More than 50 Marshall students planning to spend their spring break meeting with businesses in Santiago, Chile, were told late Sunday night — less than 48 hours after an earthquake shook the country’s coast — that the trip was canceled.
Chile was struck by an 8.8-magnitude earthquake early Saturday morning, killing more than 700 people and displacing more than 2 million residents. The earthquake’s epicenter was southwest of Santiago, Chile’s capital, but the initial earthquake and its aftershocks still caused significant damage.
Santiago fared better than Concepción, another major city located farther south, but the earthquake was powerful enough to leave many people without power, gas or water and to close one of the city’s major bridges and its only airport.
A group of Marshall freshmen was slated to visit Santiago over spring break as part of the school’s Learning about International Commerce Program (LINC). Students in the program take a two-unit class focused on a specific country’s culture and businesses and then visit that country in March or May.
Though most experts believe Santiago will recover quickly, Marshall administrators felt they needed to make a quick decision and, because they can’t be sure the country and its business will be stable in time for spring break, they chose to call off the trip.
“The challenge we have at the moment is that the trip was scheduled to leave a week from Saturday, so we don’t have a long window of time to watch how the situation in Santiago changes,” said Kim West, the associate dean for undergraduate programs at Marshall. “If we were not leaving for four weeks or six weeks, we could take the time to see what the next week or two brings. Unfortunately, we don’t have that time.”
A similar situation arose last year, West said, when terrorist attacks in Mumbai, India precluded travel to the country. In that case, the students were taken instead to Dublin, Ireland.
West said Marshall is currently exploring alternatives for the Chile group, including traveling to a different location in March or rescheduling the Santiago trip for May.
If possible, West said she hopes the students will be able to visit Santiago later in the year. Coordinating this, however, involves communicating with hotels, travel agencies, airlines and the businesses the students were supposed to visit.
“Ideally, we would look at the week after commencement because we actually have three trips going then,” West said. “We might look to just move it to that block and hope it works for most of the students.”
Students who were part of the group headed to Santiago said they are disappointed the program has been canceled but are hopeful that they might get to go later.
Garrett Weiss, a freshman majoring in business administration, said many of the students were actually eager to go to Chile right after the earthquake because of the possibility of assisting with humanitarian efforts.
“Obviously we wouldn’t be going just to do everything we had planned if we went after the earthquake; we’d probably be helping, which everyone was really excited about as well,” Weiss said.
Laura Gardiner, a freshman majoring in business administration, said she was disappointed because the group has spent the whole semester learning about Chile, and they were anxious to visit and apply their knowledge.
“I was disappointed … in the sense that we’ve been learning about Chile, so I’ve been really excited to go to Chile and South America in general,” Gardiner said.
Going to a different location in March would be difficult, as many require specific visas, Gardiner noted, and she said she hopes the trip happens later in the year.
“I’m hoping that the trip is just going to get moved to May, but then the other problem is that people who picked March trips pick them because they can’t go in May,” she said.
Weiss, however, said he is willing to go anywhere Marshall might send him in March.
“It’s kind of exciting to know that we’re going somewhere but have no idea where we’re going,” he said.
West said Marshall hopes to notify students by the end of the week as to what the alternative plan will be.
This would have been the third time students in the LINC program have traveled to Chile.