I was nervous about both of our W’International groups this winter – about 65 people in all, headed ultimately to Athens and Rome – being on the same flights to and from Munich. My last two semesters of sending students abroad ended up with canceled flights, spontaneous needs for hotel rooms in Charlotte and New York City, and unarranged transportation for 30 people in each group. It was stressful on the team of organizers and the participants alike to overcome the unexpected delays.
When I got news from the program leaders that all 65 had made it onto the flight back to the US, I couldn’t believe my luck – this round of programs was going to conclude without incident. Then I heard the plane turned around and made an emergency landing in London. I knew it!
It turns out, there had been a non-Wingate-related medical emergency on the plane. When the call went out to ask if a doctor was on board, Wingate’s own Dr. John Hartness identified himself and offered his services to the passenger in need. Dr. Hartness was accompanying his wife, Marilyn Hartness, assistant professor of art, on her W’International program to Greece. Since no one else with medical credentials came forward, Dr. Hartness went into action with the assistance of the medical equipment provided by the Lufthansa crew. After communicating with the pilot, the plane was diverted to London so the passenger could receive urgent care in a medical facility. Dr. Hartness then made it back to his seat with his wife and returned to his game of solitaire.
The airline crew was so appreciative of Dr. Hartness’ assistance that they upgraded the Hartnesses to first class. As it turns out, this was their first time in first class, and the couple are in their 70s. Many on the plane gave them a round of applause as they made their way up to their deserved seats. In fact, Marilyn Hartness will be retiring this year, and I cannot think of a better way to conclude her wonderful contributions to the W’International program.
I’ve always known that sending students abroad came with countless benefits – and sometimes those that I could not predict. The world has an impact on our students when they get engaged with new communities, cultures and ideas. This time around, Wingate had an impact on the world. Despite the two-hour delay, our students got to witness service in action and a good deed rewarded – a unique life lesson I don’t think they will soon forget.
In this 40th year of the program, these last groups to Italy and Greece solidified my commitment to providing students with the best experiential learning we can offer. After a decade of sending over 1,500 students abroad on the W’International program, I know the impact this opportunity makes on students – even if it takes five or ten years for them to truly understand it. I am truly grateful to all the educators who came before me and worked tirelessly for 30 years on making the world accessible and affordable, even from a small North Carolina town like Wingate. Here’s to another 40!