Planning has been well underway for the EAGC study abroad program that will be based at Virginia Tech’s Steger Center for International Scholarship in Riva San Vitale, Switzerland in fall 2021. The program includes an extensive experiential learning component, with active learning excursions to Geneva, Lausanne, Nicosia and Athens. At this time we anticipate that we will be able to successfully complete all of these excursions during the fall 2021 program. However, we are developing contingency plans should it be necessary to cancel one or more of these excursions owing to travel restrictions related to the COVID pandemic.
The purpose of this communication is to emphasize the curricular and financial implications should it become necessary to modify our travel itinerary.
The most likely scenario that we envision should changes to our planned excursions be required is that trips involving travel outside of Switzerland may be curtailed or cancelled and other trips arranged in their place; numerous domestic (within Switzerland) alternatives, and/or travel to cities where public health risks are minimal, do exist and we will plan to take advantage of them if the need arises. If this occurs, we are working to identify alternate cities to visit. While these cities will necessarily not involve the same learning experiences as visits to the above cities, they will nevertheless be important and interesting relative to enhancing students’ understanding of Europe’s most important political, economic and socio-cultural dynamics of the twentieth century, which our program features.
At the present time, and in anticipation that we will in fact be able to complete our original international travel itinerary, we as program leaders are in the process of making financial arrangements to do so. The planning involves reserving lodging at various locations we will be visiting, purchasing airline and train tickets and making other arrangements that will be necessary for group travel.
In previous years, the faculty leaders of this program have made financial commitments well in advance of the travel dates, with some or all of the funds being non-refundable to the program in the event of cancellation (such as, for example, lodging reservations that often require pre-payment). While the possibility does exist that a program could be cancelled and, consequently, would result in the loss of the non-refundable fees that had been disbursed, we have so far – since 2018 when this program was launched – not had to face this situation. Moreover, at this time we are confident that travel (to Geneva, Lausanne, Nicosia and Athens) will occur as planned.
In the current COVID environment, there is a greater possibility that our program may not proceed as planned, and it may be necessary to cancel one or more of the trips if travel restrictions are introduced. If funds have been disbursed to pay for various activities related to travel and, in the event of trip interruption/cancellation, if those funds are NOT refunded to our program by hotels and tour operators, students will not be reimbursed. This is in accordance with the program’s payment agreement and pursuant to contractual agreements with program vendors.
To be specific, students in the EAGC program will make a $3,500 installment payment on or before June 10, 2021. Should it be necessary for the program to use some or all of these funds to secure program travel arrangements, and should that travel activity be cancelled after June 10 with loss of some of those funds as non-refundable payments to vendors, these payments will not be refunded to students. The program leaders do not have the authority to reimburse students if there is an insufficient amount in the program fund. But we should assure you that we are doing everything possible to make financial commitments as late as possible to minimize the risk of this happening. Furthermore, we are actively seeking vendors who will allow us to make fully-refundable reservations. So, be assured that we are doing everything we can to minimize financial risk associated with this study abroad program.
The policies described here are consistent with Virginia Tech policies, including Global Travel Policy 1070. Section 3.3 of policy 1070 describes the procedures by which the Global Travel Oversight Committee approves international travel to countries experiencing U.S. Department of State Elevated Travel Advisories.
By signing the Payment Agreement that each of you signed following your acceptance into the program, you have indicated that you “have read, understood, and accept the charges, terms, and policies stated in this document.” The letter you are now reading is intended to more specifically detail Virginia Tech’s refund policy should some portion or all of our program be cancelled.
You should also know that faculty who are leading this program are meeting weekly with colleagues and administrators at Virginia Tech, as well as with colleagues in Switzerland, to monitor and assess the COVID risks in Europe.
With the vaccine rollout across Europe we are optimistic that with the right precautions, our planned group excursions will be safe for all of our students.
And questions may be directed to: Dr. Scott Nelson, Department of Political Science, Virginia Tech. Email: firstname.lastname@example.org
Professors Nelson and Stivachtis
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