It was a rainy, muggy summer morning, and my paper was due in a few hours. I walked alongside the River Liffey in downtown Dublin to the cheapest Internet café I could find. As I began to write, my thoughts drifted away into a bubble of despair and heartache. Just a few moments before, there was a bombing in London, and I could not disengage my eyes from the computer screen as I read the same words over and over.[heidi]
I was only 292 miles away from London and the friends I knew were in the midst of the tragedy.
“I had a heavy heart knowing it could’ve been any one of us, since we were so close to Russell Square,” said Sasha Khan, journalism graduate student, who studied abroad on the same program as I in the British Isles. “Then I was worried about the students staying at the University of London dorms, which are so close to where the bus blew up.”
Dietetics junior Elizabeth Ames was also in London studying history, arts and humanities and had arrived only a couple days before the attacks. Ames’ class was located near Tavistock Square, where the bus blew up and 13 people were killed. “That morning I walked to class by myself,” said Ames. “I saw people milling around and the streets were being blocked off. I kept hearing more and more sirens and helicopters.”
Her professor dismissed class early, but she couldn’t get back because of street closures. Ames met up with classmates and walked to another dorm, where they watched the events unfold on television. Ames tried calling home, but all phone lines were busy.
She had no idea what was happening and why people were aimlessly wandering the streets. “I didn’t know what was going on, didn’t know if people were OK and I didn’t really know anyone [in her group]. We had just gotten there,” said Ames.
Other people in Ames’ group were close enough to hear an explosion and feel their building shake.
After watching the same scene on television for an hour, Ames and several other students tried to leave. The roads to get back were completely closed off and it began to rain. They quickly ran into a pub called The Swan to eat lunch, watch television and try to contact their parents. “The bartender let me use the pub phone to call home,” said Ames. “But I couldn’t get through.”
Ames said the media were taking pictures and talking to people outside Russell Square station all day. “We could see from our window,” she said. “A person covered in blackness walked by.” Watching someone who was in the underground when a bomb exploded, walking by covered in subway soot, made the situation more real.
Rachel Shapiro, communications junior, studied mass media in London. Her program was ending when the attacks hit close to where she was staying. The Mass Media in the U.K. program stayed at University of London’s Nutford House, which was down the street and around the corner from the Edgware Road station, where six people were killed.
“Many students were crying,” said Shapiro. “People took [the situation] differently. I thought it was unfortunate, but I wasn’t going to panic. I was empathetic.” Shapiro said she was interested in what was happening. “Being there [in person] and experiencing it is completely different than seeing [the situation] on the news.”[2]
A few hours had passed after I read the first statement about the bombings, when I heard through a friend of a friend that everyone in the MSU History, Arts and Humanities group were accounted for and safe. It was a joyous moment in the hours of silence.
Once the rain let up, Ames and her fellow students headed back to their dorm. They ran into another group of students who were sent out to look for them. The group Ames was with was the last group of MSU students to be found. All students carefully made their way back to International Hall to sign in, sit and wait.
Ames had trouble getting in touch with her family all day. Her calling card wouldn’t cooperate, phone lines were busy and even calling collect wouldn’t work. When she placed her credit card into the phone, her thoughts of getting in touch with her parents finally came true. “The second [my dad] picked up I started bawling,” said Ames.
Barbara Ames, Elizabeth’s mother, said she was more upset after talking to Elizabeth on the phone. “After talking to [Elizabeth], I actually was more upset because I learned how close she was to the explosions,” she said. “I prayed a lot and I wished she was not there with the violence, but did not necessarily think she should come home.”
No programs were cancelled, but there was talk of sending students home. Office of Study Abroad Health and Safety Team member Julie Friend said, “[Sending students home] was a big rumor.”
The MSU Crisis Management Team, which consisted of Friend and the director and assistant director of study abroad, met at MSU at 6:15 a.m. to go over the situation and answer phone calls coming in when the bombing occurred. They were instructed to update President Lou Anna K. Simon every 20 minutes. But the OSA did not contact parents of students studying abroad in London. “It is MSU’s policy,” said Friend. “Students are treated as an adult in the community, and there are particular rules we have to follow under FERPA (the Federal Education Rights and Privacy Act).”
After the July 7 attacks, six MSU students decided to go home. “We refunded them as much [money] as we could that wasn’t spent,” said Friend. Four students decided to withdraw from programs that were about to leave and those students were refunded all their money except the $300 deposit fee.
In the days following, tributes of flowers, signs and fliers were everywhere at Russell Square, Aldgate and Edgware Road stations and also on light posts throughout the city. “There were missing person signs everywhere,” Ames said. “At Tavistock Place there was this church whose stairs were completely covered with flowers.”
Exactly two weeks after the July 7 blasts, there were four attempted bombings, but none of the devices exploded. “I wasn’t worried the first time, but after the second bombing I was scared [to ride the underground],” said Ames. The Russell Square station opened the last week Ames’ study abroad group was in London.
Barbara Ames said meeting Elizabeth at the airport on her arrival was especially poignant. “Our older daughter was studying abroad in South Africa and I had initially been more worried about her safety,” Barbara said. “I guess this just means we have to be careful and prepared wherever we are.”
“Now I can say I was there that day, down the street from that bus,” said Ames.
The Reporting in the British Isles group left London exactly a week prior to the day of the bombings. The thought of being at Russell Square station and riding the underground every day kept plaguing my mind.
According to the Office of Study Abroad, 467 MSU students participated in study abroad programs this summer in the United Kingdom, with most of the students residing in London. According to Friend, there were 324 students in London on July 7. Since the students’ return to MSU, OSA has held two “Welcome Back” student receptions for those who studied in London this summer. Only 18 students attended, but some suggestions were made to improve emergency procedures.
As Americans, we all remember where we were when the World Trade Center towers fell on Sept. 11, 2001. Those who visited New York City before see the day in a completely different way. The scenes on television are much more vivid and real.
For me, this summer was the most amazing experience of my life, and I would not trade the experience or lessons I learned outside the classroom for anything. I can’t help but think how fortunate MSU students were, not to have been traveling on the underground or buses that summer morning. I still get goosebumps as I stare at the faces and obituaries of 52 innocent bystanders who were going through their normal routines on a typical London morning.

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