Tim Jansen - Student stories of COVID 19/Study Abroad

"I gained confidence in my ability to deal with any crisis thrown at me as I am able to adapt and react quickly." - Tim Jansen

On the 5th of January, five other students and I embarked on a journey to Shanghai, China, for a study abroad at the Shanghai Jiao Tong University. I had never been to Asia, so and I was excited to experience this new culture. The first week, everything I encountered was novel; I tried to experience as much of the new culture as I could. I had kept contact with a friend from Purdue and he sent me an article about some novel virus that was discovered in China. I scammed the headline and maybe the first paragraph but didn’t think much of it. It was so out of the blue that I just disregarded it. Then next week or so went according to plan where we took classes and visited famous landmarks across Shanghai.

Last day in Shanghai with the Shanghai skyline in the background

While making our way around the city we had seen some people with masks but assumed this was for the smog, as Shanghai is not known for its great air quality. However, over the next week more and more news articles came in about the novel COVID-19 virus and subsequently, we noticed a dramatic increase in the number of people wearing masks. It went from around 20% of people wearing a mask on one day to 50% the next day. For this reason, we decided to purchase some masks at the local pharmacy that night. We were lucky that we did since the next day many stores were sold out. Although these circumstances may seem scary, the number of confirmed cases at this point was still at about 200. A few days later we had 10 days off for the Spring Festival which takes place at the end of January, so three other students and I took this opportunity to explorer the rest of China and travel to Beijing.

Upon arrival in Beijing, we were informed that major tourist attractions such as the Great Wall and Tiananmen Square had been closed due to the virus, however, everything else around the city was still open. At that point, we started to closely follow the news. We stayed in Beijing for about 3 days and then traveled to Xi’an to partake in some of the festivities that accompany the Spring Festival. However, when we arrived in Xi’an, we very quickly noticed that the city was dead; there were barely any people on the streets, and shops and restaurants were all closed, except for McDonald’s. The news up to this point had been very contradictory, some sources claimed that China had been able to contain the virus, while others claimed that the number of confirmed cases was 20 times higher than the reported number. It was a time of great confusion, and the thought of possibly having to return to Purdue popped into my head for the first time. After communicating with our university host, we decided to cut our trip short and head back to Shanghai.

Shanghai too was fairly quiet with the majority of shops and restaurants closed. After waiting in our hotel rooms for a few days while staying in contact with the program coordinators back at Purdue, we were told that Purdue was going to pull us back. I felt very conflicted since I did not want to leave China because I had not had the full experience I wanted but ultimately it was the right decision since the situation seemed to escalate. After leaving rather abruptly, we landed on February 3rd at O’Hare Airport in Chicago. We were put in a different line during immigration and were asked if we had visited Wuhan or the Hubei province, after answering that we hadn’t, our temperatures were taken, and we were given a pamphlet with some guidelines. What surprised me was that self-quarantine was not recommended by the government at that time, even when I explicitly asked them. Purdue, however, did require us to self-quarantine.

We were put in an apartment at Purdue Village for two weeks while a nurse checked on us daily, and we were not allowed to leave our apartment. During those two weeks, our advisors helped us integrate into courses at Purdue, so we could still have a relatively ‘normal’ semester. Overall, Purdue did a good job of accommodating us and responding quickly to the developing situation. Although it certainly wasn’t what I had expected, I am still happy that I went to study abroad in China, since it made me understand the Chinese culture on a deeper level and it will surely be an experience to remember!

Through this experience, I have become more mature as I have had to deal with rapidly developing situations that had a serious impact on the health of others and me. As the situation was developing and I had a feeling that our group may have to leave earlier than expected, I decided to do some of the things that were still on my bucket list before leaving China. Although I did not want to leave, I entered a mindset of ‘prepare for the worst but hope for the best.’ I tried to stay optimistic yet realistic. The days of the departure, I took on the responsibility of coordinating the communication among the cohort, as I wanted to have the most updated information that was passed along from Purdue so I could make informed decisions. Through this, I gained confidence in my ability to deal with any crisis thrown at me as I am able to adapt and react quickly. It was also interesting yet tragic to see the coronavirus spread during the beginning stages in both China and the U.S. and to see the different precautions both the public and the government took. Through my study abroad experience in China, I was able to see the reasoning behind these different responses from both a cultural and societal perspective. I have become great friends with the people from the cohort, people who are somewhat different from me and I would have never met if it wasn’t for the study abroad and the crisis that we went through.