CLEMSON — Amidst the ongoing crisis between Russia and the Ukraine, a contingent of 10 from Clemson University has made it safely to Sochi, Russia, to attend the 2014 Paralympic Games.
As part of a three-credit “study abroad” Parks, Recreation and Tourism Management class, students William Everroad, Alexandra Vrampas, Kaitlin Driver, Meredith Swetenburg, Ansley Farmer, Sara Snyder and Lauren McGreevy have joined professors Skye Arthur-Banning, Gwynn Powell and Brandi Crowe on the trek oversees.
The trip’s mission: Return to Clemson with heightened awareness of disabilities, culture, and potential within their respective fields of study, those that include sport and event management.
The unintended consequences of the trip? “That we are all more aware of the global political climate,” Professor Powell said, “not only in Russia, but between the United States and Russia. I am more so acutely aware of it because of our travel there.”
Their journey began with a flight from Charlotte to New York (JFK) at 12:32 p.m. last Wednesday. It ended Thursday when their flight from New York landed in Moscow at 10:50 a.m., and then took another plane to Sochi. They are staying at the Kristina Hotel after nearly 30 hours of travel.
The hotel is five minutes from the sea, two minutes from a 24-hour grocery story, and features a kitchen that the group share. They have already met athletes from various countries, parents of athletes, and a student delegation from Finland doing a similar trip as Clemson is.
For much of the 12 day trip, their schedule is a whirlwind. They plan on attending virtually all Paralympic events, including opening ceremonies, biathlons, sledge hockey, wheelchair curling, super combined alpine skiing and slalom, and cross country ski sprint. They will also find the time to attend the famous Russian ballet or circus, tour the city, visit a Soviet youth camp, and compete in a case study discussion with students from the Russian Presidential University of National Economy and Public Administration. They begin traveling back to Clemson on March 18, with an expected arrival time [back to campus] at 11:30 p.m.
It is believed that Clemson is the only college/university in the United States represented by students and faculty at the Paralympic Games.
A college-age Russian student will be with Clemson’s travel party for the duration of their trip, acting as translator and guide.
As for their safety, amidst an uncertain crisis so close to where they are staying, the students and faculty, themselves, are not concerned. Their colleagues, friends and, yes, parents are worried, but they are not. They are more excited than anything. Plus, they are prepared.
“We did a retreat up in the North Carolina mountains, to get to know one another and begin meshing together as a group, and also to begin looking out for one another’s safety on the trip,” explained Professor Arthur-Banning. “We discussed some of the difficult cultural issues taking place — in this case, safety issues — so we came up with our own sets of rules and perimeters under which we are going to operate, to make sure that we are as safe as we could be. We discussed the things that we can do to ensure keeping one another safe within our own perimeters.”
“The Study Abroad office here at Clemson has also asked us to already prepare an evacuation plan, so we have a Plan B,” Professor Powell added. “If, for some reason, the airport were to close, there is a camp that is an hour away that has agreed to host us in case of an emergency, and will help get us to another airport.”