This year the Class of 2023 faces unexpected changes to their global rotation. Typically, the second year rotation cities are Seoul, South Korea in the fall and Hyderabad, India in the spring. Minerva administration announced via the Community Portal on July 3rd that Minerva would not operate in Seoul this fall. Instead, Seoul will be a Spring 2021 rotation city with Hyderabad removed from the 2020-2021 rotation schedule.

Rationale for the Changes

In the July 3rd announcement, the senior team cited “visas, travel restrictions, and government regulations intended to protect the health of students and residents of Seoul” as the rationale for not operating in Seoul this fall. The initial announcement provided no further explanation for why Seoul was moved to the spring rather than suspended or why Hyderabad was suspended rather than remaining the spring city. Rather, students were told that Hyderabad remote programming would take place in the fall semester, in lieu of the city’s suspension.

When asked for further explanation on the changes to Seoul, Ben Nelson said that “both the university [Hanyang] and our residence hall asked us not to come for the fall semester because of the COVID situations in various countries outside of Korea and the strict quarantine requirements in Korea, suggesting we come in the spring instead. We have a contract with the residence hall in Seoul for this year that they were willing to push out by a few months but not by a whole year whereas we had no such commitment in Hyderabad for this year. Furthermore, COVID appears to be very well controlled in Korea at this point whereas it is on a significant rise in India.”

Nelson also said that these changes were temporary but that the uncertainty of the future makes it difficult to plan further than a few months ahead.

M’23 Impact & Response

With no official Fall city, M’23s were given the choice of studying in another operating city — San Francisco, Berlin, or London — or remotely. This is the first time that a cohort has not had an official city. 

The initial response from M’23 was shock. Mateus de Sousa Shields (M’23) told the Quest that, “We never really knew what was going to happen, but we were very optimistic due to how well South Korea was handling the pandemic. There were many different rumors about whether or not it would happen.”

Another M’23, Allison Lehn, shared that, “Minerva’s communication seemed like confirmation of rumors. People figured it out slowly. The news trickled down. People had heard about it before the announcement. I was still shocked because Seoul was doing so well, but I realized that we [foreigners] are the problem, not Seoul. I’m glad that we’ll still end up going there.”

When asked about the anticipated effect the changes would have on M’23, Nelson stated that “from an academic perspective there should be very little impact as we have had many students study in cities in the rotation that are not in sequence, remotely, or with other students not in their cohort. Not being with the cohort will be challenging for some students though, again, many have chosen to take various paths throughout their Minerva journeys and a semester (if indeed COVID resolves to the point where it will be just a semester), should hopefully be a minor inconvenience that will be counteracted by the opportunity to meet and establish close relationships with students from other years.”

So far, however, the decision of where to study this fall has weighed heavily on many students. Lehn shared that, “We just kept saying, ‘at least we’ll see each other in Seoul’ — but now we’re not all going to be in the same place all together. And we were all sad about that. And I think that sadness drove people’s decision making. They wanted to be with the most amount of people. ”

De Sousa Shields said that, “Deciding what city to go to was one of the hardest decisions many of us have had to make. Deciding between friends, deciding between cities, and guessing where you think you could get in… at least having the alternative choice gave us something to think about so we weren’t just sitting in disappointment.”

The full impact of having a scattered cohort will continue to show throughout the semester. With a combination of cohort-specific programming and location-based programming, M’23 will have opportunities targeted at connecting as a cohort and connecting to their location. 

Hyderabad Remote Programming

The July 3rd announcement introduced the fall Hyderabad Remote Programming in lieu of the city’s removal. The specifics of the programming are still in development and more information will be shared with M’23 as plans are finalized. As for the Hyderabad on-the-ground staff, Nelson said that these staff were offered different roles at Minerva.

When he heard about the Hyderabad Remote Programming, de Sousa Shields said that, “My first reaction was ‘eye roll’. I haven’t really thought about it too much. I’m trying to not pass judgement until it happens. Sometimes Minerva surprises me with the quality of their events, sometimes not, so good luck to them!”

Lehn shared similar concerns for the programming, “I hope that what they do doesn’t feel completely worthless. That we learn something valuable and meaningful, that it’s educational and a little bit informative. Maybe more like a guide for the future, not something aimed to be a fully comprehensive experience.”

Another M’23, Jade Bowler, expressed skepticism saying, “I understand they’re trying their best, but I don’t see how the odd session will come close to experiencing Hyderabad in person. I worry the sessions will fall on stereotypes or skim the surface of Indian culture in a problematic way. ‘Like here, try this good food. Congrats, now you’ve experienced India.’”

The administration seemed aware of these concerns with the programming. Nelson said that, “We hope that students will take the time and participate fully but if we thought that remote programming could be an effective and full substitute to being on the ground then we wouldn’t have bothered with the rotation in the first place. Hopefully, students will find the programming valuable.”

Teri Cannon, Acting Dean of Students, shared that “Because M’23s are remote and in all three cities, [Hyderabad Remote Programming] is a way of providing a shared experience in a meaningful way that continues to build students’ intercultural competency and experiences and builds community.”

According to Manu Jayamohan, one of the staff on the Hyderabad Remote Programming Team, “We understand that the experience will not be the same as being on-ground in Hyderabad. However, we are going to try to create the next best thing. We are looking at this semester as an opportunity to build your bucket list for India, in the hopes that, when you do come to this beautiful country at some point in your lives, you will have networks and contacts, experiences, and localized recommendations to seek out and explore. Through this virtual semester, in addition to providing the Hyderabadi experience, we are going to broaden our events to include elements from other regions of India as well, providing students with more of an Indian semester compared to previous cohorts.”

Jayamohan wanted to personally share with M’23, “I assure you 100% that it is not going to be perfect. We might have way more bumps along the road than we would like to as we too are trying to figure all of this out for the first time and we have got way more questions than answers for now. This is where we hope you come in. We want to have a dialogue with you about what this semester will look like. The Hyderabad team will have regular office hours throughout the semester and we hope to see you guys there with ideas and enthusiasm to make the best out of this semester. I know things don’t look great but as a great wizard once said in a beautiful fantasy book series, ‘Happiness can be found even in the darkest of times if only one remembers to turn on the light.’ We hope to turn on that light with you guys.”