Letter to the Editor: Isolated after Brussels attack

The alarm rang on Tuesday, March 22 at 6 a.m., and my phone screen was packed with notifications from the Associated Press, CNN, Le Soir and messages from my family and friends. Facebook was asking me if I was safe. But safe from what?

I felt confused and then realized what had happened and how that day would become remembered by my Belgian fellows and myself. As I picked up the phone and called my friends and family to make sure they were safe, I opened my computer and started my hunt for facts, details or anything that could help me understand why Belgian flags were all over my Facebook. Bombs, airport, subway, attacks, terrorists, dead bodies and so on were the words that haunted me the entire day.

I am an international student attending Rider. I’m part of what has been called a “community.” However, on March 22, that sense of community wasn’t there — gone, disappeared and long forgotten. Being an international student doesn’t only mean coming from another country, it also means being far away from family and friends, and feeling alone when such tragedies happen. My terrified mind and broken heart felt almost cured by the touching messages from my professors and friends, but then stopped once again as my attention was brought to Rider’s Center for International Education’s (CIE) post on Facebook. “Rider students currently studying abroad: Please check your email and email Kim Algeo to confirm you are not in Brussels on your Spring Break or reply to this post. Our hearts go out to those families affected by another horrible tragedy. BE SAFE!” posted Rider CIE.

This message was posted around 10 a.m. Tuesday morning and my email box still hadn’t received anything from the Center for International Education. Hurt, upset and shocked was how I felt when I realized that international students attending Rider weren’t getting the attention they deserved.

By not including me in their worried post, the CIE excluded me from this so-called community. Did I deserve all the attention? Of course not. Did I deserve to be acknowledged as an international student from a country that has just been attacked? Yes, I did believe so. It wasn’t until I sent an email of complaints to the CIE that I was quite considerately told, “We sincerely hope your family is OK and please let us know if you need anything.”

As much as I understand that the CIE was and might always be worrying about its students studying abroad, I do not believe international students attending Rider, whether they come from France, Spain, China, etc., should be disregarded. As citizens of the world and members of a community, this Rider community, we deserve and should all get equal attention, especially in time of crisis. On Tuesday, March 22, I felt excluded from a community that should also be mine; I felt alone and powerless on a day I most needed support; I felt angry and shocked to see an office that boasts of its international members so easily reject one — me.  They say, “Rider is committed to making international students feel at home.” But on that day, I felt extremely far away from both my homes — Belgian and American.

—Pauline Theeuws

Junior journalism major


Printed in the 3/30/16 issue.

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