Jan Term postponed after María poses safety risk

Kaelia Neal, Editor-in-chief

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With conditions still chaotic after Hurricane María swept through Puerto Rico more than a month ago, 11 students and two professors were forced to cancel a four-credit January Term visit designed to give valuable cultural experiences and academic insights.

“It would have been a wonderful, life-changing month, something I’d never forget,” said Professor Brian Winkenweder. “But then it blew up in smoke.”

“Unfortunately, Hurricane María has destroyed my country with so much devastation, that it is impossible for me to guarantee that my students will be able to travel to Puerto Rico at this time,” Professor Tania Carrasquillo said.

“My home is in ruins now, but not for a long time. My community is a very strong one, and we are working really hard to restore our Island as soon as possible.”

Winkenweder and Carrasquillo had arranged to chaperone the trip. The group had planned to visit Cuba as well, but had to cancel that leg over sonic attacks, featuring a cricket-like sound causing permanent hearing problems for some people.

In the wake of the hurricane, the group considered converting its Puerto Rico visit into a humanitarian aid effort. However, the professors ultimately decided the risks were just too great.

On Oct. 17, they broke the news to the students. “They were amazing,” Winkenweder said. “They totally understood.”

According to the New York Times, 75 percent of the island is still without electricity.

Given the precarious state of things, Winkenweder was worried their party would be consuming more precious resources than it was providing.

Among the students booked for the trip was sophomore Maddy Chaufty, a Spanish major and business management minor. She saw it as an opportunity network toward a career-goal of becoming a real-estate agent in a Spanish-speaking country.

“I was drawn to Puerto Rico because it’s a colony of the U.S., but it’s so so different,” Chaufty said. “I really liked how the trip focused on the art and culture of Puerto Rico.”

Although the trip was ultimately canceled, Chaufty has found another opportunity to travel outside the U.S. during the month of January.

“Two of my friends have been planning to travel around Europe,” she explained. “They said, ‘Why don’t you go with us?’”

Between Jan. 3 and 31, she and her friends will visit Holland, Italy, Greece and other European countries.

In addition, Chaufty said, if conditions permit, the 11 will be given priority for the trip next year.

With the hope that Puerto Rico’s conditions improve significantly, Carrasquillo will conduct interviews in February for students interested in the 2019 trip.

She hopes to show students “Puerto Rico’s cultural richness and how important this Island is for the political interests of the United States.”

But Winkenweder said, “I am really worried about the recovery process. I hope that we as human beings can rise above all that politics and just start helping one another.”