“Safety School” Gets a Whole New Meaning for International Students

“Safety School” Gets a Whole New Meaning for International Students

In a recent Chronicle of Higher Education article, author Karin Fischer discussed the concerns that international students and their parents have about safety as they consider attending schools in the United States.

These worries are particularly relevant in Boston because one of the three casualties of the April 15 Boston Marathon bombings was Lingzi Lu, a Boston University graduate student from China.

Nationwide, an education in the United States is still hugely appealing for a record number of international students who recognize its value in the global education market. Here at the College of Professional Studies (CPS), about 300 people attend on-campus programs designed for international students in the Global Pathways and American Classroom programs. This number is expected to rise to 500 this fall; and it doesn’t include the many international students taking other CPS programs.

As the rate of international students grows, questions still linger about the bombing; not just about why it happened, but where and when it might happen again, and who might be the next terrorists in the crowd—and the next victims. Questions like these aren’t easily answered, which, studies and consultants find, does lead to anxieties over security and personal safety.

On the other hand, as Fischer notes, there is reason to discount any broad-scale effects on students due to the latest terrorism concern:

Few experts believe that the Boston attacks will cause the …764,500 international students now studying on American campuses to pack their bags. Nor do they anticipate the bombings will lead future foreign enrollments to plummet.

Fischer also cites a former admissions director’s skepticism that the Boston bombing would deter a student from attending a local Ivy League institution (“Not a chance in the world,” is the actual quote). All of which calls into question the article’s basic premise; if, statistically speaking, the actual terror-related risk is low, is there valid reason for a wary stance on coming to the United States to study?

Unfortunately, it’s not just terrorist attacks that make students and their parents think twice about American schools:

Even before the bombings in Boston, a series of high-profile mass shootings, at an elementary school in Connecticut and a movie theater in Colorado, as well as the deaths of two University of Southern California graduate students from China in an apparent robbery raised concerns abroad about safety in the United States.

Further, an Inside Higher Ed post on this topic notes:

Although students in the survey deemed the risk of terrorist attacks in the U.S. to be comparatively low, they did cite concerns about the prevalence of guns. …Chris Nyland, a professor of management at Australia’s Monash University who studies international student safety and security, said [that] his own interviews with 200 international students in Australia have shown that while they nearly always rate Australia as being safer than their home country, this is not the case for students from Singapore and Japan, who seem to be especially sensitive to the threat of crime.

From a procedural perspective, CPS’ Katherine Calzada, director of Operations for Boston-Based Pathway Programs NU Global, notes that, “Shortly before the bombings, we modified our operations to ensure that all our students have an active emergency contact phone number on record with the University.”

In the days following the Boston Marathon bombing, Calzada continues, “all our students received messaging sent out by central administration regarding safety, the cancellation/continuation of classes, and available counseling services.” Further, NU Global sent out ongoing updates to students that included requests that they contact school administrators as well as their parents and/or family members to confirm their safety.

So amid universities’ preparations and responses, the question remains: How unsafe is America for international students? What do you think—is it safer to go to college in Boston or China? Is terrorism a real danger for international students, or do the numbers tell a different story?

It’s a sensitive issue, and as long as the potential for unexpected violence exists, it’s not likely to be resolved. But in weighing the risks, what would you do if you were a student considering traveling to America for a semester or a four-year education?

The image that accompanies this post is by Aaron “tango” Tang from cambridge, ma, usa (DSC03135  Uploaded by russavia) [CC-BY-2.0 (http://creativecommons.org/licenses/by/2.0)], via Wikimedia Commons.

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