For eleven days, starting on June 22nd, sixteen Andover high school students along with Mr. Shea, Mr. Hopkins, and Mrs. Whalen will be going to a summit on education and a subsequent tour of Europe. Cities to be visited on the tour include Brussels, Paris, Geneva, and Amsterdam.
The trip is run by EF (Educational Tours), an international educational travel company that has coordinated trips with AHS before. The summit on education will feature students from around the world who will work together in workshops to address some of the world’s most pressing problems regarding education. After the summit the tour begins, and students will venture by bus and train to various destinations throughout the continent. There will be both guided tours done in a full group and more independent smaller group exploration at multiple points on the trip. Mr. Shea believes the trip is a great opportunity for students, and the general consensus among the group of travelers is that of jubilant anticipation.
However, recent events that have added new considerations for all travelers specifically those going to Europe. On Friday, November 13, 2015 in Paris, violent attacks including shootings, suicide bombings, and hostages took place at Bataclan Theater led to 130 people being killed and 368 people injured. A 3 month state of emergency was declared in France to help fight the terrorism. The world was rocked again on March 22, 2016 when three coordinated bombings, two at Brussels airport and one at Maalbeek metro station, killed 32 victims and injured 300 people. Three suicide bombers who planted the explosives were killed. The Belgian government declared three days of national mourning for the tragedy. What makes these attacks even more concerning is that the terrorist group ISIL has claimed responsibility for the attacks and has threatened to continue attacks on nations that form the coalition fighting ISIL. This threat, along with the increase in lesser violence and crime linked to terrorism in recent months, is enough to make some people wary about travelling or visiting countries in Europe.
Regarding these recent events and the pattern of terrorism across Europe Mr. Shea said he is “concerned to some extent, I worry about the group’s safety for many reasons, not just terrorism. Ultimately though, I am not afraid of us being terrorism victims.” Considering the measures that European nations and facilities have taken to combat terrorism and provide security, Mr. Shea said “They are doing the best they can, some things are unforeseen and there’s no way to have 100% security. Although more security measures have been taken it is still easier for terrorists to access Europe, than the US, due to its proximity to the Middle East.” Mr Shea has been in touch with EF Tours the company responsible for planning this Europe trip. The company announced that “for the next two weeks [directly following the attack] all trips to Brussels were diverted to Germany.” Measures like this led Mr. Shea to comment that “because EF is a large organization they are very flexible and if there’s more evidence of a threat then AHS’s tour might be diverted.” More practically Mr. Shea said that he and the group will be keeping a few extra things in mind while travelling. He said, “We’ll be vigilant, keep a strict itinerary and know where everyone is.” He stressed that, “We’d take these precautions anyway, and that there should be no fear in the group.”
Another faculty member going on the Europe trip is the head of the English department, Mrs. Whalen, who was added to the group once so many students decided to go on the trip. She said, “I wish none of these things had happened but I’m still feeling like we should keep on going. We’re partnering with EF and their could be adjustments made but I’m still ready and I think people just need to be alert.” The strategies she recommends for the group and anyone traveling are these: “If you see something say something, stay alert and aware and don’t be surprised to see lots of security forces.” Mrs. Whalen’s overall perceptions of the trip are that she’s “still looking forward to it, it’s a great opportunity and we should never assume unsafety.”
Both Ms. Whalen and Mr. Shea are enthused about going to Europe even amidst the recent terrorist attacks. They believe both the summit and the tour will be enriching experiences for all of the students. In closing, Mr. Shea shared his thoughts about how the summit relates to the threat of terrorism and the radicalization of Muslim youth. He says, “Education as a human right is the topic of our trip and terrorism is a result of a lack of education. Muslims have been marginalized in Belgium which causes more susceptibility to radical groups. The summit will likely talk about education to occupy time and prevent radicalism.” As the date approaches all involved can’t wait to see how the trip turns out and the interesting experiences they will have to share.
By Nick Gilpin