With two high-profile murder cases involving students studying abroad dominating recent headlines, Sisi Rabenstein examines just how safe a year away from home may be.
The murder of Meredith Kercher, a 21-year-old student from Leeds University in England, hit the press again recently since Kercher died on 1st November 2007, in Perugia, Italy.
While Rudy Hermann Guede, an Ivory Coast immigrant to the area, was arrested, charged with conspiracy to murder and sentenced to 30 years imprisonment, Amanda Knox, Kercher’s American housemate, and Knox’s boyfriend Raffaele Sollecito, have been held in custody awaiting trial. Their trial began on 16th January of this year, and is ongoing at the time of going to print.
Closer to home, the case concerning the murder of Manuela Riedo, a 17-year-old Swiss student, on 8th October 2007 in Galway City, came to court in recent weeks as well. Galway man, Gerard Barry was sentenced to life imprisonment on 21st March for the assault and murder of the teenager.
With worrying incidents like these affecting our view of life and study abroad, is a return to more cautious travel imminent? UCD European Programmes Officer, Catherine Convery said that while students are never sent to an area that is unsafe, they are always advised to remain aware of their surroundings and be careful.
It seems obvious that care must be taken while abroad, but whether incidents such as those above can be avoided is another question. Should students be discouraged from studying in areas which may prove marginally more dangerous than where they come from?
“Should students be discouraged from studying in areas which may prove marginally more dangerous than where they come from?”
Convery explained that “when you’re abroad, whether its holidays or studying, you can sometimes let your guard down and in an unfamiliar place you may not get the cultural messages that are being given out”. In these situations, it seems that a more rounded outlook and consciousness on the part of the student is all that is required to ensure an acceptable level of safety.
This does not however, cover situations when students are faced with unforeseeable events and no amount of preparation on their part could ensure their safety. Cases of daylight robbery and assault are not uncommon around the world and other than basic precautions of keeping possessions close and avoiding alleys and unpopulated areas, not much can be done if the student is the unfortunate victim of a random crime.
The question here is whether random crimes are enough to pressure schools into rethinking the entire Erasmus and international study programmes. For Catherine Convery, the safety of UCD students abroad is paramount.
“[UCD] did, a number of years ago, cancel an exchange because we weren’t happy with accommodation situation in that university and people in that university didn’t seem to take us seriously so we cancelled the exchange and we would do that again.” Convery went on to clarify that no UCD student has ever been removed from their international programme due to an emergency arising from lack of safety.
So are these awful crimes anomalous and are all of UCDs over 300 international programmes as safe, if not safer than Dublin itself? When asked the latter, Convery responded that they are, and further, that it is the onus of the student to take the advice of the schools on safety and to make the right choices, ones that they should already be aware of on entering third level education.
UCD students with experience of study abroad were cautious, but positive in the safety advice they related. Peter Condon, a third year Arts International student who is currently studying in Bordeaux, pointed out that simple common sense should negate any risk to students abroad.
“There are certain places that you know to avoid, and you’d want to be stupid to go there at certain times. But as long as you’re clever about it, you’ve got no problems.”
That sentiment was shared by Ciarán Ó Braonáin, a third year Arts student based for the current academic year in Toronto.
“I [have] never felt unsafe once while living in Toronto. It’s a massive city so I’m sure there are dangerous parts but isn’t it the same everywhere? It’s no different than living at home; you just have to get to know the place.”
So it seems that barring some examples, such as Zimbabwe, the world is open for exploration in the pursuit of higher education. As long as basic personal safety rules are observed and acclimatisation to local culture and customs is attempted, it seems that anywhere is as dangerous or as safe as the home ground of Belfield.