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Monroe native held due to swine flu
Photo submitted The Whitehead family, Neil, left, Rosy, Alan and Vanessa, were recently quarantined in their home in Shanghai, China, as the result of government fears they may have been exposed to swine flu. They are shown above at the ice festival in Harbin, which they visited during the Chinese New Year.
MONROE - A Monroe native spent a week in quarantine in his home in Shanghai, China recently because of possible exposure to swine flu.

Neil Whitehead, his wife Rosy and their children Alan, 8, and Vanessa, 7, were quarantined in their Shanghai apartment for six days in early May.

The family was fine, and none the worse for the experience. For Whitehead, it was just another chapter in an international life story.

Whitehead and his family found themselves caught up in the recent global concern of a swine flu outbreak. The family was quarantined for six days after Rosy's brother came to visit. Her brother traveled on the same flight from Mexico City to Shanghai as a Mexican man who was subsequently diagnosed with swine flu, according to an ABC News report.

A policeman was posted outside the Whiteheads' door to ensure the family didn't leave. Whitehead said he understands why Chinese officials went to such lengths to make sure the public felt safe. "Every one was polite and explained their reasons so we understood why they took those measures," Whitehead said.

Neighbors picked up groceries for the family and left them outside the door, and the building manager cooperated by accepting deliveries for them, Whitehead said.

Still, the quarantine posed some challenges for a family with young children. Their school sent home work, so the youngsters were able to keep up on their studies. But keeping "the kids from going stir crazy was a little bit of a challenge. They ran around in the house. We had just bought these big foam swords so my son and I did a lot of sword fights on the balcony so that he could use up some energy," Whitehead said, via e-mail.

"The first couple of days of the quarantine people in our community were pretty nervous about the situation," he said. "But the family is fine and everything appears to be back to normal now."

Whitehead graduated from Monroe High School in 1987 and attended the University of Wisconsin-Madison. He taught in Kenosha, Puerto Rico and then Monterrey, Mexico, where he met Rosy, a Spanish teacher and native of Mexico.

"We have enjoyed the international life style and have decided to make teaching at international schools our careers," Whitehead said, via e-mail.

The couple have been in China for seven years. They work at an international Christian school that has students from all over the world.

"Last year, I decided to learn how to greet each student in their home language (the language that they speak at home) when they enter my classroom. It was 10 languages (I teach high school and see about 75 students in my classes). We enjoy working in an international setting with an opportunity to work with students from all over the world," he said.

The Whiteheads are also active in the community in China, Whitehead said.

"We teach children foreigners working in Shanghai but are active in poverty relief in the poor rural areas of China. Last year I took 20 students to a poor area of Yunaan. The students worked along with the locals to dig ditches and lay pipes to bring running water to a village that did not have running water. We had done fundraisers the year before to be able to finance all of the expenses such as water pipes, faucets, and hiring an engineer to oversee the project. Shanghai is a first-world, beautiful gleaming city. However, as is the case in all developing countries, the cities modernize and become first -world cities but it takes a while for the countryside to catch up. Therefore, rural poor China seems like an entirely different world than Shanghai," he said.

This isn't the first time the Whiteheads have found themselves in the midst of an international news event. The family was caught in the 2004 tsunami that killed more than 225,000 and devastated coastal communities in Indonesia, India, Sri Lanka and Thailand. The family was vacationing in Thailand at the time, and their taxi was submerged by the wave, Whitehead said.

It's given him a very personal connection to events around the globe.

"There is a network of international schools all over the world. Many teachers teach for a few years at one school and then move to another," Whitehead sad. "As I have been abroad for 15 years, I have friends teaching at schools all around the world. It gives you a different perspective watching the world news. An earthquake happens in, say Indonesia, and you hope that your friends who live there are all right."