CONWAY, SC (WMBF NEWS) - Days ahead of the attacks in Brussels, a group of Coastal Carolina University students and professors said they noticed men in military-grade uniforms with weapons walking throughout the city.
The group was in Belgium on an educational spring break trip. They had just arrived back in the United States on March 12.
While visiting the country's capital city, they had flown into and out of the very airport bombed on Tuesday, and they used the metro station several times.
"Just utter and complete relief that we were not there, that our students were not harmed," said Dr. Amanda Brian about their trip."It was sort of a gratefulness and relief, compounded by sadness and real devastation about what did happen to a city that we certainly fell in love with."
"It could have been us," CCU senior Samuel Gordon said. "I saw an image of a woman sitting on a bench, who had clearly been injured by the attacks. I remember a little over a week ago, I was sitting on that same exact bench in the same metro stations."
Months of planning had gone into the trip that took the group around Brussels and into Paris, another city rocked by violence last year.
"I was a little concerned, but at the same time, I knew that if the school thought we were going to be in any danger then they would have either canceled the trip or changed it," CCU senior Danielle Lafreniere said.
Brian said back-up plans were in place in case warnings or threat levels increased ahead of their trip. However, in the days leading up to it, and even in the moment, things seemed secure.
"The university certainly felt safe in us going. We felt safe in us going, but the situation appears that any city, any cosmopolitan in the west could be a target."
Brian said the university has canceled trips before because of concerns over student and faculty safety.