Swine flu impacts Spanish Immersion Program

By Eric Butler: PNT staff writer

Spanish-language students at Eastern New Mexico University typically get the chance one month out of the year — if they can drum up the money and find time — to absorb the culture of a place that uses Spanish almost exclusively.

This year, thanks to concerns over the swine flu, the students will have to make do in Portales.

ENMU’s annual Spanish Immersion Program will be based at the home campus this summer. The school decided not to send students to Merida, Mexico.

It’s a move, according to Eastern officials, that 50 other U.S. universities have also decided to take as a precaution against the swine, or A1N1, flu virus.

“We’ve been going down to Mexico for, I believe, 15 years. Every summer, they’ve taken students there for one month,” said John Morrow, Spanish professor at ENMU.

It was Morrow who was supposed to take the students to Mexico as he ended his first year at the university.

But other factors, even prior to the widely-publicized outbreak of swine flu in Mexico in late April, started to take a toll on enrollment for the immersion class.

“Initially, there was some bad press about the drug war and everything and the violence in Mexico. We had to reassure the students that this was something that only affected the northern regions of the country — and that the Yucatan peninsula was very far away from that,” Morrow said.

“That was the first hurdle, but everything was still going forward,” he added. “The coup d’etat was as a result of this filthy swine flu.”

Morrow said concerns over the latter was soon reflected in the number of students who were enrolled for the class abroad. When the numbers dropped, ENMU decided against the trip to Merida.

“As far as I’m concerned, (the swine flu) is not as serious as people thought,” Morrow said. “But it just became too complicated.”

Eastern wasn’t the only university to take precautions.

Catherine Bishop, vice president of public affairs at Oklahoma University, said her college’s Spanish Department has taken similar action — at least for the first of three scheduled trips to Mexico this summer.

“We have canceled this year’s May-June session, but since the situation is fluid, no decision has yet been made on the (last two) sessions,” Bishop said.

Morrow is making the best of the situation. The revised Spanish immersion program will be held at the ENMU campus from June 8 to July 3 and Morrow will be doing his best to see Spanish is the primary language used by his students throughout the day.

“Students who take full advantage of the program will have about eight hours of Spanish a day. This is probably the only year we’ll have a Spanish immersion program here,” said Morrow, who added that a dozen students have signed up. “But this an excellent opportunity for teachers and other professions who can’t get away. A lot of the students now are teachers.”