. Tarishi Jain was
participating in an internship program in Bangladesh when Islamic militants
took over a cafe, killing her along with two Emory students and 17 others.
Berkeley campus representative Janet Gilmore called those
two deaths “extraordinary events.”
“Since putting our study-abroad program in place nine years
ago, these are the only Berkeley student deaths resulting from overseas
terrorist acts of violence,” she said.
While Gilmore said it was too soon to determine if the
deaths would impact other Berkeley students’ decisions to study abroad, today’s
students are traveling and studying in a global climate where terrorist attacks
make regular appearances on the nightly news.
Are those incidents deterring students from packing their bags
for a semester overseas? Are they driving students to different destinations
perceived as less dangerous or less likely to be targeted?
In the short term at least, the answer to both those
questions appears to be a resounding no.
“As we know from experience, students and youth are an
extremely resilient sector,” said Adam Cooper, senior vice president of STA
Travel U.S. “To date, we haven’t noticed any decline in bookings, and we expect
young people will continue to explore the world we’re so passionate about.”
StudentUniverse, which sells discounted flights, hotels,
tours and group travel to currently enrolled undergrads and graduate students,
has also seen no evidence that students are backing away from study abroad or
Europe remains the site’s most visited region by a margin of
28%, and bookings to Europe have increased every year since 2012. Even in the
wake of the terrorist assaults in Paris and Brussels, bookings to Europe from
the U.S. on StudentUniverse have been up year over year every single week from
May through July by at least 33%.
“We’re not really seeing it affect it at all,”
StudentUniverse representative Danielle Dougan said of the impact of terrorism
on student travel. “What we would maybe expect is that people who may be
traveling to Europe for an extended period of time, they might be more
However, study-abroad bookings for Europe this fall are up
29% on StudentUniverse.
“The study-abroad metric really says it all,” Dougan said.
For the 2013-14 academic year, the most recent year for
which data was available, 304,467 U.S. students chose to study abroad,
according to the Institute of International Education. That figure represents a
5.2% increase over the previous year, and the most popular destinations were
the U.K., Italy, Spain, France and China, which together hosted 42% of American
When terrorist attacks or other conflicts do occur, Berkeley
is quick to notify its students in affected areas. The university study-abroad
program requires all students to register their location and provides real-time
updates about developing issues and incidents along with instructions on how to
stay safe, hot spots to avoid and whether students need to seek shelter.
“We also provide evacuation assistance if needed,” Gilmore
said. “In the most recent instance in Nice, we facilitated and supported any
student’s decision to leave due to the trauma of this incident to them.”
Beginning in 2006, Berkeley suspended all programs in
countries on the State Department’s Travel Warning list.
In the immediate aftermath of an incident, Dougan said
StudentUniverse sees “an influx of calls and queries from travelers who are
traveling to or through a region that is affected by terrorism.”
There have been some cancellations, but most students are
trying to determine if their travels can proceed as planned. “Generally, they
are just confirming that their flights are still operating and whether they
need to reroute their stopover destination,” Dougan said.
“I think students, more so than maybe their parents, are
less likely to cancel plans or be terrorized,” Dougan said. “It’s very unlikely
that they’re going to want to change those plans because of world events. More
than anything, we get inquiries of ‘Are we still able to travel?’”
StudentUniverse saw the same response to the Zika virus
outbreak in countries popular for spring break.
“We got a lot of calls,” Dougan said, but students largely
continued with their plans. “We actually saw a spike in bookings to some
For Dougan, that response sends a clear message: “It speaks
to students and their unwavering desire to see the world despite disease or
terrorism. In some cases, their biggest hurdle might be convincing their parents
to let them do so.”