Updated: MU cancels spring break trip to Brussels

Journalism students studying abroad in Brussels are safe.

MU students studying abroad in Brussels get on the metros every day and go to the airport almost every week, said Gareth Harding, director of the MU School of Journalism’s Brussels Program, in a Skype interview.

So while no MU students were injured in Tuesday morning’s attacks in Brussels, the explosions “felt close to home for them.”

Two bombs in the international airport and one in a metro station left more than 30 people dead and 200 wounded, Belgian officials told NPR. The city was placed on lockdown and public transit was shut down. The Islamic State released a statement claiming to be responsible for the attacks.

MU journalism students still worked Tuesday, though they were not allowed to participate in any dangerous coverage, such as following police operations. “They’ve been resolutely shut in their offices like they’ve been advised to by the Belgian authority,” Harding said.

The university’s Policies and Institutions of the European Union spring break program was originally scheduled to fly out to Brussels on Saturday, but was cancelled Thursday morning, according to program director Tom Johnson.

Johnson said that a total of 17 hours’ worth of the program’s planned presentations have been cancelled since the morning of the attack. In addition, the Brussels airport would be closed at least until Sunday, which would have cut the trip short by a day or more.

“Our primary concern is always with the safety of students,” Johnson said in an email. “But another concern is the educational experience that students would get. Given all the cancellations, the educational experience for the students would have been severely compromised, so we decided to substitute standard lectures for the remainder of the semester.”

Harding said life in Brussels was getting back to normal more quickly than he expected, noting this was a sharp departure from the way Europe responded to the attacks in Paris in November.

“It was a surreal situation in November, when basically every school, every shopping mall, every transport, public building, was completely shut down,” he said. “So we’ve already seen a different response. I think that people have realized that you can’t live under a leaf and that closing down a city in response to an attack kind of hands the terrorists victory.”

Harding does not believe the attacks will have any lasting effect on MU’s study abroad programs in Brussels, though people are “quite rightly worried about security.”

“Frankly, if you look around the world, there are very few regions which haven’t been hit by terrorist atrocities, whether it’s New York or London or Madrid or Casablanca or Moscow or Istanbul or Paris,” Harding said. “They’ve all been hit by terrorist attacks. Brussels is the latest one, and it’s a tragedy for the city. It’s a really appalling atrocity, what took place this morning, but life will get back to as near normal as it can be.”

Edited by Taylor Blatchford | tblatchford@themaneater.com

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