Around last April, I decided that I wanted to travel somewhere across the world. Naturally, as a college student, I figured the best way to do this was to enroll in a travel abroad program through Rowan University. I settled on a weeklong trip to Ireland that was to occur over spring break. I was extremely excited and began to make payments to the rather hefty travel bill.
In total, I paid $4,000 to EF College Study Tours — the agency hosting the trip in accordance with Rowan. This number was around the same for the nine other students enrolled in the course, depending on their room and board arrangements, travel protection, etc.
Our class was ecstatic at the thought of leaving for our trip. However, once the news of COVID-19 began to break, we became a bit weary about going. Nonetheless, we all decided to go through with it, and seeing as Ireland wasn’t a high-risk country at the time, Rowan allowed the trip at first.
It wasn’t until a few days before our departure that the trip had been cancelled by the university, and once Trump placed the travel ban on flights from the U.S. to Europe, we knew any small chance we had of going had vanished.
The first thing myself and other students were concerned about is how we were to be refunded.
We were initially told by Rowan faculty that EF was only willing to refund us with trip vouchers, and that a cash refund from EF would not be possible. These vouchers would allow us to go on another study abroad tour of similar value and would expire in 2022. We were then told that Rowan would be reimbursing us for what we paid if we wanted a cash refund.
In an email sent on March 12, we were told that faculty members were “working closely” with the dean of students to ensure that we would receive our refunds. For the next couple of weeks, I contacted the Rowan faculty who were supposedly handling the situation to stay updated on how I would be reimbursed.
On March 24, my fellow classmates and I received an email which stated that Rowan and EF had made a deal to refund us through the form of a trip voucher, with no other options being available.
Considering that many places of employment including my own have been shut down for weeks now, receiving this refund is an imminent need for me and many other students and parents who still need to make payments, pay for groceries and otherwise stay afloat. I refused to accept the voucher as a solution. I contacted EF myself to see what they had to say.
When I called and asked how I could receive my refund, I was told by EF representative Erin that “typically, at this moment and time, there wouldn’t be a refund available in the normal circumstances, however, given the situation with the coronavirus … we’re not able to provide a full refund, however we are able to provide a refund — just less $1,000 dollars.”
When I asked why EF would be keeping a thousand of my dollars, she explained that EF “booked all of the reservations for your program by the time it was cancelled … unfortunately, we haven’t been able to get back all of the money that was spent to book those reservations, but we did get some of it back. That’s why we are able to provide a greater refund than what would normally be available … just not the entire refund.”
While I understand what EF told me, I also doubt it, considering that it seems they have decided to instill this “less $1,000” policy to blanket all of their trip refunds at this time.
A YouTube video about a local news station in Massachusetts covering a similar story regarding EF’s refund policy shows EF explaining this same policy to other paid travelers. This makes me wonder, if the cost of different trips obviously varies, does it cost EF exactly $1,000 to book all of their reservations for every single traveler?
It doesn’t seem to add up. And, even if it is true that EF is $1000 in the hole from booking reservations for our trip, should that fall on the students and parents who paid them for a trip they never received?
In a time where so many people are coming together to help one another, it is extremely disappointing to recognize a company like EF is deciding to profit off of the misfortune of others in a time of dire need. That extra $1000 could pay a student’s rent for a month, or for their groceries for the next three.
A working class couple who broke their backs to send their child on a trip to Ireland could use that money to pay their electric bill. These people are entitled to what is theirs, and quite possibly may need it to survive these next couple of months.
I know for a fact that there are many students like myself who rely on their work to get them through the basics of life. Now that their places of employment have been shut down (including my own), we know that we need every dollar we’ve earned.
Seeing a company who knows that and simply doesn’t care is just as heartbreaking as it is infuriating.
I must clarify that staff at Rowan University are looking into refunding their students the difference that EF Study Tours says they are keeping, and if they choose to do so that would be highly commendable. However, that doesn’t negate the fact that what EF College Study Tours is deciding to do is extremely unethical and they should be ashamed for the lives they are negatively affecting in this time of need.
After all, in a current state of the world where the traveling industry is non-existent, it seems they’re trying to profit off of whatever they can — including the misfortune of their clients.
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