Quarantining abroad–what it’s like as an exchange student during COVID-19

Home remains far away for Chinese students

While many of us are staying at home, a small, but important section of our school community is quarantining while abroad. The school’s five students from China who have been quarantined face a compound challenge: taking classes at their host family’s homes with uncertain travel plans back home.

According to the 2019 Open Doors Report on International Educational Exchange, there were 1,095,299 foreign students studying in the United States which was an all-time high. China sends the most students to the United States to study abroad. While Minnehaha’s Chinese exchange students are all quarantining here, their families are still back in China, anxious about their health and safety.

Due to the current numbers, many of the Chinese exchange student’s parents are concerned about their children’s safety since the reported numbers exceed that of China.

Almost all of them have experienced logistical difficulties for their return flight. Many saw flight cancellations, delays and sharp price increases. Forbes reported increases in prices of flights to China by as much as 150%. Regardless, being quarantined in the United States was probably not what they were anticipating when they decided to study abroad.

Health Concerns

When the news about the coronavirus in China and Europe first started to spread, many of the Chinese students worried about families at home. When the reported number in the US began to rise, many of their family members in China began to worry about their safety here.

“At first I [worried about my family],” said Delancey Ma, a sophomore from Haining. “But now, since the situation in China is much better, I didn’t worry about that. But they are worried about me. When they heard the new set like the US has, like, more than 32,000 people have Coronavirus, they really worried about me. Minnesota is pretty nice right now. We don’t have many patients and not many people have died.”

China vs US

Delancey Ma, Hong Ma and Longine Deng believe the situation was handled better in China which is why the situation in China is currently relatively under control.

Deng attributed the Chinese government to their ability to efficiently and quickly impose a stricter quarantine which she believes helped to stop the spread. She feels that the situation in the US makes it hard to predict what the future will hold.

“With the situation [in the US] I can’t see how far it will go,” said Deng. “I don’t know what time it will end. In China, you actually can see like a range of time: there’s a peak and you can see how far we go until the end. Right now in the United States because I don’t know what time it will end.”

Travel Difficulties

Many of the Chinese students are still unsure about their return to China since flights have been cancelled and delayed.

“I was trying to go home in early May but all flights were shut down and my flight got canceled so that’s not fun,” said Hong Ma. “I bought four tickets and they are all canceled. So I don’t know if I can go back to home this summer. I will try. I’m not sure because basically China shut out 90 percent of flights from outside of China.”

Missing home

Over quarantine, Deng and Ma have experienced missing their homes in China — in particular, Chinese food. To combat some of this homesickness they have been ordering food from Chinese restaurants and having it delivered and also making some food on their own.

“I call Uber Eats every day,” said Deng. “I try to make my food different every day. Otherwise I just sometimes hang out with my host family, sometimes I call my friends, sometimes I watch YouTube by myself.”

Online learning

Online school has its positives for the Chinese exchange students. Despite the usual technical difficulties that arise from communicating with classmates and teachers digitally, doing work online has given them ways to better understand class material.

Pre-recorded classes give students the ability to use subtitles and “pause” class to look up unfamiliar words.

“I think [online school] is easier because right now all our studies use technology so we can see what’s going on in words,’’ said Deng. “So that’s I just think I think that’s easier. Yeah, maybe not because the reading is easier, but because if you don’t know about words, then you can go translate or go figure it out.”

Host family

These students have all had to quarantine staying with their host families. For many, this much time in such close quarters with family can be difficult but the Chinese exchange students have been using the time to connect with host families and learn about culture in a whole new setting.

“[Quarantine] is pretty good. And yeah, because, we have like many siblings,” said Delancey. “So there’s always people to hang out with even though we cannot go out very often really, especially the first few days. We can still do stuff at home. Make videos and make food. Those are good experiences.”

Even though the situation is not ideal, these students were positive about their experience abroad. They have all found inventive ways to cope with prolonged periods away from home and have used the time to connect with host families in a new way.

“Because right now everyone is staying at home. We actually do a lot of family things like we can all sometimes we watch movies together as a family and sometimes play family games, like some card games,” said Deng. “And sometimes we do family breakfasts. I’ve been living with them for four years now. We’ve pretty much become real family.”

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