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Students return from China

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Twelve University of Calgary students in China will return early from their studies due to concerns over SARS. As of early May, there were eight confirmed cases of SARS in Nanjing, where the U of C students are studying as part of the university's Term Abroad Program.

Because of health concerns, the program has been modified to minimize risks to students who will return to Calgary this week.

"They are not able to do some of the field trips because travel is restricted in China," said International Program Coordinator Joanna Buhr. "They have received the full academic program except for the field trips."

The students' stay in China will be shortened by two weeks. They are expected to depart China on May 15 and arrive in Calgary on May 17 after flying from Shanghai through Vancouver. They will be screened for SARS at both airports.

One U of C student has already left China because of SARS.

Fourth year Anthropology student Ary Wall feels that both the U of C and the Chinese government are overreacting to the SARS situation.

"I think it's giving in to paranoia, but under the circumstances, I'd rather be pulled than stay here while China goes into lockdown. It almost feels like it's martial law here," he said from China. "SARS is an issue but it's also one that is being controlled and is fairly easy to protect yourself from."

Albert Chieng, third year Management and Communication Studies student, agrees that leaving China is a good idea.

"Because of current situation, it's a good thing to go home early because SARS is closing China to travel and exploring," he said.

Chieng was concerned, however, about how the U of C is handling the situation.

"In terms of U of C sending us information, it hasn't been organized," he said. "We've been left in the dark when it comes to important things. It's also due to the fact TAP China in Nanjing is in a fledgling state and info about the trip to begin with wasn't good. And we didn't have a program advisor [in China]."

Earlier this year, the U of C program advisor was unable to travel to China because of SARS.

Buhr stated that best efforts had been made to keep students informed of the situation, and to address their concerns.

"They want to know what the process is going to be, about fees and about funding," said Buhr. "They also want to know if they require masks."

Buhr said some field trip fees will be refunded, and that accommodation fees may be partially refunded. But she stated that since the program is operated on a cost recovery basis and since the program has incurred unanticipated costs from shipping protective masks and sanitizer to the students, refunds might be small.

Despite the SARS outbreak, Chieng is satisfied with his trip.

"Yes, overall I'm happy with the experience," he said. "I suggest if anyone travels with TAP China, you may have to take it into your own hands to see the sites and sounds of China."

With uncertainty at the U of C over restructuring and budget cuts, and the relocation of TAP to another university body, Buhr is hopeful that the program can continue.

"These are amazing opportunities for students," said Buhr. "I would be very disappointed if the institution did decide to discontinue the program."

According to students in China, in mid-April, the U of C offered its students a chance to leave and some American students were forced to depart by their home university.

-With additional reporting by Natalie Sit.

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