We recently covered the issue of swine flue in the UK and wondered how the outbreak of this virus – and the panic caused – would impact on international students and their plans to study abroad. What we’ve experienced and others have confirm, is that while some students may change their destination, most are not canceling their plans, despite the fear of a swine flu resurgence during the traditional winter flu season.
“I definitely didn’t (think about swine flu),” said Sarah Mickelson, a student from the US studying an internship in the South of England. “The symptoms aren’t really any different from the flu, and I think everyone’s been making a big deal of it, and it’s not something everyone should be scared of.”
An optimistic point of view – and one the writer shares – however, the H1N1 virus, to give it its proper name, has had a worldwide impact: recent figures report 158,000 infections and 950 deaths in 141 countries. Big enough in fact, for the World Health Organisation to declare swine flu as the first flu virus pandemic since 1968. As is to be expected, in areas that have been hit particularly hard by the virus, student numbers have suffered for a number of study abroad programmes. Parents, schools and students themselves are all currently weighing up the benefits of study abroad opportunities with the real risks of contracting the virus. We only have to remember back to earlier this month when students on school trips to China from both the UK and the USA were quarantined when members of their party were found to be infected with swine flu.
So has this put people off? Well, no. Schools and study overseas agents have been quick to adapt to the current situation and have suspended sending students to swine flu hot spots. Many groups of students orginally booked to study in Mexico have experienced great help and flexibilty and rebooked their programmes, with Costa Rica and Europe being particularly popular. Aside from the H1N1 hot spots and rising global concern amids WHO expectations of a swine flu resurgance during the traditional winter flu season, the UK, Argentina and Australia have not seen large reductions in the number of international students. In fact, some regions are reporting increased numbers of students.
Worries have been rising globally; the WHO has stated that it expects a resurgence of H1N1 in the Northern Hemisphere during the flu season, which reaches its peak during the winter. The United Kingdom, Argentina and Australia also are experiencing large numbers of new infections, yet many United States travelers have not been deterred.
“No drop in students that want to travel,” said Russell Tebeleff, director of sales at Student Travel Services. “Really the only impact would be on people looking into Jamaica as opposed to Mexico.
“The swine flu hasn’t declined travel, it just pushed it into different destinations. Before, Mexico was the biggest destination for our customers, whereas now it’s spread out a little more.”
And for the more savvy student traveller, there are some great bargains to be had out there. Many students have even brought forward their study abroad plans in order to take advantage of massively reduced airfares and hotel rates. Many students we’ve spoken to have even reported a heightened sense of adventure and opportunity!
In fact, many students have been encouraged to take advantage of slashed airline or hotel prices that are a result of the economy and the swine flu. Eric Tiettmeyer, editor and publisher of Student Traveler magazine in Los Angeles, cited a sense of adventure and opportunity in students.
“College students are less averse to things like natural disasters and something like the swine flu,” Tiettmeyer said.
“After the bird flu in Asia, students were still going and maybe even more students going because of the better deals. I think they’re immune to bad things that happen in other countries because they’re willing to go anyway, and they’re more likely to go anyway because of the cheaper deals.
Mickelson stayed for four weeks in the United Kingdom, which had a startling 3,197 new infections, a 75.2 percent jump, between June 29 and July 6.
“Whenever I read the newspaper, there was always one article about swine flu, like: ‘Teenage girl killed from swine flu,'” Mickelson said.
“I had no worries aside from that. More people die from the regular flu every year, and I know that. So why be worried about something you can’t control? Just be careful, wash your hands, do the stuff that you normally would to stay healthy.”