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Thirty-Two Hours to Get Back Home

Last updated on June 5, 2020

When the number of coronavirus cases in Seattle reached one hundred, my parents started to worry. The virus’s rate of transmission was faster than anyone had expected. The decision to stay in the US or go back home had to be made by international students and their families. Staying in the US meant that I would face COVID-19 in a foreign country without my family. It may not sound like a big deal for someone who has studied abroad for several years; however, this pandemic made me realize that I wanted support from my family, not virtually but physically. Going back to China meant that I may not come back to the US for college and that my visa may be canceled at any minute. My parents and I started to research the quarantine policies, student visa regulations, and potential flight connections. On the morning of March 16th, my parents finally made the decision to allow me to return to China on March 18th.

After packing my luggage, I needed to grab protective equipment for the airplane, including a N95 mask, goggles, protective clothing and surgical gloves. They did not cost much, but they were precious to me. On my way to the airport, my parents told me again and again that I should not eat or drink anything on the airplane, or else I would risk infection. I departed Seattle at 1 a.m., and arrived in Taipei eleven hours later. My last meal was the dinner I had before I left for the airport. Including the waiting time at the airport, I had no food or water for a total of 15 hours. Fortunately, I was not alone; I had the company of other international students from UW, which made the journey less intense. In the airport, we tried to stay in spaces with less people. The situation forced us to act weirdly. One of my friends, for instance, was so hungry that she decided to crouch in the corner of a wall, take a bite of her bread, and then quickly put her mask back on. I was similarly precautious when using the bathroom; I used alcoholic wipes to clean the seat multiple times, and then put a disposable cover on the seat. We were extremely careful to follow the procedures recommended by medical professionals.

On the airplane, all of the flight crew and passengers were wearing protective gear. No one was sitting next to me, so I had more space to move around, which made the flight easier. After I arrived at Taiwan’s airport, I was able to eat a meal with my friends. The waiting time was three hours which was not too long. Then, the group separated into two: one was going to Beijing and the other was going to Shanghai. I was in the Beijing group, as my hometown is closest to there. We were definitely feeling less tense in Taiwan than the US. We also had some shopping time to relieve our anxiety. At 12:40 p.m. (Beijing Time) on March 19th, I arrived in Beijing, the capital of China.

At first, we were not allowed to get off the airplane, as the airport needed time to sterilize itself. We waited for almost three hours. At 3.00 p.m., passengers were finally able to exit the aircraft. The first thing we had to do upon leaving the plane was fill out a health information form, which asked questions like “have you had a fever or cough in the past 14 days?” People who answered positive were placed into a separate room, while the rest of us were able to move forward. After airport personnel measured our body temperatures, we were directly given our luggage and allowed to leave the airport. I got onto a van that was picking up passengers whose hometown was not Beijing. We stayed in Beijing’s National Exhibition and waited for our designated vehicles to take us to our destination. At about 7 p.m., the person from my city’s local government contacted me and picked me up. He gave me alcoholic wipes and a protective suit to put on. He said to me with a warm face “Welcome home!” Seeing someone from my city, I felt more relieved and I knew that I was not far from home.

At 12:45 a.m. on March 20th, I finally arrived in my city. The moment that they opened the vehicle door, I saw my mom with a big smile standing there waiting for me. However, we could not kiss or hug each other in the moment. And after quickly saying goodbye, I headed to a hotel. Tired, but relaxed, I pulled my suitcases into my temporary room, as no one was allowed to help me with my baggage. After my thirty-two hour journey, another 24 days of quarantine was awaiting me. At least I was home.

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