October 1, 2016

Webster study abroad student in Brussels reflects on attacks

When Teresa Lynn Hasan-Kerr decided to study abroad in Brussels, she was hoping for an opportunity to improve her French skills and live in the city she had once visited and thought was beautiful. Soon, however, Brussels found itself at the center of a tragedy.

On March 22, Brussels was the site of three suicide bombings that killed 35 people and injured 300 more. Terrorist organization the Islamic State of Iraq and Syria, known as ISIS, claimed responsibility for the attacks, which took place at the Brussels Airport and a nearby metro station. The fatalities included at least four Americans.

Hasan-Kerr, a junior majoring in English and French, is the only Webster student currently studying abroad in Brussels. The French-language classes she is taking are held at the Université libre de Bruxelles.

While Hasan-Kerr was not anywhere near the attacks on the day they occurred, she had flown in from Spain the previous day to the airport where the first bomb exploded.

“We were in shock still, and no one really said anything,” Hasan-Kerr said.

Hasan-Kerr and her fellow students went to class, where the environment seemed normal until one student suddenly ran out of class crying. Shortly after, the school was put on lockdown. Students were not supposed to leave, but Hasan-Kerr said she snuck out to get some groceries, worrying the stores would all be closed soon.

Then she walked home. Public transportation had already closed.

“The Metro is still shut down,” Hasan-Kerr said.

Hasan-Kerr said she was able to remain calm until later that day, when she heard a loudspeaker blaring in her neighborhood in a language she did not understand. It reminded her of the news reports of someone yelling in Arabic before the first attack.

“There’s a lot of Arabs here, which is really great for diversity, but I didn’t know what anyone was saying,” Hasan-Kerr said. “That was the moment in the day that I was really, really scared.”

Ultimately, nothing happened, and she said that citizens of Brussels have remained collected in the face of tragedy.

“Strangers are still polite. I feel like maybe it’s characteristic of the city to stay pretty calm,” Hasan-Kerr said.

While she contacted her parents immediately to tell them what had happened, because of the time difference, many of her friends in the United States did not know what had happened until what was early evening for her.

The Webster Study Abroad office also contacted her to make sure she was safe.

“Webster staff have spoken to her by phone and also have been in contact with officials at her host university,” President Elizabeth Stroble and Provost Julian Schuster said in a statement. “We are relieved to report that she is safe and was not near the area of attacks. We continue to be actively in contact with our European locations to ensure and monitor the safety of students and staff.”

Hasan-Kerr said the main change she has seen in the following days, apart from the increased presence of Belgian flags, has been a greater sense of civic solidarity.

“We all feel lost, but everyone understands,” Hasan-Kerr said. “Brussels has been targeted before because it’s the head of the EU. It’s kind of like living in NYC.”

Hasan-Kerr said despite the unexpected attack, studying abroad in Brussels has been enjoyable, and she is glad that she chose the city.

“I love the diversity here. You can go down the street and see so many faces of so many different colors,” Hasan-Kerr said.

Hasan-Kerr said her experience at the Université libre, where many students speak up to four languages, has been very valuable as a language student.

“I do not regret coming to Brussels, and I recommend it,” she said. “I don’t want anybody to be afraid to participate in this program.”

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