Community / The Nation and the World

International Asian students’ long journey back home

Since most schools and universities decided to stop classes in March due to the COVID-19, international students and families around the globe were forced to return to their home country. To prevent a second wave of the virus, many governments in Asia started mandatory quarantine for travellers, which impacted the international Asian student community of Dana Hall on their journey home. The process and guidelines differ in each region and country, depending on the severity of the virus in the location.

Even before getting on the plane and landing in China, the high demand for plane tickets is already an issue. Most flights are already fully booked, and the prices for a direct flight ticket from Canada to China can cost up to $7,000 USD for a seat in Economy. However, many Chinese students studying abroad are forced to leave foreign countries because they do not have a place to stay. Skye Huang ’21 said her family and she were “so worried,” and her parents “had to pull all sorts of strings” to get her a ticket home.

To prepare for the flight, Cindy Lye ’21 said that she and other students “wore two-layer masks, gloves and glasses” to cover their eyes, nose, and mouth to prevent getting or passing the virus to other passengers, since the virus can be asymptomatic. They also buy snacks and water for the whole flight because they do not want to eat airplane food, since they do not know where or how the food was made. Cindy also said that, on her flight from Los Angeles to Qingdao, China, the flight attendants “took everyone’s temperature around five times” during the flight to ensure everyone’s health.

Once a plane lands in China, the passengers have to sit on the plane and wait until the airport staff call the passengers down in groups. Skye said she was “so hungry and thirsty” by the time she got off the plane. When passengers are officially inside the airport, they have to fill out surveys and do interviews that ask about their travel history and condition. Skye and Cindy agree that the process can take up to 8 or 9 hours before they can get quarantined. Then, they are moved onto buses and sent to hotels for the quarantine process. Cindy said that “the whole process from the flight landing to arriving at the hotel was around eleven hours,” without food or water.

Shirley Zhang ’21 had a cold when she was staying in Boston for spring break. When she landed in China, she wrote she had “a stuffy nose” on her health forms. The staff brought her to another section of the airport with other people who also self-reported suspicious symptoms of the virus. She got tested for COVID and “waited without food or water for around four hours.” Later, she was moved to another section of the airport, where people were so tired that they “lay on the floors, if they did not get the chairs.” Water and bread were given by the staff, but they were “taken very quickly by everyone waiting.” Then, Shirley was transported to the hospital by the ambulance with a few other people. Her stay at the hospital was “pleasant and cool.” She was able to “get delivery from the supermarket and order food” from her phone in the hospital, although she had to pay the expenses. Once her COVID test results were negative, she was driven to another location to be quarantined for 14 days.

Travelers are quarantined in hotels for 14 days to ensure that they do not have the virus. Each person gets their own room, and they have to stay in that room, which, Cindy explained, includes daily necessities, such as toiletries. Skye reported that her room was “small and did not have a lot of space to move around, but it was clean.” Quarantined passengers do need to pay for their own meals, which are delivered to them. The staff go around to every room regularly to check everyone’s temperature and condition. According to Skye, the staff comes “every seven days to do the COVID-19 testing for the virus.” Once the travelers do not show any symptoms within the 14 days, they are released and free to go home.

The wifi for each person depends on the location in which they are quarantined. For instance, Skye had a terrible experience with her wifi. Her Zoom classes “keep cutting off” and her homework took “ten minute to submit.” However, Cindy’s wifi was fine, and she was able to attend classes and hand in her homework.

Some students returned to their home country for spring break before the virus exploded in America. Proud Likitpurpaisan ‘21 went home to Thailand after spring break started. She thought the flight was terrifying and wore a mask the entire journey. Thailand had 300 cases when she arrived, and the number of cases rose to over 2,000 cases one month later. The Thai Government imposed curfews for the citizens. Stores were closed except for restaurants that deliver and supermarkets. People are recommended to be one meter apart from each other in the public. During the period of social distancing, she “plays with her dogs, watches dramas, and spends time with her family.” All the boredom was worth it, because only one new case of the COVID-19 occurred the day she was interviewed.

Some students decided to go back home right after learning that school would be cancelled. Nicole Tseng ‘22 decided to leave America one week before the end of spring break after hearing that other international students were planning to return to their home. When she arrived in Taiwan, her home country, she did not need to be quarantined for 14 day. However, she stayed home most of the time to spend time with her family and avoid the risk of getting the virus. Zoe Yuen ‘21 returned to Hong Kong in late March. When she arrived, Hong Kong was experiencing the second wave of the virus due to the high number of international students returning. Everyone wore masks in public. Temperature had to be measured to enter restaurants or any buildings. Many people kept their discipline of staying home, wearing masks, and sanitizing their hands. Elise Kim ’22 returned to South Korea after spring break ended because campus was closed for the rest of the school year. In South Korea, not everyone wears masks, and people go out as usual. Recently, a second wave of the COVID appeared in Itaewon, Seoul, due to people’s neglect of the danger of the COVID. 

Some students from China were not able to go home until April because flights were cancelled or full. Jessica Du ’23 was one of the lucky overseas students chosen by the Chinese consulate to be flown back to China on April 11. The Chinese consulate “selects students by first asking us to fill out a survey online through social media platforms such as Wechat and Weibo. ” She thinks that the Chinese consulate chose the students “based on your age and the relationship you have with your [U.S.] host. If the host is not your relative or some very good friend of yours, they will probably consider you first, which is my case.” She believes that the flight planned by the Chinese consulate “is definitely different from the ones organized solely by airline companies.” Airplane workers were more patient when explaining the procedures, and the process to arrive at the quarantine hotel was also comfortable. Even though her hotel fee was slightly more expensive, she thinks that it was worth it because “her hotel environment was much better” when compared with her friends who booked their own flights and quarantine hotels.

Some students flew black to their homes recently. Sura Zhang ’23 went back from the United States to China at the end of April because she was hopeful that school would re-open in May. However, by the time Dana Hall announced that school would be cancelled through May, there were no flights available. “Everyone wore masks. Most of the people wore gloves, goggles and protective gears on the plane. It was a funny scene to watch,” Sura commented. Sura expressed that people in China understand the danger of COVID-19. Sura said that “people are very cautious.” Jessica said that that “we are still taking all the precautions we can when going outside, such as wearing masks and getting temperature checked every time we step into a building.”

Some students are still stuck in America because they cannot go back home. Victoria Zhou ’21 has wanted to return to China since spring break. However, due to her flights getting “cancelled three times” and the “expensive plane tickets that can cost up to “thousands of dollars,” she is still in America. She was “anxious and frustrated” these months “searching for flights to go home every day.” However, she finally found and bought tickets to fly home on June 3. She will have to be quarantined for 14 days in China before seeing her family.

Photo: Masked workers assisting passengers in Beijing, China. The back of the medical suit says, “Welcome home.” Photo credit: Shirley Zhang.

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