Swine flu changes plans for local student in China

Kevin Godfroy, of Huntington, recently traveled to China as part of aa class at Miami University of Ohio.
Photo by Matt Murphy.

Originally published Jluly 16, 2009.

Kevin Godfroy thought he was going to spend some time this spring teaching school in China for college credit.

Thanks to the swine flu scare, though, Godfroy and his fellow students spent their time touring large corporations in China.

Warning of the change came in a travel alert issued on June 19, 2009, by the U.S. Department of State to U.S. citizens traveling to China.

The department warned that travelers arriving in China who are experiencing flu-like symptoms similar to those of the swine flu may be quarantined for seven days.

The alert reflects the actions Chinese health officials have taken and are taking to prevent the transmission of swine flu in China.

As of July 8, there have only been 1,151 reported cases of swine flu in China, compared with 31,568 in the United States. No deaths have been linked to swine flu in China, but there have been 191 in the U.S.

The strong preventative measures China has been taking have affected one Huntington resident.

Godfroy, a senior physical education major at Miami University of Ohio in Oxford, OH, and a resident of Huntington, had been planning to teach middle school students in China last spring.

A professor at MU, who was a Chinese native, organized the invitation-only trip.

"It sounded interesting," Godfroy says, "but I wasn't going to go if I had to pay."

Fortunately, the trip was funded through a research project that participants on the China trip had to complete.

Additionally, the experience was supposed to be part of a requirement for a class Godfroy was taking for his major.

"I was supposed to compare physical education in China and in the U.S.," says Godfroy.

But then, the week before the group was to depart, they were told that the Chinese school where they had planned to teach had decided against allowing foreigners around the students.

The school "wanted to make sure we didn't get the kids sick," Godfroy says.

So instead, Godfroy was placed with a group of business majors from MU who were also going to China to visit large corporations to see how they operate in the communist country.

"Every day we visited a major corporation," he says. "We did a lot of sightseeing, too."

Godfroy says the group visited Beijing, Shanghai and traveled the Silk Road to Urumqi.

Godfroy notes that being in communist China wasn't that much different from life in the United States, especially in the cities, where he says the municipalities were similar to large cities in the U.S., but with more people.

"Even though [China] is communist, it's run like it's capitalist," he says. "It's a lot more like the U.S. than I thought."

Godfroy notes that he saw wealth in China, but it was wealth only by Chinese standards. He says that it was not the same type of affluence as in the United States.

Godfroy wasn't bound by many government restrictions, either. He says he was not to participate in protests, but that was a standard set by MU and not the Chinese government.

He adds that at times it was a bit difficult to communicate because of the language barrier, especially when he was by himself with one other person in his group for three days.

"We decided we wanted to go to McDonald's, so we took a yellow marker and drew the golden arches on a piece of paper and gave it to the taxi driver," he says, "and he knew where to go."

And, if a driver weren't sure where Godfroy and his peers wanted to go, he or she would take the trekkers to the local university, where someone who could speak English and translation was sure to be found.

Despite the cross-cultural experience, Godfroy still was left without the credit he would have received for teaching. Luckily, MU waived the requirement in light of the situation.

And Godfroy still enjoyed the trip and learned a lot, as well.

"It was quite the experience," he says.