In College Study Abroad the Risk Increases the Reward

In 2003, Polly Lynn was certain she had put herself in danger as a study abroad student in Australia when she agreed to go on a remote hike with an older man she had met running at a park.

Lynn, then a 20-year-old student at Middlebury College, had established a rapport with the 35-year-old — they talked about the environment and politics, and then exchanged phone numbers.

He asked her to join him on an outing with a friend, but when the friend canceled and she jumped in the car headed into the hinterlands, she suddenly regretted it all.

"All my friends thought it was terrible idea," said Lynn. "When we were in his Subaru driving two hours out of Melbourne without a cell phone and he pulls over in an abandoned lot, I did too."

On her own in a foreign country, Lynn might have had reason to worry.

British Student Murdered

The ugly side of studying in a foreign country made headlines this week when American student Amanda Knox was implicated in the death of Meredith Kercher, a 21-year-old British student who was living with Knox as the two studied in Italy.

Last week Kercher was brutally murdered, her seminaked body found hidden under a duvet, with a deep knife slash in her throat. Knox is now being held on suspicion of murder.

The Italy case is an extreme example, as the murder of foreign students is very rare. But there are other published stories that illustrate an array of random incidents involving students abroad.

In April, two Florida State University students at the college's Panama campus died when their car plunged off a cliff on a mountainous road. A Barnard College student was raped in Mexico in 2001.

In 1998, three St. Mary's College students were attacked while studying in Guatemala, and an Earlham College student was reportedly sexually harassed, then raped by her Japanese host father, who had been paid by the program.

For Lynn, the Middlebury student in Australia, all turned out well and she said her initial instincts were good.

"He had never been sexual in any way with me and it was nice to have a real friend in the city to show me around," she said. "We went hiking for four hours and got lost in the woods and had conversation."

An Emphasis on Safety

Lynn admitted that taking calculated risks when studying overseas added to her international experience.

"It turned out to be one of the best things I did to have a really authentic experience," said Lynn, who later studied in London and in Barcelona, Spain, and worked in Switzerland.

School year abroad specialists say students should pay attention to personal safety when living overseas. But, they add that crimes against students are rare and that part of the adventure is diving into another culture.

According to The Forum on Education Abroad, the number of college students studying overseas annually has doubled in the last six years to more than 200,000.

Most experience some cross-cultural jolts, but assaults are not common. The unthinkable — murder — is even rarer, say university officials.

"It's tough to get information," said Daniel Carter, senior vice president of Pennsylvania-based On Campus Security, which tracks campus crimes.

The organization pushed for passage of the Clery Act, which requires colleges to report crimes of domestic colleges and the foreign campuses of those institutions.

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