My personal experience in America during the pandemic would be described in one word: traumatizing. Despite being housed in a really nice home with a really nice family for 3 months, there were times when I felt like I didn't belong and that I was intruding.
When I was with my host family in the United States, my host would get annoyed whenever I touched anything without her permission. For example, she would often tell me that I could have no more than one bowl of cereal per day. She would also try to blame everything that went wrong in her family on me, and at times, it felt like I was trapped. Don’t get me wrong, I am very grateful for their care, but I do feel conflicted about the time I spent there. Gratitude was the driving force that allowed me to tolerate her behavior, so I didn’t feel comfortable saying anything bad about how my host family was treating me. Because I lived in her house for 3 months, I felt like it wasn’t my place to express what I was facing in their home because I would seem ungrateful.
Another aspect that was traumatizing was all of the information I was reading online, about race and politics today. It seemed like every news source was biased and prejudiced. It didn’t even matter where the source came from— it was all nonsense and extremely left biased. It painted the picture that China was incredibly bad and that everything China did in response to COVID-19 was incorrect. I expected more educated people, like journalists, to be able to logically see both sides of the situation— but that obviously didn’t happen.
I also had a fear of coming back home. The cyberbullying that had been going on against the international student community by some Chinese locals had taken shape in accusations. International students were being convicted of committing a form of “treason” by studying abroad, and of “not knowing who we are”, or of “not being Chinese enough”. These comments were really hurtful to see.
Online comments from the Chinese side of social media made me really scared to speak English in public. That is the most direct effect that it had on me on my flight home. Even as I faced other international students, I was scared of being seen as a “traitor”, so I made sure not to speak English. I know I’m not a “traitor”, but I was still scared of being labeled as such. I know of friends in China who spoke English and were rejected from residential compounds; this had led to more tension within the Chinese population towards international students. I knew that even once I left quarantine, I wouldn’t be speaking English as much in public. I felt like I was intruding all over again.
But otherwise, the travel process back home was very anticlimactic for me. I planned to come back home in March, but my flight kept getting cancelled. I was finally able to catch my 7th flight back home after buying nine tickets. The flight itself was not that awful for me because I had the luxury of sitting in the business section.
Quarantine was not bad either… I got put in a pretty nice hotel with pretty good food. So far, I have been really calm, but my physical state isn’t that great because I can’t move around that much being holed up in this hotel. My sleep schedule is especially messed-up, because the lack of natural light or a schedule has put me in a non-existent time-zone.
Written by: Tony He