Death of US student in Italy underscores study abroad safety

AP News
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Posted: Jul 05, 2016 3:59 PM
Death of US student in Italy underscores study abroad safety

The death of an American college student who was studying in Rome underscores the importance of safety guidance issued by universities to young people who venture overseas.

Italian police have detained a homeless man in the slaying of Beau Solomon, 19, who just finished his first year at the University of Wisconsin-Madison. He had recently arrived for an exchange program at English-language John Cabot University when his body was found Monday in the Tiber River.

Here's a look at the popularity of U.S. study-abroad programs and some common protocols observed by American colleges and universities:

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SAFETY IN FOREIGN LANDS

Rome police say Solomon, a personal finance major, was last seen alive Friday as he left a pub in Rome's Trastevere neighborhood. The ANSA news agency, citing unnamed investigators, reported Tuesday that Solomon had been robbed by two people, then got into a fight early Friday with one suspect before ending up in the river.

The University of Wisconsin's website, while touting John Cabot's location "in the heart of Rome," offers prospective overseas students safety tips ranging from how to prevent sexually transmitted diseases to how to access U.S. government resources in a foreign country.

The Wisconsin school also warns students to drink alcohol responsibly, noting that "rules about the acceptability of alcohol use in certain situations or contexts are very different than at home." Being under the influence, the website adds, "increases your chances of being the victim of crime, whether robbery or sexual assault."

Solomon is not the only American student to run into trouble in Rome. In 2012, a student was allegedly stabbed by a John Cabot classmate after what police described as a night of alcohol and possible drug use. He survived.

Also in recent years, a young American man died after falling off a streetside ledge and landing on the Tiber's cement banks. Another U.S. student who had been reported missing after leaving a bar was later found dead after being hit by a train.

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STUDY ABROAD BY THE NUMBERS

The number of U.S. students studying abroad for credit during the 2013-14 academic year rose 5.2 percent, to more than 304,000 students, according to the National Association of Foreign Student Affairs: Association of International Educators.

That number represents nearly 1.5 percent of all U.S. students enrolled at American colleges or universities, and about 10 percent of U.S. graduates. The actual number could be larger because that figure reflects only those schools that report their study-abroad figures, NAFSA spokeswoman Rebecca Morgan said Tuesday.

NAFSA has long pressed for policies to expand the number of U.S. students studying abroad and encourages study in nontraditional locales. Morgan said every college and university's program is different "and there are no national requirements, just guidelines and information" about best practices in terms of ensuring student safety overseas.

A top administrator at the Wisconsin school, which has worked with John Cabot since 2012 and has about two dozen students there for the summer, said Tuesday that more than 2,200 of its students studied abroad in 2013-14, citing the latest data from the Institute for International Education.

Guido Podesta, vice provost and dean of the international division at Madison, said the school offers online and in-person orientation resources before departure.

The Wisconsin school in 2014 hired a full-time international safety and security chief and is "working together with public agencies to mitigate risks to our students abroad" — an experience that "positively influences the rest of the student's life," Podesta said.

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REQUIRING FOREIGN STUDY

For the past decade, Goucher College, a private liberal arts school with roughly 2,000 students in Baltimore, has required all undergraduates to study abroad at least once before graduating. With more than five dozen programs in 32 countries, Goucher insists the requirement empowers students "to explore different ways of thinking, communicating, working, learning and living."

"Knock on wood, we have not had any major incidents with regards to crime," Eric Singer, Goucher's associate provost for international studies, said Tuesday.

Singer attributes that track record to Goucher's preparation of its overseas-bound students and adherence to NAFSA guidelines and State Department travel restrictions. Some countries are off-limits, and the school requires students to sign liability waivers if they intend to venture into potential hot spots, he said.

Goucher, during mandatory pre-departure meetings, presses students to behave as ambassadors of their school and country, he said.