After I graduated in 2018, I moved to a city in China to teach English. The population of the city was just over 11 million, yet it was relatively unknown to the western world at the time. Nobody would have guessed that a year and a half later my little neighborhood of Wuhan would be the epicenter of a worldwide pandemic.
At the end of December, some of my students told me about a virus infecting people and that I should protect myself. At the time, it was still very new and my students didn’t know how to explain everything in English. Despite not knowing exactly why, I began wearing my face masks more often and spending less time in group settings. I, along with many others, was not aware of the number of people infected and how serious the virus was at the time.
My semester ended following the first week of January. I stayed in China a week longer to travel, and then I went on a preplanned trip back to the U.S. Even though I already planned to go to the states, I was only supposed to be there for a couple of weeks. I only packed one suitcase and a carry-on full of things I didn’t need in China anymore. Almost everything I own is still in my apartment in Wuhan.
Once I arrived in Arkansas, I realized the magnitude of COVID-19. My friends and students in China have been giving me updates daily. Wuhan began quarantine in January. In China, especially Wuhan, quarantining looks much different than social distancing or even stay-at-home orders here in the states. It started with closing public transportation, trains and flights. Then it expanded to instituting specific, limited times people could leave their homes. By February, the government was delivering food to each community — no one could enter or leave. Throughout the past couple of months, quarantining has become more severe.
Through these strict quarantining measures, Wuhan seems to be improving. Starting on April 8, China began to lift domestic travel restrictions. While life seems to somewhat normalize for Chinese residents, foreigners are still restricted from entering China.
This entire situation has been difficult for millions of people for multiple reasons. As for the expats in China, everyone’s struggling in different ways. Some of my American friends are still stuck in their apartments in Wuhan. The rest, including myself, are stuck in the states. Currently, like many people, I am without a job, not knowing when or if I’ll ever return to my second home in Wuhan.
Even though I trust that God has this all under control, that doesn’t make it hurt any less. For now I’m social distancing like everyone else and appreciating my time with family. I still pray that somehow and someday I will return to my Chinese home and my sweet friends in China.
Abigail Cooper (’18), April 8