“The police are everywhere and they tend to arrest anyone, even if the circumstances are ridiculous. We are told not to trust them either,” said Jessica Harless, the only Western Carolina University student who is currently studying at Tecnológico De Monterrey, a university located in northern Mexico.
The U.S. Department of State issued a Travel Warning on Monday, March 15 urging U.S. citizens “to delay unnecessary travel” to northern Mexico, including the cities of Ciudad Juárez, Matamoros, Monterrey, Nogales, Nuevo Laredo and Tijuana. The warning was issued as a result of the recent increase in drug-related violence and attacks, as well as the murder of an American consulate and her husband in Ciudad Juárez on March 14.
“Occasionally there are army helicopters, humvees, and various checkpoints on the roads. There have been several students attacked while walking to and from the campus at night. Some with guns and knives and others have been taken by hand and kidnapped for a couple blocks to get money or whatever valuables they have,” said Harless.
Students at Tec De Monterrey have been asked stay away from clubs and other student hot spots due to random shootings. To further insure student safety, the university is providing students with free nightly transportation to any location in Monterrey.
According to Harless, the locals say they are used to a certain amount of violence from the drug cartels, but they admit that this is the worst they have ever witnessed.
Lois Petrovich-Mwaniki, director of International Programs and Services at Western Carolina University, said Harless will remain a student at Tec De Monterrey as of now.
Mwaniki said they are currently monitoring the situation in Monterrey and taking the necessary precautions to keep their students safe.
Harless said she feels safe.
“I am taking the necessary precautions. I do not walk alone, especially at night, and I avoid any area that has had recent aggressions. Even though the area is unsafe, I feel safe because I am not doing anything to put myself in a bad situation,” Harless said.
Study abroad students are not the only students affected by the violence in Mexico. WCU’s Alternative Spring Break trip to Monterrey was canceled due to the recent violence and Travel Warning.
“We didn’t want to take any chances. Although most of Mexico is safe, we felt it necessary to do whatever we can to keep students safe,” said Glen Bowen, director of the Center for Service Learning.
Five WCU students and a staff member planned to work with two social service agencies, listen to a lecture on Josefina Niggli and go on a cultural tour while in Monterrey.
“I understand why the trip was cancelled, especially since other tourists to Mexico have been in danger already. It’s too bad that the violence has been able to spread into Monterrey,” said Nathan Rowe, a broadcasting and communication student at WCU who was planning to attend the trip to Monterrey.
The group was to leave Sunday, March 28 and return Sunday, April 4.
Mwaniki said WCU plans to implement a Political Evacuation Service policy that will pay for and assist students studying abroad or visiting a foreign country to a safe place or to evacuate them from that country during a security threat or political emergency as a result of governmental or social disruption. The policy, which will insure the students’ safety up to $100,000, will go into effect during the Fall Semester of 2010.
Despite the violence in Monterrey, Harless is not discouraged from enjoying her time abroad.
“Nothing can ruin what all I have experienced here, not even drug cartels,” said Harless.