When I first found out about the first cases of the novel coronavirus breaking in Wuhan, I was in Vietnam with my family, celebrating the Lunar New Year. I was surprised to hear the news, but I put it out of my mind, thinking that it would somehow be resolved quickly from my experience with Chinese efficiency and technology. However, the outbreak turned into an international health crisis, affecting thousands of people including students/travelers such as myself.
1. Going back to China is not an option. I originally had plans to visit Beijing after the Lunar New Year. At the beginning of the outbreak with less than a thousand cases, I was planning to go anyways, but I had a feeling later that it was a bad idea, so I decided to cancel my plans. And now it’s over 20,000 and countries are restricting travelers from China. If I had continued with my plans, I would have risked not being able to start the last semester of my study abroad program in New Zealand.
2. China is shutting down. Even if I had gone to Beijing, it would have been a scary trip. Tourist spots, public areas, and public transportation have begun to shut down around the country. Even the Chinese university I attended decided to postpone the semester and transition to online courses until the epidemic is over.
3. Understandably, canceling and changing your travel plans is not easy. To prevent the spread of the virus, the Chinese government asked airlines to be lenient with customers by offering full refunds. The Chinese airlines complied, but other airlines have their policies. My friend who was supposed to fly from the U.S. to Beijing to meet me was unable to get a refund and could only change the flight destination. As for me, I was able to get refunds for most of what I booked, but it required hours of contacting customer service.
4. Fake news and hysteria prevail. When I was still in Vietnam, my uncle (who had my best interests at heart), tried to convince me not to visit Da Nang, Vietnam, fearing that I would catch the virus there from Chinese tourists. He also tried to tell me that over a million people were infected. As mentioned before, the cases are now over 20,000, not a million. In addition, outside of China, there is a very small chance that you would catch the virus, especially if you take precautionary measures such as wearing face masks.
5. Chinese international students are getting stranded. With the new traveling restrictions, many Chinese international students who were visiting home now have no way to start their studies for this semester. I know students whose Australian student visas have been canceled. With my cohort program, which has ten Chinese students, I fear that they will not be able to make it to New Zealand to start the new semester. Even one of the Americans in my cohort who was still in China has to go spend two weeks in a different country before she can be allowed into New Zealand.
The outbreak has no doubt negatively and tragically affected a lot of people, but I am fortunately safe and sound and will be on my way to start the next chapter of my studies abroad soon. To anyone else studying in this region, please stay safe!