Life as a modern cave woman: an international student in the Covid-19 pandemic

Story/Video posted May 5, 2020 in Best of CommMedia by Alicia Chiang.

Many international students chose to return to their homes once they heard about the global pandemic or when Penn State first announced its transition online. I, Alicia Chiang, chose to Stay in my apartment in State College.

My home country Taiwan is close to China, where the virus started, and acted diligently before WHO declared COVID-19 as PHEIC (public health emergency of international concern). I raised awareness and asked my father, who visited me during spring break, to prepare masks for me beforehand.

When contemplating on the situation during spring break, we both believed State College, being in “middle of nowhere”, could potentially be a safer option for me than traveling back to Taiwan through JFK airport, located in New York State where The Central Epidemic Command Center of Taiwan (CECC) had raised travel notice to level 2: Alert. The classes I took required live zoom meeting that, if I want to continue studying in Taiwan, I’d need to flip my day and night due to the 12 hours time differences.

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I decided to stay in the States while my father traveled back to Taiwan. He needed to go through 14 days home quarantine that he had to measure body temperature every morning and night. The county health department and village officer called him twice a day, noon and evening to make sure he followed the regulation.

On the 7th day of the quarantine, one passenger on his flight was confirmed to be infected by COVID-19. His status was raised from home quarantine to home isolation, which was similar beside he was required to add the government’s official Line account (a common messaging app in Taiwan that is similar to WhatsApp) and answer video calls instead of phone calls.

The government used cellphone carriers to make sure whoever was going through home quarantine and home isolation didn’t leave their house.

“One day I turned my phone off because I thought it’d be good for my phone since I haven’t turned it off for days. The police called my landline immediately.” Father said.

He was given a “quarantine pack” containing books and rules to follow, also a free online coupon for set-up box.

Meanwhile, nonessential stores began to close in Midnight of March 17 at State College. With classes moved online, cafe and campus’ closing, I began my repetitive daily routine of staying mostly in one room and stared at a computer screen the whole day.

I join zoom rooms once the time for lecture started, turn to other website with hope to entertain myself afterwards, then try to focus on homework writing process. This could sum up my days, when all these actions rarely requires leaving a chair.

I have a group of international student friends who remains in State College. We share pandemic updates and daily thoughts in group chat. We sometimes hang out together in nature, which turned out to be one thing we enjoy the most.

I sometimes imagine would my second half of semester feel better if there’s close friends staying in my apartment as a roommate, or living with family members. I meet with friends every two or three days to keep myself from pulled down by negative energy.