WASHINGTON – After months preparing to study in France, Rachel Day could barely wait to leave for Boston’s Logan International Airport to catch her flight — on the morning of Sept. 11.
“As the day unrolled I did what everyone else did, not thinking about my flight at all,” said Day of the aftershocks of that day’s terrorist attacks. “Then it hit me — that I wouldn’t be going.”
But the George Washington University sophomore had no plans to stay grounded. Even though one of the hijacked jets originated at Logan, Day was saying goodbye to her parents at the airport a week later and boarding the next available flight overseas.
Her decision was surprisingly typical. College administrators around Maryland report that while other Americans have “cocooned” at home since the terrorist attacks, many students have avidly pursued studies abroad. If anything, some say, the new global conflicts may be sparking more interest in the programs than ever.
“Our numbers have gone up,” said Ruth Aranow, study-abroad coordinator for Johns Hopkins University. “Right now, I’m getting just as many applicants for the programs as I did before.”
Last fall, many administrators were bracing for exactly the reverse. With Americans panicking over airline security and the federal government issuing weekly terrorism alerts, the travel and tourism industries were nose-diving fast. Study-abroad seemed like the next likely victim.
“We’d felt there was probably going to be a reduction in student interest,” said Steve Siak, a study-abroad adviser at Towson University.
But the applications kept coming. At Towson, nearly all of the 62 students studying abroad this spring signed up after Sept. 11 — an increase of 22 over last year’s number, Siak said.
Johns Hopkins University boasts similar stats. This year, Aranow said, the pool of study-abroad applicants at Hopkins increased by 25 percent to 117 students.
Interest in international exchanges seems to be gaining, said Jennifer Boston, director of study-abroad programs for Hood College, because more students “feel they need to have much more awareness of global issues now, and need to be better informed.”
Hood, a small, private college in Frederick, sends eight to 12 students abroad in a typical semester. “For spring 2002, we have 12 going, which is on the high end for us,” Boston said.
“We are a global power; this is a global society,” said Victor Johnson, an official with a group of foreign study advisers known as NAFSA: Association of International Educators. “What Sept. 11 has done is, it has dramatically brought home to people the fact that the security of our country is affected by our understanding of these places where threats are emanating from.”
At the University of Maryland, College Park, which sponsored Day’s study abroad, both of the students who were scheduled to leave on Sept. 11 followed through with their travel plans as soon as possible, said adviser Christine Bodziak.
Overall, study-abroad participation at the College Park campus has dipped slightly, but Bodziak isn’t ready to attribute it to the terrorism fear-factor.
“It’s hard to correlate it with the events of Sept. 11. It may well be more of an economic factor this year,” she said.
“You also have to keep in mind that some programs at certain times of year are more popular. For instance, we actually had to turn away students from some of our winter-term programs,” such as in Italy and Western Europe, Bodziak said.
No students applied this year to a university-sponsored exchange program in Israel, Bodziak said, “but we do have students in Israel now. I haven’t had any students return early from the Middle East.”
Day said she was “definitely nervous” boarding her flight out of Logan last September. “It made me especially nervous that my parents couldn’t come with me into the waiting area,” she said.
But now, mid-way through her studies in Nice, she has “never not felt safe. The (terrorism) is still a part of daily life in the U.S., but in Europe, people have moved on.”
Aranow said the advice she gives students heading overseas has not really changed that much.
“We tell them not to go flashing it around that they’re American,” she said. “Just try to blend into the landscape.”
To that, Johnson added an extra caution: “It continues to be the case, that the biggest danger people face abroad are traffic accidents.”