Soo-bin Choi - Student stories of COVID 19/Study Abroad

"The outbreak of corona virus made me learn how to cope with uncontrollable situations." - Soo-bin Choi

On the Saturday morning of Chinese New Year break, I woke up to the sound of my cohort banging on my door. When everyone was up, we had an emergency meeting with Professor George Chiu, who informed us that we were being pulled back to Purdue. We had two options: To either return to Purdue or to return home. All of us decided that we will return to school, and Purdue booked everyone flights departing in two days. However, I was informed by Dr. Qiu that I had to return to the US the day of, due to my visa status. At this point all the direct flight back was sold out so I had to take a flight from Shanghai to Paris, Paris to Detroit, and Detroit to Indianapolis. I had less than 12 hours to get to the airport. I packed all my bags, went to a nearby bank to pull all the cash out of my Chinese bank account, and then have Yang’s dumpling and bubble tea for the last time. It was sad to leave in such a rush without even getting to say goodbye to Shanghai.

First time wearing our masks

The airport was surprisingly empty. Everyone was wearing mask on the flight from Shanghai to Paris but at Paris no one was. I kept my mask on until I arrived at Purdue just in case, but many people were staring at me for having mask on. After arrival, I was sent straight to quarantine, and I had to stay inside for 2 weeks. Quarantine was very depressing and boring, and I tried to keep myself busy catching up for classes and working out. After the quarantine, Professor Naik arranged a special review session for all of us who weren’t there for the first month of school, which was a tremendous help. It wasn’t easy adjusting back to Purdue. At first, all I could think of was how I would be having so much more fun if I was in Shanghai, and I just felt so bad that I missed out on my chance to ever even complete an exchange program in my college life. With time, I slowly admitted to myself that there was nothing I could have done to change what already happened, and therefore I accepted my fate and finally adjusted to being back in Purdue, and even started having fun again. And that was when Purdue decided to go fully online.

It honestly felt like the world was trying to turn everything against me. I didn’t want to go back home when I finally started feeling comfortable in school. I reluctantly booked a flight back home. I had about five days until I head back home, so I packed all my stuff again, met up and said goodbye to most of the friends who were still on campus. Leaving Purdue wasn’t as sudden as leaving Shanghai, so I got to have a proper goodbye to West Lafayette, not knowing when I’ll actually be able to return.

Heading back home, everyone at the airport was wearing masks and plastic gloves. Some people were even wearing sanitary suits and goggles. It was completely different than what I saw when I was going back to Purdue. Custom to enter the Korean airport was very rough and tedious. They checked my temperature, asked me where I’ve been for the past months, and downloaded an app on my phone to track my location during my quarantine.

My second round of quarantine was better than the first one as I was busy with ongoing classes and had my dog mentally supporting me. I got a free corona virus examination from Korean government and was tested negative. Having online classes brought up a whole new problem of being in the opposite time zone. I couldn’t take the regular WebEx lectures on time, and I had to wake up much earlier to communicate with people in the States. Although it’s been more than a month since I’ve been back, I am still in a bit of a jet lag because of my class schedule.

Although I’ve had several break downs for the past months, I am still glad that I decided to go on a study abroad and got a month-long experience in Shanghai. Taking cultural classes really helped me to broaden my perspective and learn how to cope with cultural differences through various tools such as Hofstede’s cultural dimension and golden/platinum rules. The friendships I’ve built with local students, professors and even cohorts from Purdue were my favorite part of the experience. The outbreak of corona virus made me learn how to cope with uncontrollable situations. All the memories I had for the past months made me more mature and I will forever cherish the valuable time I had.