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Utah students overseas may be safe — generally

Cathy Chambless says she worries about global anti-American retaliation if the United States attacks Iraq.

How couldn't she?

Chambless' husband, Tim, and her daughter, Dominique, are studying abroad in Japan and India. Tim is a University of Utah professor; Dominique a U. student.

In part, Chambless' fears are quelled by her own experiences in foreign countries.

Last year, the three went on a study trip to India. Her daughter went again this year.

"The people were so friendly. It is not any more dangerous being in a Third World country than it is being at home in the U.S.," Chambless said, pointing to 9/11 and government warnings about other possible terrorist attacks.

People in other countries don't necessarily believe all Americans support military action, she said.

When she was in New Delhi a year ago, she learned that "most Indians only have a general idea of world events. Most Indians don't know details of what is happening with the fight over Kashmir. They are not glued to CNN," she said.

But she is.

At home, the TV is almost always on. At work, if Chambless isn't listening to radio or TV broadcasts, she is checking the headlines of major media Web sites.

She says she worries less about terrorism than the avian flu virus that has resurfaced lately in Asia. But she does worry about the unpredictable and mostly unpreventable random acts of violence, she said.

Part of her comfort comes from knowing that her husband and her daughter are in good hands.

The more than 300 Utah students currently abroad are sponsored by programs that get security information from the U.S. State Department and other sources who live in the host countries.

The U., Brigham Young University and Utah State University have the majority of Utah students abroad. Each school has a slightly different process for evaluating safety levels, but all have contingency plans.

If bombs fall in Iraq, BYU students will spend the first 24 hours in their dorms or apartments to prevent them from becoming targets of retaliation, said Rod Boynton, BYU director of international studies programs.

BYU has students in London, Paris, Romania, New Zealand, China and the Dominican Republic.

"We've been in regular contact with the program directors, and all indications are that they are safe and not being threatened. They are experiencing not so much anti-American reaction but anti-U.S. policy and anti-Bush reaction. Students are still able to move around and conduct their studies," Boynton said. "And as long as they can have a meaningful experience we want them to stay."

U. students in India, Japan, Ecuador and Western Europe won't necessarily spend the first 24 hours indoors after war breaks out, said Mike Allcott, associate director of the U. International Center. That decision is left up to the program directors who are traveling with the students, he said.

Chambless has received a few e-mails from her husband and daughter, and both say they are not concerned about their safety.

If bombs drop in Iraq, "it wouldn't change a thing," Chambless said. "An attack was anticipated when they left" weeks ago. "I would worry more if they were in Afghanistan or Israel."

Callie Buys' mother, Tracie, said the same thing.

In an e-mail to the Deseret News, Callie said she feels "quite safe" at the BYU London Center.

"(I) have not, at any point, felt threatened because I am an American," she said.

But she is still playing it safe trying to "remain unobtrusive in public settings, just in case," she wrote.

Study abroad administrators encourage students to help avoid becoming targets by not living up to American stereotypes.

"We want our students to stay away from McDonald's, Pizza Hut, Americanized dance clubs . . . to keep them out of harm's way," Boynton said.

Chambless knows that "Americans are more vulnerable to attack," especially in countries where they are easily distinguished from the local people.

As of now, if war breaks out all Utah schools plan on keeping students abroad.


E-mail: jparkinson@desnews.com