Wofford students studying abroad personally affected by Hurricane Irma

By: Caroline Maas, Staff Writer

Hurricane Irma came to Spartanburg in the form of a few of days of rain and some cooler weather. Students studying abroad allow us a unique connection to areas of the world hit harder by the storm than Spartanburg.

Rachel Hauser ’19 is studying in Santiago in the Dominican Republic. Hurricane Irma was predicted to have a larger impact on the DR than what was experienced. Although the damage in Santiago was minimal, her program still evacuated.

She says that the evacuation process itself proved to be the hardest part of the experience.

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

Hauser says the stamp, which required renewed passports after entrance into the U.S., “prolonged our stay in D.C., making us stay a total of 10 days”.

She says that although the weather wasn’t as severe as expected in her part of the DR, “because we were in D.C. for so long, the main problem is getting caught up on all the schoolwork we missed. Besides that though everything is back to normal.”

Unfortunately, the effect Irma had on Havana, Cuba, was not as mild. Brooke Baird ’19 is abroad in Cuba through study abroad program, CIEE. Her group was evacuated to New York for a week during hurricane Irma.

Baird says her group was told at 11 a.m. that they would be leaving Havana for New York at 11:30 a.m. Baird says once she obtained wifi at 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 CIEE, the organization Wofford holds the longest standing relationship with.

“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. CIEE was already able to make adjustments and work with the US embassy and what not. I couldn’t have asked for 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 uninformed I was about such a major storm when I immediately saw what others were saying about it.”

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

Once back in Havana, the group 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 and 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.”

Lancaster wants Wofford students to feel confident about their safety during their Study Abroad experiences, saying “the way our program is set up is designed to respond to these types of events. Wofford students have no reason to worry about overseas issues any more then they do domestically.”

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