The flu-like novel coronavirus has killed over 1,700 people in China in recent weeks. This deadly virus has not only induced fear into the citizens of China and many travelers going in and out, but that fear has also made its way to Castleton University.
“Some of the new Chinese student’s suitemates actually reported to the Wellness Center, ‘Oh I heard my Chinese suitemate coughing, I don’t feel safe,’” said Zijie “Frank” Wan. “So the Wellness Center asked me to take the students to come over here to get their temperature checked and they were totally fine.”
The students on campus are trying their best to live their lives to the fullest, but when a student sees another student coughing who appears to be of Asian descent, it can be hard to get the constant worry of everything you hear in the news out of your head.
But for most of the international students on campus, the root of this issue is going on back home, not so much on campus.
“I talk with my family daily, every single day. I talk with my mom during the morning, during the night, checking how she’s doing there,” said Yuchen “Charlie” Zhou.
She explains that the entire country of China right now is under complete lockdown, due to the fact that this virus is airborne.
They can’t go out and everywhere is locked, she said. Zhou explains that her family has been in blocked in their house for almost a month, not seeing anyone or making any physical contact with anyone.
She mentioned that if her family needs to go grocery shopping, they need to order food online and somebody will send that to her family’s house.
“It really affects their mental well-being. It impacts their life quality. They can’t really go out, they can’t really have fun, they really can’t do things that make them happy,” said Zhou. “If it were me, I would feel super depressed. I mean, I can’t really go out, I can’t do things, I can’t hang out with people.”
Zhou says that a big responsibility of her family’s obligations are to their business, which is still active but it has taken a toll. She says that it’s nice for her family to not be busy 24/7 with work.
On the one hand, it makes life super boring because they can’t do a lot of things but on the other hand it gives them time to slow down and relax, Zhou said.
Wan said his family’s predicament in China is “bad because you see the news every day about how many new people are affected and it could affect anyone I know at any time.”
He mentioned that a lot of people from around our region have been trying to help out in any way that they can. A common gift package includes food and face masks, something that the government is lacking sources of. Wan said he went to the local stores around Castleton but all the face mask products have been sold out.
Wan explains that every family that lives close to or in Wuhan, China (which is where the outbreak started) can’t leave their house or apartment.
The only difference here is that unlike the area that Zhou’s family is from, Wan’s family is allowed to send one family member out to the grocery market but there is a security guard at every entrance and exit point all over the city making sure the virus isn’t spreading.
“They will stand next to the gate, scanning your temperature, asking why you need to go out, who have you been talking to, those kinds of things,” said Wan.
The one family member that has the best immune system is allowed access outside wearing protective gear and a safety mask if the official believes it is ok.
“Something else that is going on are the school systems. All school was supposed to start last week but because China is shut down, everything is online,” said Wan.
Every student from early education to college is stuck in their house and are not allowed to leave to start school. It is all closed and now live streaming is taking place and everything is online.
“My country is sick,” said Wan. “Would you be willing to see your country sick and not be able to help out with anything?”
Wan said he came back to school a week before the outbreak in China happened and that when he was in China, he almost visited Wuhan but is now grateful that he didn’t. But even when he came back to Castleton University, he explained that up until this semester he hasn’t seen or heard of labeling.
Since the world wide news covered this topic, he said he has heard about people on campus being weary when seeing someone who looks to be of Asian descent cough or wear protective gear around their nose and mouth.
“Some of the Chinese students got labeled by some American students saying things like ‘Oh, you’re from China? You came back from the virus? What are you doing here?’” said Wan.
He acknowledges that some are trying to make jokes about it, but Wan urges them to just stop and actually ask because they aren’t familiar with our native tongue and sense of humor, if they are joking about it.
Adrienne Matunas, the Coordinator of Pathway Program for English Language Learners, believes that the most beneficial thing that our campus can do is to instead of jumping to fear right away, is to connect with international students from China so that they can learn more for their well-being and for others.
“Many of our students hail from regions of China that are very far from Wuhan, which is the hot spot for the virus. It’s important to know this before making assumptions that someone is at risk for carrying the virus simply because of their nationality,” said Matunas.
Zhou also believes that this virus has caused too much fear on campus and that it is really simple to seek information from international students and not to worry about it on campus.
“Don’t be too panic about things,” said Zhou. “If you’re too panic about if I say this about Chinese students having virus and will they affect me, that will mentally hurt themselves. They will just be anxious about it all the time and it will hurt them.”