Teachers visit Korea despite MERS scare

Layla Moghavem

Fifteen faculty members visited South Korea in June to learn about Korean culture and history in the midst of an outbreak of Middle East Respiratory Syndrome in the country.

MERS is a viral respiratory illness that was first seen in Saudi Arabia in 2012. An outbreak began in South Korea in May, causing the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention to issue a travel notice advising Americans to cancel any plans to visit the country.

Originally, 16 members intended to go on the trip, but upon news of the MERS outbreak, Upper School Dean Rose-Ellen Racanelli canceled due to health concerns.

The school gave participants the option not to go on the trip or to attend and leave if they felt uncomfortable during their visit, but all other attendees stayed.

One of the hotels that the group planned to stay at on Jeju Island had been shut down and quarantined as a patron of the hotel had been infected with MERS.

“Nobody was allowed in there and the people in there weren’t allowed out, so they put us in another hotel which was very luxe and fabulous, so it worked out better for us,” History Department Head Katherine Holmes-Chuba said. “[The outbreak] didn’t really negatively affect us at all.”

The group did not have to wear surgical masks or take any other health precautions on the trip, though Holmes-Chuba said she took extra care to wash her hands more often than she usually would.

The participants said that fewer people were traveling to South Korea because of the outbreak, and as a result, tourist sites were more accessible and significantly less crowded. In addition, participants noted that the locals were especially welcoming because so few tourists came.

“So many people from so many countries stopped their travel to Korea that the Koreans were so grateful that we came,” history teacher Ken Neisser said. “We were very well-received everywhere we went and some portion of that was gratitude of our braving this fear [of MERS].”

On the trip, which was funded by the school’s Gross Global initiative and Gyu Si and Min Sun Suh (Andy ’18), faculty visited historical sites, museums, geographic sites, traditional villages and a high school in Seoul.

Teachers said they gained a greater and deeper understanding of Korean art, history and culture, especially pertaining to the Korean War, which has broadened their perspective on teaching students about Asia