CHICAGO (WLS) -- As the Trump administration is being urged to declare coronavirus a formal public health emergency, part of a cultural exchange program for high school students in Chicago has been put on hold.
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Sophie Volchenboum and Ben Sachs have studied Chinese language and culture for several years. The sophomores at University of Chicago Laboratory Schools are hoping they will still have the chance to experience it firsthand in China during a student exchange.
"I have just really wanted to experience the culture because we've always learned about it in our textbooks," Volchenboum said.
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"I've been wanting to do it for a while especially because our Chinese teacher is really good at connecting the language to the culture in China," Sach said.
But their travel plans are in jeopardy because of the coronavirus. They are scheduled to go to China in March during their spring break. As of now, there's been no official decision to cancel that trip.
However, the arrival of Chinese students set to come here later this week as part of the exchange has been postponed. Volchenboum and Sachs were each going to host a student and are disappointed that they're not coming for now.
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"I feel for the people in China dealing with this and people that are actually suffering from this in China," Volchenboum said.
The coronavirus has caused more than 80 deaths in China and nearly 60 million people have been affected by partial or full lockdowns in Chinese cities as the country's government steps up its response.
In the U.S., there are still only five confirmed cases of coronavirus, including one in Chicago. While traveling to China is being discouraged by the U.S. State Department, the students here are holding out hope.
"I am hopeful that if not this year, it will happen in the next two years because I'm only a sophomore," Volchenboum said.