Publication Date: April 7, 2020
Publication Location: BRATTLEBORO, VT
Contact:   |   communications@worldlearning.org

This op-ed by World Learning Inc. CEO Carol Jenkins and SIT President Dr. Sophia Howlett originally appeared in the Brattleboro Reformer on April 4, 2020.

In our immediate community and around the world, the rapid spread of the novel coronavirus has brought sweeping changes to our lives, and some weighty decisions, as we shelter in place and take measures to protect our families, loved ones and livelihoods.

The global community at School for International Training has been compelled to make similarly high-stakes choices in recent weeks. With graduate and undergraduate programs across all seven continents, we found ourselves racing to repatriate more than 900 students just as COVID-19 began to spread.

SIT is a global institution that began with The Experiment in International Living here in Windham County in 1932, and grew to become part of World Learning Inc., based in Washington, D.C., our wider nongovernmental organization dedicated to international education, intercultural exchange and sustainable development. Every year, we send thousands of students on nearly 100 undergraduate and graduate programs from Antarctica to Zanzibar, so SIT is no stranger to civil wars, uprisings, natural disasters and other cataclysms. But this was unprecedented.

Over the past month, we faced some of the greatest challenges in our history as countries sealed their borders and grounded commercial flights — sometimes with less than 24 hours’ notice — stranding hundreds of students abroad.

We are profoundly grateful for the unwavering support of the Vermont congressional delegation, including Sen. Patrick Leahy and his hardworking staff, the U.S. Department of State and the office of Gov. Phil Scott, in helping us meet this challenge. Working around the clock in collaboration with SIT and World Learning staff, our friends in Vermont and Washington helped us navigate and communicate with embassies and consulates around the world to bring our students home.

When commercial airlines were grounded in Morocco, Ecuador, Peru and Samoa, Sen. Leahy’s office made sure SIT students had access to government-sanctioned and commercial flights. We were also grateful for the outstanding assistance of personnel at U.S. embassies and consulates who went the extra mile to safeguard our students.