Being an international student means staying strong and resilient in the midst of adversity. (Hermian Wan)
Being an international student means staying strong and resilient in the midst of adversity. (Hermian Wan)

Way Back Home: 65 Days of Trekking Across the Globe Amidst the Pandemic

How COVID-19 prompted my two-month-long journey back home to Hong Kong.

September 7, 2020

(Photo courtesy Hermian Wan)

March 15, 2020 is a day I will never forget. The day we were all asked to move out of Vandy because of COVID-19. The last day of my sophomore year on campus. That day, the preceding week and the subsequent months thereafter were some of the most difficult and most desperate times I’ve ever experienced. Having just returned to school after a week-long spring break, Vanderbilt’s sudden evacuation protocols wreaked havoc on all of our lives, but especially the lives of international students. 

My “COVID-19 story” is unique amongst the general Vandy population, but, sadly, it is a familiar story for many of your international friends who have struggled during these unprecedented times. 

Vanderbilt

The week of March 9, the Monday following spring break, was an emotional rollercoaster. On Monday, Vandy announced that school was suspended for a week. I immediately thought, Absolutely amazing! Spring break 2.0 with my friends. On Tuesday, Vandy changed its mind and decided to go online until April. My thoughts quickly changed to, Can I stay on campus? Where should I go? I soon realized all of my suitemates’ parents were either driving or flying their kids home. Now, I panicked, What should I do? I don’t want to stay here alone! One of my suitemates kindly invited me to stay with her family in Chicago, and she told me to pack right away as her parents were coming to drive us back on Wednesday. Finally, I felt as though I had a plan, so I thought again, I’m so excited! I’ve never been to Chicago. That’s going to be an actual Spring break 2.0! On Wednesday, Vandy changed its mind yet again and decided to suspend in-person classes for the rest of the semester. Shockingly, Vandy also told us all to move out by Sunday. 

I had four days to make a drastically important decision. 

After hearing the news, I called my parents and broke down crying. Although my parents didn’t want me to fly back to Hong Kong because it was struggling to manage the virus, we still checked flight prices and quarantine requirements. Despite our best efforts, we simply couldn’t find a flight under a 40-hour flight time, and even these flights were unbelievably expensive. I was devastated, and I felt helpless. I felt abandoned by a university I considered to be my second home. My parents suggested I fly to Vancouver and stay with my grandparents until further notice. After an emotionally and physically draining week of packing and planning, I finally boarded the plane to Vancouver on Sunday, March 15. 

A Basement in Vancouver

When I arrived in Vancouver, I immediately started the first 14-day-quarantine of my life in the semi-basement of my grandma’s house. I was extremely relieved to be with family, knowing that I was no longer alone and that I had people around to take care of me. The 14 days flew by in a blink of an eye, and I ended quarantine with an official addiction to “Animal Crossing: New Horizons.” To endure the mundane and lonely reality of quarantine life, I spent my time catching tarantulas and selling turnips. Whenever I was especially bored, I sat on the steps of the staircase leading to the living room and talked with my grandma who was always there watching TV. I ended up staying in Vancouver, or should I say in my grandma’s basement, for more than a month before I was able to purchase a ticket back to Hong Kong. 

A Hotel in Hong Kong

On April 28, I was finally en route to Hong Kong. As soon as I landed in Hong Kong, I was sent to a testing facility to test for COVID-19. After getting tested, I sat in a wifi-less facility from 6 a.m. until 4 p.m. At 4 p.m., I finally received my negative test, and I was sent to start yet another 14-day quarantine in a hotel. This second-round of quarantine was far more difficult than the last: I was confined in a 250-square-foot room for the 14 days all alone. However, I tried to make the most of my time. I started to learn Spanish, and I developed new interests to do indoors like knitting or meditating. Together with the countless dramas I watched over quarantine, these interests have continued to help improve my mental health and to cope with these difficult circumstances. 

Way Back Home

On May 12, 2020, I left the hotel for home, reuniting with my parents. March 9 to May 12 was one of the hardest times I’ve had to face, and I will never forget it. After a total of 65 days, I was finally allowed back home. These were 65 long days of physical stress and emotional turmoil from the uncertainty and fear that dominated my life from the time Vandy kicked us out. I was forced to endure new, difficult challenges, but in the process, I learned how strong and resilient I can be in the midst of adversity. 

This is my COVID-19 story. Unfortunately, it’s possible that I may have to relive this strenuous experience, if we’re all not careful and considerate in these upcoming months. Now that we’re back on campus once again, I hope that you will please remember those 65 days I endured before you decide to hang out with all of your friends, go to a party or leave your room without a mask. The international students here at Vandy desperately need your help; please do your part so that I don’t have to endure this 65-day-journey just weeks after arriving back to the place I consider to be my second home.

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