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It's good to be home

After a trying three weeks spent mostly quarantined in China, a tired group of St. Mary's School students were greeted by cheers, tears and party whistles when they arrived home early Saturday morning.

The first batch of students arrived in the parking lot of St. Mary's School near 2 a.m. Parents and friends holding signs cheered as the charter bus appeared near the school.

Ryan Davidson, 14, said he's happy to be back home, but looks forward to going back to China for a more fulfilling trip.

"I'm definitely going back to China," Davidson said. "I liked what I saw."

The students were quarantined — twice — when several tested positive for the H1N1 virus. They spent most of their time in hotel rooms with classmates, attempting to keep in touch with their friends and families via phone calls and text messages. All told, the students spent only three days sightseeing, Principal Frank Phillips said.

Twelve of the group had to stay in China until they no longer tested positive for the virus. A few of the students reported feeling like they had a cold, but their symptoms weren't serious, Phillips said.

St. Mary's middle school history teacher Anne Adderson, who served as a chaperone on the trip, said one of the students is out of the hospital and back in the hotel with a chaperone.

"It could take some time before we get them back," Adderson said.

Phillips said the Chinese government has been picking up the tab for the group's hotel stays and transportation changes as part of its program to keep swine flu at bay.

St. Mary's graduate Olivia Plotnick and her friend Alyx Irvine spent Friday evening camped out in the school's parking lot waiting for the charter buses to arrive.

Plotnick went on the China trip two years ago.

"No one on our trip got quarantined, so it went pretty well for us," she said.

Irvine said it was difficult to keep in touch with her friends because of the time difference between the U.S. and China.

"I had to talk to them at insane hours," Irvine said. "They tried to stay positive about it and do the best with the cards they were dealt."

The returning students were packed into two buses, one bound from Portland, the other from San Francisco. The San Francisco bus arrived about 15 minutes later than the Portland coach.

The trip back to Medford was an adventure in itself, Adderson said.

"Our bus broke down just outside Portland so we had to change," she said. "We got a new one in Eugene, but it didn't have air conditioning. The kids were troopers."

Adderson praised those who showed up at 2 a.m. to greet the students upon their return.

"That's what we've come to expect from St. Mary's families," Adderson said. "The outpouring was amazing."

Maria Davidson, who met her son Ryan at the school, said it was a tense three weeks during which she kept in contact with her son by an international telephone she bought for the trip.

"I would advise parents whose kids travel across the world to have an international phone," Maria Davidson said. "It made the whole thing a bit easier to deal with because I could talk to him at about any time."

Adderson and Davidson said St. Mary's officials did a great job of keeping everyone informed of situations that arose during the ordeal.

"If you're going to travel there's no better group than St. Mary's," Maria Davidson said. "They were phenomenal."

Ryan Davidson said there were times when he was a little scared during his quarantine, but overall he enjoyed the trip.

"I loved Beijing," he said. "I want to see it again."

Reach reporter Chris Conrad at 776-4471; or e-mail cconrad@mailtribune.com.

Laura Reed welcomes home St. Mary's student Clara Viale from her three-week trip to China. Mail Tribune Photo / Jamie Lusch