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SARS makes colleges rethink China visits

A mysterious illness spreading in southeast China has prompted Concordia College to cancel an excursion there in May, while other schools are debating trips of their own.

A mysterious illness spreading in southeast China has prompted Concordia College to cancel an excursion there in May, while other schools are debating trips of their own.

Ten Concordia students learned late last week they'll spend next month in India and the Kingdom of Bhutan instead of China.

Assistant professor Ruth Lumb, who is leading the group, said it normally would spend four days in Hong Kong, but a committee voted against the trip because of the spread of severe acute respiratory syndrome, or SARS.

"We looked at the safety of the students," said Lumb, who teaches marketing.

As of Tuesday afternoon, the flu-like virus had claimed 104 lives worldwide, including at least 53 in China and 23 in the Hong Kong region, according to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention.

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The Concordia students had been studying Chinese culture for weeks to prepare for the trip. Kent McClanahan, a junior business major from Blaine, Minn., said he was disappointed at the news.

"I'm kind of torn," he said. "I don't want to endanger myself or other people, but at the same time I'm not really that worried about the disease."

Senior Anna Baumhoefner of St. Paul signed up for the trip because China is a place she wouldn't visit on her own, she said. Still, the college "definitely" made the right decision, she said, "just because that SARS is so mysterious and there's no vaccine."

The Concordia students will leave for New Dehli May 6 and return June 3.

Two of three faculty members from North Dakota State University's Plant Sciences still plan to visit China within the next month on crop-related trips, while one is undecided, department chairman Albert Schneiter said.

Meanwhile, officials at Minnesota State University Moorhead will decide within the next week whether to send 24 students to Shanghai from May 17 to June 5, according to assistant professor Jenny Lin.

The trip could be postponed until August, she said.

A native of Taiwan, Lin said family members currently visiting there have told her not to cancel the trip.

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Four MSUM students studying outside the Hong Kong region also have e-mailed her, saying U.S. media are blowing the story out of proportion, she said.

Deciding whether to send students is difficult, MSUM International Programs Director Jill Holsen said.

"It involves a lot of money from the tour agents that might not be refunded," she said. "But, of course, the safety of our students is our primary concern."

Readers can reach Forum reporter Mike Nowatzki at (701) 241-5528

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