Thursday, May 14, 2009

International and area studies senior Courtney Powers (left) and
friend, Ragan Dueker, ride the bus in Guadalajara, Mexico
shortly after the Swine Flu outbreak in April. ~Photo provided

Swine Flu shortens spring semester for exchange students

The semester was cut short for several exchange students studying in Mexico this spring when an outbreak of Swine Flu immobilized the region.

The outbreak, occurring in late April, forced OU partner universities in Puebla and Guadalajara to close as a precaution against spreading the disease.

Courtney Peters, an OU international and area studies major who was in Guadalajara, said she was never worried about contracting the illness, but all the excitement made the trip more interesting.

"It was more of an annoyance," Peters said. "I think it really got blown out of proportion."

According to the Centers for Disease Control Web site, the CDC is still recommending U.S. residents avoid nonessential travel to Mexico.

However, Jack Hobson, a spokesperson for the Education Abroad office at OU, said school officials will continue to monitor the situation to determine if summer programs will be impacted.

Megan Powers, an international and area studies junior, said the university in Colima did not close, but she left Mexico early anyway.

"It was incredibly frustrating to be down there, actually," Powers said. "The only way I was getting information was by reading news sources and, depending on what you were reading, it was either the end of the world, or it was the flu."

Mexican officials ordering all public locations to close prompted Powers to leave.

"They closed down restaurants, they closed down the movie theater, everything was closed," Powers said. "And I thought, 'there's got to be something going on.'"

Powers returned to the United States the first weekend in May, a month shy of completing the semester.

"I made the decision to apply for withdrawal from my classes for the semester," Powers said.

Hobson said when a program is closed due to unforeseen reasons, a student would certainly qualify for a retroactive withdrawal or cancellation, but withdrawal is not the only option.

Peters will be finishing her studies at the university in Guadalajara through correspondence.

"At first they were like, sorry, you're not getting any credit," Peters said. "But now, they're starting to work with us."

Both students said it was unfortunate they had to come back early, but neither regrets the experience.

"It was an uncomfortable position to be in," Powers said. "But it was very revealing of the culture and the mentality. It helped me grow quite a bit."

Hobson said the exchange program in Mexico was the only one impacted by the Swine Flu outbreak, and many students are moving forward with summer plans that include international travel.

Advertising junior Anthony Caravello plans to work in Ayamonte, Spain for the summer, and he hopes to travel throughout the region.

"I refuse to let the swine flu compromise it all," Caravello said.

Shari Kinney, administrator for the Cleveland and McClain County Health Departments, agrees there's little cause for concern.

Kinney said the reaction has been extreme considering there are thousands of flu-related deaths in the United States each year.

In 2005, the Centers for Disease Control reported 1,812 deaths as a result of influenza, according to the National Vital Statistics Report.

"You should be just as concerned every fall, as you are about this," Kinney said.

For updated information on the Swine Flu visit www.cdc.gove/swineflu or call the Oklahoma Swine Flu toll free hotline at 1-888-278-7134.

Exchange student Megan Powers talks about her experiences in Colima, Mexico during the Swine Flu outbreak in April.