University students studying or interning in Brazil and Turkey remain safe and largely insulated from the political protests there, according to interviews conducted with students abroad. Most students interviewed for this article said they thought the American media has overstated the risk posed by the riots to American tourists traveling in those countries.
In Brazil, more than a million people have taken to the streets since June 11 to protest against what they see as the country’s commitment to expensive international events in the face of high domestic poverty rates,BBC News reported. In Turkey, public demonstrations against the Turkish government’s plans to develop a public park in Istanbul’s Taksim Square beganMay 28and have since expanded to include other grievances, such as what some call the ruling Justice and Development Party's increasingly authoritarian style,according to the BBC.
University programs responsible for taking students into Brazil and Turkey have not recalled participating students nor cancelled or amended scheduled activities,according to Associate Director of the Princeton Institute for International and Regional Studies Susan Bindig, who oversees the global seminars.
“Our issue is one of personal safety,” Bindig said, explaining thatshe and her colleagues were concerned about the protests in Istanbul and worked with other offices to put out a Daily Digest advising travelers to avoid Taksim Square.
One of the University's global seminars stayed in Istanbul for one week ending on Saturday, June 15 before moving to Greece as originally scheduled. Princeton in Brazil concluded on Friday, June 28, and the Princeton global seminar in Brazil will finishJuly 19.
Participants in the Greece global seminar that stayed in Istanbul for one week were largely unaffected by the protests, Daniel Kang ’16 said. Kang explained that the group spent most of its time studying at Kadir Haas University, which is not close to Taksim Square.
“Everyone seemed to be living their normal lives,” Kang said. “At like2 am, we’d hear fireworks and we’d ask the guard and he’d be like, ‘Oh, that’s the protests.’ We thought nothing was going to be wrong.”
However, Kang added that when he and a few friends went to visit Galata Tower, they were caught in the throng of protesters headed for Taksim Square.
“There were so many people on that street that even if we wanted to turn back we couldn’t,” Kang said.
Two days later, he and other global seminar students were walking across the Golden Horn, a harbor on the other side of the city from Taksim Square, when they started to feel a stinging in their eyes, nose, mouth and ears, Kang said. He explained that the tear gas used by the police at the protesters had carried across Istanbul to the Fatiya district.
But Kang added that throughout this whole encounter, he never felt threatened or unsafe.
“We were just curious people,” he said.
Robyn Radway GS, who is pursuing summer language study in Turkey, said she had not had the need or the desire to go to Taksim Square, where the protests are concentrated.
Isabella Peraertz ’16, who is participating in the global seminar in Brazil, said that students had been discouraged from participating in or traveling to the protest sites by their global seminar program coordinators.
“We found out where the protests were going to be, either through Facebook or word of mouth, and basically you couldn’t go there for the entire day,” she explained.
Grace Singleton ’16, who studied withPrinceton in Brazilthis summer, and Silvia Lundgren ’15, who is interning at the public archives office for the state of Rio de Janeiro, both said they felt that the danger surrounding the political protests has been exaggerated by the American media.
Singleton said she attended a protest in the Centro neighborhood of Rio de Janeiro that was attended by over a million people from a variety of different backgrounds, including children, young adults and a professor who had brought his class along on a field trip. She added that she did not feel threatened.
“I didn’t feel like I was in danger, just a really powerful kind of unity,” Singleton explained. She added that, if there was anything intimidating about the protest, it was the sheer number of people in attendance.
However, Singleton said that while she did not think the protests had prompted any changes to the Princeton in Brazil program, the program and students’ host families warned them against approaching the areas associated with the protests.
“My host family was pretty nervous about me being anywhere near the riots,” Singleton, who is staying in Copacabana, said. “On days where they were scheduled to happen they were aware of me going out.”
Lundgren said she had received many messages from family and friends at home to make sure she was safe, but she explained that the demonstrations had not made her fear for her personal safety.
“In the press at home, in the U.S., they’re kind of blowing the whole thing up,” she said.
Peraertz said that being in Brazil at the same time as the protests enriched her experience there, explaining that she did not know about any underlying problems going on with Brazilian transportation, for example, before the protests.
“It helped me understand Rio more than what I see as a tourist,”Peraertzsaid.
“The chants that the crowds would sing suggested a pretty unanimous theme,”Dylan Blau Edelstein '16, who also attended Princeton in Brazil,said. “How can the government invest so much money in the World Cup and the Olympics, yet so little in health and education?”