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Covid-19 on Alden Street: Half a world away from home

By Joe Arruda
@joearruda9

When Springfield College announced that they will be transitioning to virtual learning for the remainder of the semester, a slew of international students rushed to schedule flights home.

Jianing He was one of them, but his flight was cancelled twice.

He kept trying, and finally he found one.

The notice was too short for the International Center to provide transportation to the airport, so he paid for an Uber down to New York City.

It wasn’t until he got to the John F. Kennedy International Airport that he was informed the flight had been cancelled. The idea of returning home to his family during a global pandemic vanished as fast as it came.

New York was a major hot spot at the time and accounted for a large portion of the Covid-19 cases in the country. Travelling to a high-risk area results in the necessity to be quarantined. The issues didn’t stop there, however.

Springfield College’s policy doesn’t allow students to return to campus once they leave – an effort to prevent the virus from spreading onto campus.

“Of course, they’re not going to leave him with nowhere to stay,” Deborah Alm, the Director of the International Center at the college said. “So, they said he could come back but he needed to spend 14 days isolated from the other students.”

Several college-owned houses off campus were left vacant at the time, so he was able to stay there.

Alone.

Meals were delivered to the door, and he was not allowed any contact with any of the other students who remained on campus.

It’s not exactly the way a first-year accounting major expects to spend their first spring semester in America.

“I couldn’t go outside with anyone,” He said. “It was a really boring time.”

A look inside of the suite where He now resides on campus. (Photo Courtesy of Jianing He)

When his 14 days were up, he was able to move out of the off-campus residence and into the senior suites where most of the other international students were being housed. The majority of the 55 international students who remain on campus are from China. They are housed two students in a suite, so they have plenty of room to practice social distancing.

“I just do online class, finish homework, play video games and see a movie. My friends went back to China and they were quarantined for 14 days and they just call me and tell me, ‘Oh man, really hard times,’” he said. “I don’t think people (on campus) are really sad, but it’s not really happy.”

The global pandemic has pushed some of the other struggles that come along with being an international student to the side. Worrying about the language, adjusting to the food and learning to have a social life is almost irrelevant when they’re just trying to get by.

“The language is really different because when I started English in middle school and high school we just learned the textbook English, not really how you talk. I’ve had to learn a lot of new words,” he said.

A new experience is what he signed up for, but he got a little more than what was warranted.

His family encouraged him to study abroad after his father did so in California when he was younger. Looking for a better education – or at least a new element to his education – he decided to follow suit.

Now, as China begins to lift restrictions, his family has returned to work and to school while Jianing He remains on the Springfield College campus, half a world away.

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