ND students in London program respond to terror with prayer and phone calls home
By KATE NAGENGAST
Nearly 3,500 miles away from the east coast of the United States, Notre Dame students living in London packed into the basement of their classroom building last Tuesday to watch CNN. Now, one week, dozens of phone calls, two formal prayer services and multiple e-mails from the U.S. Embassy later, many are coming to terms with the terrorism from a distance.
"When I first heard the news I thought, `I know so many people in that building. So far I've heard from my friends and family and people are OK, but our local churches are beginning to publish lists of the names of those still missing," said Jill Adimari from Rye, New York, a commuting suburb 20 minutes outside of New York City. "It's a lot of friends of friends. The worst part is still waiting to find out."
For Matt Johnston, from Washington, D.C. the terrorism hit even closer to home. Returning from work at Rectory Paddock, a psychology program in a school for students with severe learning and developmental disabilities, the director of the program informed him that their lecture would be cancelled due to a tragedy in the United States.
"My whole family lives in D.C. My dad got sent home from work, and we only live three blocks from the capitol building. So there was a big scare in D.C. and I was worried when I first heard," he said. "If it's true that the passengers on the plane that crashed in Pennsylvania took down the plane and fought the terrorists to keep it from hitting the Capitol it seems likely that I might owe the health of my family and friends to the people that were on that plane."
Many London students are also concerned about their own health and well being as American students living in a foreign country, and travelling to other areas of the world during next week's fall break.
"[The American embassy in London is] aware of Notre Dame and they keep us informed. We get daily phone calls and immediate dispatches for any kind of report about travel cautions and we turn that around into listserves and postings for the students," said Laura Holt, assistant director of undergraduate studies for the London Program.
"I think that we are safe here, but I also think we need to be discreet and respectful guests in a foreign country. It's not unreasonable to realize that in a foreign country you encounter foreigners, even those who are themselves relatively new to the country … I caution those who [study or travel abroad] to think of their surroundings, [attire, behavior, et cetera]. The adjustments are hard," she said.
Likewise, Anastasia Gutting, director of the London Program at Notre Dame, sought to comfort parents who may have been concerned for their son or daughter's safety.
"The program has considerable previous experience with periods of heightened tension [like] the Gulf War and IRA terrorist activity. As in the past, we have consulted with the local authorities and given advice to our students," wrote Gutting in a letter to parents. "The sense that we have from the U.S. Consul in London and the local police is that there's no special current danger. The British have, as a precautionary measure, tightened security, including increasing police presence in London."
Security cameras monitor lobbies in both the flats that house the students and the classroom building, in addition to the keys and swipe cards required for entrance. Should the situation in London worsen, the program's next step would be to place security guards in both buildings and contingency plans are in place should it ever be necessary to bring students back to the U.S. But there are no expectations of such an event, wrote Gutting.
Londoners' reactions to the crisis in the U.S. have seemed sympathetic to students. Holt said an English stranger who wished to spend the day of mourning in the presence of an American accompanied her to a prayer service for the American community in London at St. Paul's Cathedral Friday.
Similarly, students have received calls and letters of condolences from members of Parliament they will intern for when session officially begins in October, and words of encouragement from strangers in pubs.
"One man even approached my friends and me at a bar and said, `Are you Americans? I just wanted to let you know that we're all behind you here and give you my condolences,'" said Maureen Gottlieb. "I was shocked by how much the British people mourned for us too. I know that they are our allies, but the turn out at the service at St. Paul's and the general level of shock and sympathy were more than I ever expected from a country of people and ocean away from the U.S."
Notre Dame students received an invitation to Friday's service at St. Paul's Cathedral, also attended by H.R.H. Queen Elizabeth and H.R.H. Prince Charles, from the U.S. Embassy. Private prayer service for members of the Notre Dame community was also held in the classroom building Thursday night.
"I had been going to church every day last week and I wanted to go to [the service at St. Paul's Cathedral] because the people in London have been so amazing," said Adimari. "I also wanted to be with other Americans."
"Any word I know to describe what I've seen, felt and experienced with the students and English friends, and even English strangers wouldn't do," said Holt. "I don't have the vocabulary to describe it, except that the kindness and power of love in the human spirit seems only to have been intensified."
However, London remains a long way from home. "You hear all the reports back from the States and everyone is so sorrowful," said Johnston. "Here there are the Notre Dame kids, but those are really the only Americans you see on a daily basis. The people in Britain are more removed so it's not the same atmosphere as at home. I do feel pretty detached. Sometimes it feels like I should be back home. There might be a little bit of guilt that I'm not there taking it all in."
All News Stories for Tuesday, September 18, 2001