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Outbreak Could Alter Study Abroad Plans For Students [WISC-TV]

April 30, 2009

From WISC-TV.com

Concerns about swine flu are prompting possible travel changes for some University of Wisconsin students.

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Reports from the U.S. Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, World Health Organization and the U.S. State Department have cautioned people against traveling to Mexico because of swine flu, and that could mean some changes for students planning to study there.

Mexico is suspected to be the center of the outbreak.

The one UW-Madison student who was studying in Monterrey, Mexico, this semester has left the city, and UW-Eau Claire announced Tuesday it has canceled its study abroad programs to Mexico.

UW-Madison is now deciding whether it should take action as well.

Student Stephanie Balgeman was planning to head for Oaxaca, Mexico, in three weeks to study abroad, but she said she isn’t sure now if the program will take off or if she wants to go.

“I’m just monitoring it. It’s become like a second homework for me,” said Balgeman of her recent research on swine flu. “It’s hard, because I don’t want to put myself in danger, especially for my family, I don’t want them to lose me because I’m being selfish and want to go to Mexico.”

UW-Madison is now considering whether to send 34 students to three locations in Mexico for the summer.

“We have programs in place and students hope to take part in them, so we want to make sure that we don’t act rashly,” said Rob Howell, director of International Academic Programs at UW-Madison. “We want to make sure that we make the determination at a point when we’re really sure of what the situation is.

“UW-Madison will have to decide before May 17, when the first program in Mexico is set to start.

“We’re also looking for alternative programs, too, to provide students with an array of potential alternatives to help them to meet their academic goals and also so that they can have this study abroad experience,” Howell said.

Balgeman said she will keep watching for developments until she has to make a decision.

“Right now, it’s a yes, but if it gets dangerous a week or half a week before, it’s going to be a no,” Balgeman said.

Balgeman said she is concerned she might not be able to get a summer job if she has to stay home from her abroad program, and she’d lose a scholarship on top of it. She is hoping to transfer to another program if hers is deemed too dangerous.

At UW-Eau Claire, Karl Markgraf, the director of the Center for International Education, said staff decided Tuesday to pull the six-week program involving 23 students starting May 26. Instead, staff is working on a comparable program to Costa Rica.

One student at UW-Stout is studying in Mexico and apparently is fine. School spokesman Doug Mell said two UW-Stout students who planned to study in Mexico this summer have decided to study elsewhere or cancel plans.

The sole student in Mexico through a current study abroad program at UW-Platteville returned because of the outbreak and is OK.

At UW-Green Bay, officials said a two-week study tour by education students who were to observe schools in Mexico at the end of May has been postponed indefinitely. UW-Green Bay has two students now in Mexico.At UW-Oshkosh, a four-week program to Mexico starting May 24 is being moved back to July 5.

The school has recommended the two students there currently return, but it’s not required.

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