Gainesville school cancels China trips amid virus fears

Brenau University has decided to halt its exchange program with China because of the coronavirus.

Channel 2′s Tom Jones is in Gainesville, where the university is pausing its exchange program with a university in Wuhu, China.

The way the exchange program works is that students from China complete their last two years of their undergraduate degrees at Brenau.

But before they come to the U.S., students and faculty from Brenau go to China to prepare the Chinese students for their new life here.

There are currently 87 Chinese students enrolled at Brenau. Another batch of students are scheduled to arrive in the summer. Students hope the virus is under control by then.

Now, the program is on hold. The university will not send student ambassadors and faculty to China until the threat for contracting the deadly virus has diminished.

“It’s just caused us to want to make sure that we are doing all we can to ensure the safety of our students and our faculty,” said Dr. Jim Eck, provost of academic affairs at Brenau.

Student Phil Xu is a long way from home and worried about his friends and family back in China. He also doesn’t want anything to jeopardize the program.

“We very much enjoy the environment of study here. And I think it’s a great program,” Xu said.

Sarah Outler was a student ambassador for the program last year.

"(I loved) getting to see someone else's culture through their lens and being put in their footsteps," Outler said.

She planned to go back in May, but the school has now put that trip on hold.

"I think it's for the safety of not only our students but also for our Chinese students," Outler said.

Faculty member Wenwen Guo has family and friends in China and had planned to travel there next month as part of the exchange program.

She said she's already booked her flight, but may not end up going.

“We’re looking to see how the situation in China will develop, so we don’t know yet,” Guo said.

The school said so far, it hasn’t seen problems for Chinese students already here. None of the current students went home for the holiday break, so there are no concerns about those students spreading the virus.

Students said they appreciated the school using an abundance of caution.

“I feel like our university officials have handled it appropriately,” Outler said.

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