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winter 2018
Hurrican Aftermath

Hurricanes affect study-abroad experiences

Baird and Hauser discuss their evacuations from Cuba and the Dominican Republic

Hurricane Irma came to Spartanburg in the form of a few of days of rain and some cool weather. Students studying abroad, however, had a different experience. 

Emma Hauser ’18, studying abroad in Santiago in the Dominican Republic, was evacuated when Hurricane Irma threatened the Dominican Republic and again when Hurricane Maria followed. She says Irma did not do as much damage to the Dominican Republic as expected, so the actual evacuation process was the most difficult part of the experience.

“At first, we were going to take a direct flight to Atlanta," says Hauser, "but our insurance company could not secure a landing permit for their plane so we had to evacuate through the U.S. Embassy. That flight took us to Washington D.C., but one of the stipulations of evacuating with the embassy was that we received a stamp on our passports that basically voided them for any future use.”         

Hauser says that the stamp, which required renewed passports after entrance into the U.S., prolonged their stay in D.C., a total of 10 days. "Because we were in D.C. for so long, the main problem was getting caught up on all the schoolwork we missed," says Hauser.

Irma's effect on Havana, Cuba, however, was not as mild. Brooke Baird ’19 was evacuated to New York for a week from her study-abroad program in Cuba.

According to Baird, her group was told at 11 a.m. that they would be leaving Havana for New York at 11:30 a.m. She says that once she connected to Wi-Fi in the airport her phone was going off with people from home trying to contact her to make sure she was ok. 

Amy Lancaster, dean of international programs, speaks very highly of the CIEE, the organization through which Baird was studying in Cuba. “Because we have such confidence in them, we were expecting them to reach out to us before we even had a chance to contact them (which they did)," says Lancaster. "CIEE was already able to make adjustments and work with the U.S. embassy. I couldn’t have asked for it (the evacuation process) to go better.”

Upon evacuating, Baird says she came to understand how big of a deal Irma actually was, “I felt very lucky to be safe and to know that I had people around the world checking to make sure I was okay. I also realized how uniformed I was about such a major storm when I immediately saw what others were saying about it.”

After her 10-day evacuation, Baird and her group returned to Havana with supplies for their host families that they had bought in New York. “I think the hardest part was not having a clear picture of what we were going back to," she says.

Once back in Havana, Baird and the other students studying abroad saw first-hand the damage done by the natural disaster. “It was difficult to come back and feel like life was paused with no purpose, but I realize that it was part of returning to a city that was recovering from a natural disaster. Food was hard to find, trees were blocking roads, buildings had collapsed, streets were still flooded, many places were closed, my family didn't have water or electricity. The whole city was on pause.”

Despite the interruption in her study abroad experience, Baird says that she feels incredibly lucky that she had the opportunity to evacuate, “Although Irma created a major pause in my semester, the experience has taught me a lot about the Cuban people's resilience and positivity.”

According to Lancaster, the Wofford study abroad network of partnerships is designed to respond quickly to a variety of emergencies. “Wofford students have no reason to worry about overseas issues any more than they do domestically,” she says.

By Caroline Maas ’19