As violent demonstrations erupted across the Middle East, security risks escalated and the U.S. Department of State issued travel warnings and alerts to several countries in the region.
Though there are no U. South Florida students studying abroad in the Middle East this semester, USF’s Education Abroad office is monitoring security threats around the world.
Michael Poehlitz, International Risk and Safety Analyst, who came to USF this summer after 26 years in the Department of State, said USF takes several factors into account when deciding whether to approve students’ study abroad travel plans.
“We assess every area on a couple of different categories,” he said. “The likelihood of terrorism, past events, incidents of crime, and then we distinguish between violent crime and nonviolent crime. Then we look at civil unrest — what you’re seeing now in the Middle East.”
After the attack on the U.S. consulate in Benghazi last week, violence spread to countries including Sudan, Yemen and Tunisia — all countries that now have travel warnings.
But recently, few USF students have expressed interest in studying abroad in the Middle East region. Less than 1 percent of the 992 students who studied abroad last year went to the Middle East, according to Education Abroad’s annual report.
In recent years, some students in the school of dance have traveled to Tunisia as part of a one- to two- week performance experience. But none are there now and they don’t intend to return for a while, Marc Powers, director of the School of Theatre and Dance, said.
“In all cases, the safety of the students and faculty are a major concern, and given the current situation in Northern Africa and the Middle East, it is unlikely that we will be making arrangements to perform in any of those countries in the immediate future,” he said. “We obviously would not send a group to a country that has been put on restriction by USF. At this time, our current projects and planning focus on Europe, China and Latin America.”
Poehlitz said he does not see travel restrictions easing in the near future in many Middle Eastern countries. Part of the reason his job was created, he said, was to find more countries to which students could safely travel.
“We simply would not want to put students in a situation that was risky,” he said. “The university incurs a little bit of liability if they send a student into an area and something happens, and they take that responsibility very seriously. (Libya, Sudan and Yemen) are all great places to go visit, but not right now.”