Hawaii teens had 'amazing' trip despite quarantine in Seoul
• Photo gallery: Swine Flu Kids
By KATIE URBASZEWSKI
Advertiser Staff Writer
A group of Hawai'i students agreed that their two-week trip to South Korea was still a great experience, despite a week-long quarantine for some after testing positive for swine flu, they said after returning to Honolulu yesterday.
The group of three chaperones and 21 high school students arrived home two days later than planned, their trip having been extended after 11 students were kept in quarantine for the first half of the program.
"The quarantine was a bummer, of course," said Wai'anae High School student Brittni Dinong, 17. "Nobody wants to be quarantined in another country.
"But it really didn't affect our time there because we did everything we wanted to do anyway. We still got to learn a lot about Korea, so it was amazing," Dinong said.
The public school students departed June 21 for a study tour organized by the Honolulu-based Pacific and Asian Affairs Council. When they arrived at Seoul Inchon Airport, temperature-scanning devices found five students with elevated temperatures, and 11 were eventually diagnosed with the H1N1 virus, said Ruth Limtiaco, Pacific and Asian Affairs Council board member and spokeswoman.
Many students said that while contracting the virus was definitely a snag in their plans, it wasn't a terrible experience.
Hollie Lambert, 16, from Waimea High School, and Melissa Miner, 16, from Kaua'i High School, said the cases of swine flu weren't serious.
"When we got to the hotel room, our symptoms pretty much vanished," Lambert said. The group of 11 visited three different hospitals in South Korea, and people were released on different days as they recovered. By June 29, everyone but one chaperone — who developed pneumonia — was released from medical quarantine, and the chaperone returned with the group.
"We all felt like we all had colds," Lambert said. "We just wanted to get out and do things. We could see the view out the window."
People in the group who did not contract swine flu were able to travel around South Korea, Limtiaco said. As hospitals released them, other members joined the group.
They traveled to Seoul, Busan, Andong and Gyeongju. Dinong recalled visiting the Korean Demilitarized Zone, several temples, palaces, a folk village and meeting Korean students.
"It wasn't disappointing at all," Dinong said. "The quarantine was nothing."
Victoria Sherwood, 15, from Kealakehe High School, said the experience was a little scary, but still worth it.
"We're all really glad we went," she said.
The 11 students were treated with Tamiflu while they were in hospitals. The group and council declined to comment about which people were quarantined.
Students shared tearful embraces as they parted company at the airport. The group of 21 came from 16 schools, and most students knew only a couple of others in the traveling party when they left for South Korea.
"We're all from different islands," Lambert said. "This might be our last time we see each other again."