This summer, I began to grow nervous about my decision to study abroad in the U.K. A few terrorist attacks occurred at the beginning of the summer, and I was worried I made the wrong choice. Three days after I arrived, there was another attack on the tube at Parson’s Green. While normally at home in the U.S. this would have caused mass panic, I began to understand what the famous phrase “keep calm and carry on” truly means in the U.K.
Despite the attack in the tube, Londoners seemed to be going about their days as if nothing had happened. This was a bit confusing at first to me and my fellow American students, as we come from a country with an extreme fear of terrorism. Of course an incident like this is horrifying, but living day to day life in fear is not healthy either. Brits have been known to keep a “stiff upper lip,” and this partly speaks to their history, as they have fought wars on their home soil and suffered great losses in the process.
Threats in the U.K.— Things to Keep in Mind
While knowing about the attitudes of Londoners around such incidents is important, when preparing to adjust to a new culture, it is not necessarily something that will calm down those who are preparing to studying abroad here. When I feel anxious about potential terrorist attacks during my stay here in London, I remind myself of the following six details. If you are studying abroad in general, especially in a major world city or recent target of attacks, you will find that people will give you advice or words of comfort all the time, whether solicited or unsolicited. These are just some examples of what works for me:
- The odds of being the victim of a terrorist attack are much lower than being in a car accident. I drive cars frequently when I am at home and have almost no fear when doing so.
- The news loves to report the most on attacks in major world cities like London, but the truth is these things are happening everywhere. Maybe London is a greater target, but it is also likely that similar things are happening in other places, they just don’t get reported on as much.
- Threat levels may automatically seem scarier living in a large city in a foreign country, especially if you are like myself and have never lived in a large city. However, if you are also like me in that you are from the U.S., the truth is that there is a lot of violence going on back home as well, especially during a time of political unrest.
This may not exactly be a comforting statement, but it at least reminds me that I should not avoid studying abroad in London due to fear of violence, because I could find that at home as well. It is best to remember the reason why you are preparing to come to London and focus on your personal goals rather than your fears. Of course, it is important to be cautious and stay safe, but not to the point where it takes over your every thought.
- Once you get here, IFSA-Butler will provide you with an information session on health and safety. This session made me feel much more aware and more prepared for life in London, as it included information on risk levels and examples of troublesome situations and how to possibly get out of them. I hope it can do the same for your feelings of safety.
- Remember why you are studying abroad. For me, this was my interest in the classes I registered for, and my desire to learn how to adjust to living in another culture and experience London life. No matter what your reasons are, it is important to hold them close especially during times where you might be more anxious about living in a foreign city.
- The following link leads to an article from Psychology Today which explains how the mind often processes acts of terrorism. This is helpful when it comes to recognizing common patterns of thinking relating to these events, and educating yourself on how to reduce related anxiety. (https://www.psychologytoday.com/blog/anxiety-files/201501/how-think-about-terrorism)
Staying Safe and Not Letting Fear Determine Your Experience
Here is another tip: it is best to register for travel safety warnings through the U.S. Embassy and the STEP program before you leave for the U.K. Upon doing this, you will receive emails regarding threat levels in various areas, and what sorts of places may be targeted. Sometimes it is difficult not to let certain warnings scare you, as it is often said that transportation hubs and other areas of the sort are potential targets, and if you are living in a city, you may be in these settings every day. For a while during my time in London, I lived next to both a tube station and a large shopping mall, and I had a half hour commute to my university. While staying there, I reminded myself that the odds of a terrorist attack were relatively low compared to the odds of being harmed in other ways, and always had a plan of how to get around quickly and remain safe.
Encourage your parents/guardians to register for travel safety updates as well. It can be quite scary for them as it is harder to gauge the safety of wherever you may be staying when they are an ocean away! Make sure to check in with them every day to let them know you are safe, especially if you hear about any attacks. Of course, it is most important that you stay safe, so if you are ever in an emergency situation be sure to call the IFSA emergency number before contacting your loved ones. If your parents/guardians are nervous about you studying abroad, reminding them of tips 1, 2, 4, and 6 might help reduce anxiety as well.
I hope that a combination of these reminders and registry with the U.S. Embassy and STEP programs will give you more comfort if you are studying abroad in the U.K. If you know you will be studying abroad here and are still facing anxiety about terrorism, you can get in touch with a counselor and also the IFSA-Butler staff here. They are more than willing to assist you in seeking out the resources you need.