The Effects of COVID-19 on Homesick Chinese International Students

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Krystal Chen
Staff Writer

As of April 7, Santa Barbara county has reported steadily climbing cases of COVID-19, with the current number of cases holding strong at 192. The Santa Barbara Public Health Department is still awaiting further updates omany additional patients.

In response to this public health crisis, UC Santa Barbara (UCSB) has officially moved to remote instruction for spring quarter to curb the spread of the COVID-19. With the abrupt upheaval and skyrocketing confirmed cases in the United States, many students feel overwhelmed with the uncertain school policies, while instructors are scrambling to figure out how they can adapt their courses to online instruction. Amid all the chaos, Chinese international students are particularly facing a wrenching decision — stay in America or return to China.

In an interview with The Bottom Line, Chinese international student Ziyu Xie reflected on her concerns about the COVID-19 pandemic. “How the situation would progress remains highly uncertain and I am concerned and frustrated that with people floating back to China. If I go back to China now, I might contract the virus after getting stuck in the plane for nearly 20 hours. But If I stay here, as a foreigner, will I get treated in a timely manner if I get sick,” said Xie.

On March 18, China, according to The New York Times, reached its first COVID-19 milestone: no new local infections. Additionally, most of its new reported cases in recent days were imported from abroad.

“As the situation in China gets more under control, I want to go back home,” Lilian Chen, a third-year economics major, mentioned during an interview with The Bottom Line. “Having my family and friends support and accompany me in China would make this emotional period much easier.” 

However, Chinese international students are not certain of their welcome in China. The hashtag, “#ShouldOverseasStudentsComeBack,” has been trending for days on Weibo, the Chinese equivalent of Twitter. As most of the recently confirmed cases are imported, users are concerned that a large surge of inbound travelers would stimulate a second round of uncontrollable virus contagion. 

To prevent the further spread of the virus, overseas incomers are required to fill out customs and medical forms and be strictly quarantined for 14 days after arriving in China. Once landed, travelers would be assigned to specific hotels until the COVID-19 test result comes out.

Pang Xinghuo, the deputy director of Beijing’s Center for Disease Control and Prevention, said at a press conference on March 30 that Chinese students overseas should “refrain from coming home unless it’s very necessary.” 

In addition to the stress of moving and adjusting schedules, many Chinese students are overwhelmed with other issues including time differences, internet access, and a stable place to study. On top of all that, it’s increasingly hard and expensive for some students to get flight tickets, with the uncertainty of travel disruptions and inconsistent border restrictions.