Rice University student Taylor Hall regularly rode the No. 74 bus during her study abroad semester in Jerusalem - until the day last month when a bomb exploded at a bus stop, killing a woman and damaging two buses, including a No. 74.
Hall, a 20-year-old junior, called home to let her parents know she was all right. "You're coming home," her mother insisted.
But Hall didn't want to leave. In the end, she and her parents reached a compromise: Hall could stay if she took cabs everywhere, even though it would be about ten times as expensive as buses.
"My parents are like, 'Yeah we'll have a bake sale for you if we have to. We'll definitely pay for the cabs,'" she said.
Hall and other undergraduate students who want to study in the Middle East face new restrictions and safety concerns from administrators at Texas colleges and universities, which have banned or limited student travel to some countries and offered alternative programs in others.
But for many students, the opportunity to get first-hand experience of a region in the grip of historic change outweighs the dangers.
"It's hard to explain the situation to somebody who hasn't been here," Hall said. "My Israeli friends were like, 'It's your first explosion, Mazel Tov! You made it, congratulations. Get back to your life.' … You know, they grow up with this. Several years ago, bombings were happening on the buses every month."
Hall said she would fight to stay in Israel as long as she could, even if violence worsened.
"I just feel like that's part of the learning experience as well," she said. "No amount of words could conjure up just exactly what this experience has been … I feel like it already has changed my life so much."
University of Texas at Austin students reluctantly had to leave Egypt when the revolution broke out in January.
The university had 25 students in Egypt at the time, and UT officials helped coordinate an evacuation. The university has restricted travel to the country for the foreseeable future.
"Some students don't want to leave," said Heather Barclay Hamir, director of the UT-Austin study abroad office.
"They want to know what the consequences are if they don't leave," Barclay Hamir said, "and we just have to support them as best we can and help them understand that it's a decision made because we are concerned about their well-being."
Rice has 3 in Mideast
UT now classifies Egypt as a "Category 2" country, meaning that the university perceives high risk for individual travel and doesn't consider Egypt safe for undergraduates.
Undergrads often have language study as their primary motivation, which is not an academically critical reason to go to a country, Barclay Hamir explained.
Rice didn't have any students in Egypt this semester, but Hall is one of three students studying in Israel, Oman and Morocco, said Tracy Kimutis, the university's international programs adviser.
"Whenever we have students abroad, we're always evaluating each situation on a case-by-base basis," Kimutis said.
Like other institutions, Rice monitors State Department reports and daily global health, safety and security advisories from a private company contracted by the university. Sometimes Rice officials will consult with a student's family, Kimutis said.
"Ultimately, it's their decision where their child is going," she said.
Switching to Morocco
For the past two summers, Texas A&M professor Salah Ayari ran a summer Arabic language and culture program in Tunisia, his native country. This year, in the wake of Tunisia's revolution, Ayari moved the six-week curriculum to Morocco instead.
"There will be elections in Tunisia this summer, and we don't know how things will go," he said. "There's no State Department warning in Tunisia at this point - it's just a safety precaution."
Some students were disappointed, Ayari said.
"A few said that they heard good things and they want to be there, but we told them your safety is more important than anything else," he added. "But overall, most people are fine with Morocco."
Fourteen to 16 students plan to attend the program, fewer than Ayari had expected.
"Part of the reason some people are not going is because of the uncertainty over there," the professor said. "Before the unrest started in Tunisia and evolved into wider unrest in the region, there were almost 30 people who signed up … ," he said. "That number declined a little, partly because of parents' concerns about safety, but I would expect in the future when things settle down the program will grow."
Students who signed up for the program this summer consider themselves lucky to score a front-row seat to momentous events unfolding in the Middle East, albeit from a relatively safe distance.
"They are very excited about being there at this time of change," Ayari said. "Many of them are international studies majors and part of that major is to spend time overseas and write a paper. … They will experience first-hand the culture and the change that's going on, which they can write about when they come back."
UH has only one student planning a study-abroad trip to the Arab world at the moment.
Junior Donna Azara, 23, will study political science, international relations and religion at University of Jordan during the next academic year.
Family ties helped
Azara will stay with an aunt and cousins in the capital, Amman, which made UH officials more inclined to approve her proposal.
"There's some people like, 'Oh you're going over there - are you crazy?' " Azara said. "Well, if you've never been there, then you might think it's worse than it really is because the news does exaggerate."
Azara will take precautions, however. She attended a UH-sponsored orientation, purchased travel insurance, and will register with the State Department.
She also pledges to stay far away from any demonstrations, if they do break out.
"I'm just not going to be in protests," Azara said. "That's one thing you don't want to do. When there's a protest you don't want to be anywhere near it."