Saturday, April 26, 2003

Colleges come to terms with SARS

Asian trips rerouted, canceled in wake of illness

By Kristina Goetz
The Cincinnati Enquirer

Colleges and universities in Greater Cincinnati are joining the ranks of institutions nationwide that are canceling or altering study-abroad programs this summer over concerns about severe acute respiratory syndrome (SARS).

Countries have struggled to contain outbreaks of the respiratory illness that has symptoms resembling the flu. First appearing in China in November, it spread quickly through Asia and has reached Europe and North America, infecting more than 4,300 people and killing more than 260.

As Chinese officials quarantined thousands of Beijing citizens who have come in contact with suspected carriers of the illness Friday, international studies departments across the United States continued to mull over what to do about scheduled trips as the summer study-abroad season approaches.

"It's our No. 1 priority that we do not put students in a dangerous situation," said Jill Gietzen, program coordinator for the executive MBA program at Xavier University.

Xavier this month canceled its Doing Business in Asia trip for which about 20 students were planning to go. Traveling abroad is one of the requirements to complete the executive MBA degree.

"We canceled it approximately 10 days ago," Gietzen said. "But the South America trip is still on. Students can either go on that trip or try the Asian trip next June. But that's risky because we have no idea when the situation will get better."

Most who planned to take the Asia trip are now going to South America. Those who aren't can choose to go next year to Europe, South America or Asia, if that program is offered. It may cause a handful of students to graduate in August rather than May.

"Students are concerned," Gietzen said. "In the executive program many students' companies sponsor them to go. In some situations, their companies were forbidding Asian travel already regardless of what Xavier decided to do."

Miami University, which ranks sixth in the nation in the number of students who study abroad - 1,348 received academic credit for international study programs in 2000-'01 - changed the itineraries of two international business programs and had to redo tickets because of the changes.

Those participating in the Hong Kong/Australia trip will now travel to New Zealand and Australia. And those on the Pacific Rim trip will still go to South Korea, Japan and Hawaii but not to China. Organizers were worried students might be quarantined in another country after being in China, for example.

"That's just not an experience we want our students to have," said Kim Suellau, coordinator for the school's international programs.

Northern Kentucky University has not canceled trips solely sponsored by the school but did cancel a trip to Singapore that was organized through a national group called the Cooperative Center for Study Abroad, which is headquartered at the college. The center is a consortium of 22 colleges and universities with member schools from eight states, including Kentucky and Ohio.

Members attended an orientation Friday at the Cincinnati/Northern Kentucky International Airport to prepare for the summer study abroad season. SARS was a major part of the agenda.

University of Dayton still intends to send about 20 students on a 15-week Asia trip that includes China, Japan, Cambodia and Thailand. School officials will continue to monitor warnings from both the U.S. State Department and the World Health Organization up until the day students are scheduled to leave May 6. "We're waiting for indications that it would be unsafe to go," said Patrick Palermo, associate provost for faculty and academic affairs at UD. "At this point, the trip is still on. It's a matter, obviously, of deep concern. But we have not made a final decision."


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