- The Washington Times - Tuesday, April 22, 2003

When Bena Chang decided to spend the semester in China, she planned to immerse herself in Chinese culture for five months while enrolled in an intense language program. Yesterday Miss Chang, a Wellesley College junior, returned to the United States a month ahead of schedule after her trip was canceled over fears about severe acute respiratory syndrome.
She spent her last few days in China cramming in everything she hoped to do there while trying to calm her concern about the deadly virus.
"I feel like I haven't finished what I set out to do in China," Miss Chang, 20, said. "I really regret it."
She was one of 45 students participating in the District-based CET Academic Program's Beijing language component, which was canceled yesterday because of a tenfold jump in reported SARS cases in Beijing.
Other students, such as Julia Filip, left the program before it was canceled, fearing that the disease was spreading in Beijing beyond what was being reported. The World Health Organization has reported 3,861 cases of SARS worldwide and 217 deaths from the virus.
"A large part of it had to do with my parents and the news they were getting here versus the news I was getting there, a difference in numbers and the cooperation of the Chinese government with the WHO," said Miss Filip, a 20-year-old Holy Cross sophomore who left Beijing a week ago.
China's health minister and the mayor of Beijing were removed from their Communist Party posts Sunday, two days after the president threatened punishment for their not accurately reporting SARS cases.
Most of the students from a CET program in Harbin, China, were expected to return home yesterday and today. Others who left before the cancellation included Leann Luong, 23.
"We wanted to keep them there as long as we could," CET director Mark Lenhart said. "The news we were seeing out of Beijing was not good. We sensed on Wednesday we were going to be hearing of many more cases in Beijing."
Miss Luong, a Western Washington University senior, left Beijing a week ago, prompted by her parents' concern and her uncertainty.
"Because of the whole fear of SARS many of the students didn't go anywhere," Miss Luong said. "I was thinking to myself, 'Why be here if I'm going to be like this?'"
In the past few weeks, more people in Beijing have taken to wearing face masks and using disinfectant to prevent spread of the disease, Miss Chang said.
Taxicabs are disinfected every morning and night, and workers are pouring bleach on store floors and streets, she said.
"I washed my hands all the time, took a lot of normal precautions," Miss Filip said. "I didn't eat food [sold in] the street. I didn't use buses or subways, or go to bars or dance clubs."
The abrupt return can force students into something more traumatic than typical culture shock, Mr. Lenhart said.
"One minute I was there, 24 hours later I was leaving and 48 hours later I'm home," Miss Filip said. "I didn't have any time to prepare. You're going back to the States. Your way of living is going to be very different. That whole process wasn't there."
The spread of SARS will deny some area college students an opportunity to participate in such programs.
The University of Virginia has suspended four summer programs one each in Hong Kong and Beijing, and two in Shanghai based on its policy of canceling trips to areas restricted by the State Department, said William Quandt, vice provost for international affairs.
He said students will be refunded the $4,500 cost of the program.
At American University officials are taking a wait-and-see approach. About 20 students are planning to travel to the Far East in the fall, said Amy Morrill Bijeau, associate director of the university's World Capitals program
The CET students are not likely to receive refunds for the remaining portion of their trip, Mr. Lenhart said, because the company refunds only recoverable costs.
About 100 students are registered to study in China and Vietnam during the summer, he said, but 10 percent to 20 percent of students have canceled. CET will monitor the situation by talking to on-site employees and colleagues.

Copyright © 2018 The Washington Times, LLC. Click here for reprint permission.

The Washington Times Comment Policy

The Washington Times is switching its third-party commenting system from Disqus to Spot.IM. You will need to either create an account with Spot.im or if you wish to use your Disqus account look under the Conversation for the link "Have a Disqus Account?". Please read our Comment Policy before commenting.


Click to Read More and View Comments

Click to Hide