UW Chinese International Students Share Their First Encounters With COVID-19

Mar 20, 2020

Ling Li was on vacation with her family for winter break, in the province of Hainan, China, when the country confirmed its initial cases of coronavirus.

By the time they got back home, to the province of Hainan, China, things drastically changed. "We found Wuhan city was under quarantine," Li said.

If you're not aware, The city of Wuhan, China, was the first place that the virus outbreak occurred.Ling Li started to see more people taking precautions like wearing face masks frequently. The number of confirmed cases also increased.

When it was time for her to go back to school and continue her graduate studies, she was anxious.

"When I came back here, I was very worried about… that I got infected," Li said.'Here' as in Laramie, Wyoming. She is a master's student at the University of Wyoming, studying Kinesiology. And when she returned this past January, she wore a mask everywhere.

She said, "I checked my body temperature twice every day… Just in case I have a fever or something uncomfortable for me. So I just double-check that I'm not sick, I'm fine."

So, as recommended, that's what she did for the first two weeks she arrived in Laramie.

Part of her program at the university is also to teach classes. But she stopped teaching because of this concern. I asked whether fear overwhelmed her during this time.

"If you fear other people… maybe other people will fear you, right?" she replied. "Everybody has a chance to have this infection right? So, you can't fear everybody because yeah… Maybe you are the virus [laughs]."

The coronavirus had a huge impact on her family. She explained that her parents just stayed at home. The business that they owned stopped operating. They go outside only when needed, like getting groceries. "They're not earning… money. From the business. That's a problem."

We had that conversation back in February of this year.

A lot has happened since then. Chinese international students and their families face similar situations. Qinlan Lang is an undergraduate student at the University of Wyoming. And she's from the province of Guangdong, China. She said her family couldn't celebrate Chinese New Year together this time.

"My parents didn't, I think they didn't meet my grandpa and grandma… During that special period," Lang said. Chinese New Year is a huge deal in China and other countries who observe and celebrate it. It usually runs from January through February. This year though, it was also around the time that the coronavirus started growing in China.

"My parents are very sad about the condition," said Lang. "They can't go out, they can't meet relatives. And during that period, they should be together, eat hotpot [laughs]. Do some happy activities.

"This atmosphere trickled all the way to the University of Wyoming Campus. Yikai Peng is an undergraduate student and the president of the Chinese Students and Scholars Association here at the University. She sent a survey to Chinese International students asking about the Chinese New Year celebration.

"After this outbreak of coronavirus, I asked the Chinese group if they would still want to go to the celebration or not," Peng said. "And more people voted on canceling it than the other. So that's why I decided, it's probably a better idea since more people are concerned about it. So I decided to cancel it."

They canceled it because a lot of them recently returned from China and was concerned about possibly spreading COVID-19. Which Peng understood. But the decision wasn't easy.

"I mean, I am sad… This is a tradition that we always do at the University of Wyoming. We've been doing it for years. But, I think it's for the best," she said. Both Peng and Lang are hopeful though.

The number of COVID-19 cases is currently lower than before in China. And Lang believes that if the world has survived Ebola, Zika Virus and Bird Flu, then it will surely survive this too.

"And I know that scientists all over the world are trying to find a vaccine or some medicine of this virus. So, I think we just need time to solve it," she said.

Now that confirmed cases of COVID-19 are present in Wyoming, Yikai shared some advice. "I understand that people are panicking," she said. "But, it would be great if everybody is, just, reading from trustworthy newspapers to get their information instead of listening to some of the rumors."

At present, that's the advice that many health workers are giving to people in the United States.

Have a question about this story? Contact the reporter, Naina Rao, at nbadarin@uwyo.edu.