It seems an eternity ago since we first heard about COVID-19 back in January. The events of the past six months have been a whirlwind for the world, and Xperitas is no exception. In mid-March, as the U.S. State Department issued its historic global Level 3 travel advisory, soon to become Level 4, Xperitas made the decision to cancel all of our spring and summer 2020 programs, understanding that the impact of COVID-19 would be far-reaching and long-lasting.
For the six weeks following this decision, Xperitas staff was consumed with ensuring that our customers received their program refunds within the promised six-week timeframe, and we were very proud to be able to accomplish this important goal.
At this time of year, we would typically be busily making the final arrangements for our summer programs, checking in with groups that are traveling and spending time in-country with many groups. This year is, of course, completely different. Xperitas staff and board of directors have committed themselves to investing their time and energy to ensure that Xperitas comes out of this situation as a stronger organization. We have created a strategic plan that involves making improvements in our program offerings, streamlining our processes so that they are more efficient and user-friendly, creating additional high quality educational resources for our teachers, parents and students, and maintaining close contact with our beloved teachers, team leaders and community partners throughout this pandemic.
As a Minneapolis-based nonprofit organization dedicated to bringing people together by bridging language and cultural divides, the murder of George Floyd has impacted us deeply, as individuals and as an organization. We are in the process of organizational soul-searching, to figure out what more we can do to ensure that Xperitas plays its part in making meaningful contributions toward greater racial equity, here in Minneapolis and around the world. In our discussions and planning, one word rises unsurprisingly to the surface…AUTHENTICITY. As an organization that strives to provide authentic, deep, meaningful language and cultural immersion experiences, we found that we would settle for nothing less than this same level of authenticity in our racial equity work.
We believe we have made positive contributions to racial equity through our mission-driven programs and through our robust scholarship and financial aid programs which provide opportunities for low-income students, many of them Black, Indigenous and People of Color (BIPOC), to experience the transformative power of language and cultural immersion.
We also believe there are areas in which we need to explore ways to improve, including ensuring our outreach strategies are reaching BIPOC, amplifying the voices of BIPOC stakeholders, strengthening Xperitas’ connection to Twin Cities BIPOC communities, and examining our hiring and board member selection processes to increase opportunities for BIPOC to work, lead and govern at Xperitas.
The evolution of the pandemic and the resulting responses from the U.S. government and governments abroad over the next few months will determine if spring and summer 2021 language and cultural immersion programs will be viable. We are currently enrolling programs to all destinations and have provided participants with the peace of mind that all deposits paid will be fully refundable up until September 30 for spring programs and October 14 for summer programs. We are also working closely with our partners and family stay coordinators abroad to ensure that our 2021 programming maintains Xperitas’ standards of quality and safety for all participants, group leaders and host communities.
It is evident that, even when we are able to put this pandemic behind us and move forward in whatever the “new normal” brings us, there will be much healing – physical, financial and social healing - that needs to take place in our world. The role of mission-driven, nonprofit organizations like Xperitas in driving this healing process by exploring, understanding and bridging cultural differences to bring people together will be more important than ever. Xperitas is committed to working tirelessly toward this goal.