Westminster College is moving ahead with its plan to host May Term Study Experiences (MTSE) in 2021, hosting its annual May Term Fair Sept. 17. However, the process will look different as organizers prepare for a possible cancellation.
This comes months after the 2020 May Term Study Experiences were canceled in 2020 because of the COVID-19 pandemic. Now, students are weighing their options — and voicing concerns about how the school will keep them safe.
“At this time we are considering many possible health and safety protocols to help mitigate the risk to participants and communities that we plan to visit,” said Sara Demko, assistant provost for Global Learning. “The COVID-19 situation is fluid and still changing rapidly as this point, so no specific plans are documented yet.”
Demko said there may be increased precautions for Study Experiences, including COVID-19 testing for participants and “altered itineraries.”
On its website, the college notes it may cancel study abroad trips at any time if deemed necessary, especially in the case of factors outside of Westminster’s control. If that happens, the college said it would refund any “recoverable expenses.”
Last year, that meant some students were left without refunds for plane tickets and other expenses when trips were canceled because of the coronavirus pandemic. Now, Demko said Westminster will implement new policies in case something similar happens.
“The COVID-19 situation is fluid and still changing rapidly as this point, so no specific plans are documented yet.”
For example, Westminster usually requires a $300 non-refundable deposit fee when students register for an MTSE. This year, that deposit will be refundable if the school cancels trips before Jan. 31, 2021.
Kian McInnis, a fourth-year student at Westminster College, was one of the students whose MTSE trip was canceled in May.
“All of the real world time and materials I had invested in preparing myself were all of a sudden without a home,” McInnis said. “The months I had spent mentally preparing myself to leave the country for the first time, with people I had never met before, seemed to come all crashing down.”
McInnis said he was frustrated with the cancellation process, pointing to “little talk of compensation” after the program was moved online.
However, Demko said the school is working to ensure the viability of studying abroad in the Spring and Summer of 2021 — monitoring travel restrictions, quarantine requirements and guidelines from the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention.
“The safety of Westminster’s students, staff, and faculty is the top priority,” Demko said. “However, we must also carefully consider our impact on the communities that we will visit.”
*Editor-in-Chief Cami Mondeaux contributed to this report.