New winter break arrangement motivates Webbies to travel home to China

The+China+Southern+Airlines+plane+prepares+for+takeoff+at+New+York%E2%80%99s+JFK+Airport.+Hundreds+of+passengers+onboard+are+eager+to+return+home+after+spending+weeks+or+years+in+a+foreign+country.+With+the+recent+loosening+COVID-19+quarantine+policies+%E2%80%93%E2%80%93+mandatory+five+days+at+a+hotel+and+three+days+at+home+%E2%80%93%E2%80%93+more+and+more+people+are+motivated+to+make+the+long+trip.+Many+Webbies+are+excited+to+reunite+with+family+and+friends+after+spending+more+than+a+year+in+the+states.+

Jenny Wang

The China Southern Airlines plane prepares for takeoff at New York’s JFK Airport. Hundreds of passengers onboard are eager to return home after spending weeks or years in a foreign country. With the recent loosening COVID-19 quarantine policies –– mandatory five days at a hotel and three days at home –– more and more people are motivated to make the long trip. Many Webbies are excited to reunite with family and friends after spending more than a year in the states.

After almost two years, Chinese international students are finally making the one-month trip back home to reconnect with friends and family over winter break. On Friday, November 4th, Student News welcomed an unexpected message from the Deans, notifying the community that they have approved a special arrangement for students traveling to mainland China. Students can depart campus beginning Friday, December 9th, and return by Saturday, January 7th, giving them an additional two weeks to compensate for the mandatory quarantine and traveling restrictions.  

 For many, this news came as a surprising addition to their winter break plans. Due to the two-week quarantine and jet lag, international students have opted to find a local host family during breaks instead of traveling back home. Now, with additional time and flexibility, they can finally enjoy family time along with the rest of the community during break.  

 This policy would not have been possible, however, without a Webbie who advocated for herself. Her request for extra time was first brought to Michael Hoe, Director of Academics, and then to the Deans for consideration, who were already worried about international students spending more than a year without seeing their families.  

 “We were concerned about the toll that it was taking on students’ emotional health,” said Sarah Lantz, Dean of VWS. “As an educational leadership team, we started thinking about what it will look like if we allow students to have one week before the break and one week after the break to serve as quarantine time to get two weeks with their family.”  

 Although Chinese students are thrilled to spend more precious time with their family members, some have expressed worries about making up their in-class work and homework assignments without the aid of Zoom classes, given that Semester 1 ends on Friday, January 13th. Since this date is merely a week after most Chinese students return from home, students inevitably feel pressure about the possible increased workload.  

 Considerately, the school had prepared a response plan with the educational leadership team that they were confident would work well. In addition to student-initiated contact with teachers, the educational leadership team is confident that the Webb teachers will be able to contact students when necessary, and reasonably differentiate important assignments for students to complete. Advisors will also check in regularly with students and provide help when needed. At the same time, Dean Lantz emphasized that students will only miss four classes per course, so students should not feel overly anxious about the workload.  

 “The benefit to students’ mental health outweighs the challenge or risks of students falling behind in academics,” Dean Lantz said. “Because when we are in a good place, emotionally and mentally, we are more motivated to positively contribute to education and our own learning.” 

 Another factor of instability for students traveling back is the shifting COVID-19 policies caused by current protests in China. Previously, domestic epidemic control in China was extremely strict. This prompted the school’s adjustments to ensure that students will still find it worthwhile to return home since the extra two weeks will compensate the quarantine period. Recently, protests by Chinese citizens have led to a lift of the quarantine policy. Most areas require less than a week of quarantine, and as of December 19th, arrivals will be able to move freely after only five days of quarantine.  

 “It has been very inconvenient and confusing for me to travel back home due to the previous policy,” Joyce Zhao (‘25) said. “I feel very happy when I heard about the changes.”  

 This change also provides a positive signal to students who did not choose to return to China this winter break. Joyce is hopeful that isolation might no longer be required during the summer. However, the optimization of the protocol is accompanied by an outbreak of covid cases in China, and students will face a greater likelihood of infection in China 

 Despite the unpredictable nature of this journey, students have invented various creative ways to maximize their time spent with family while mitigating the hassle that comes with such a long trip. For instance, Elaine Tang (‘24) is traveling back to Hong Kong instead of her home in Shanghai, China, to avoid wasting time in quarantine.  

 “Just them flying from Shanghai and I flying from LA, and we meet in Hong Kong,” Elaine said. “Like a changed-form family trip, except we are departing from a different place but have the same destination.”  

 On the other hand, Amy Wang (‘24) strategically planned to quarantine in the most comfortable fashion by flying to Xiamen, where she previously got assigned a five-star hotel with breathtaking sea views during her summer trip. She echoed the sentiment of gratitude at the generous winter break policy.  

 It’s so considerate and kind,” Amy said. “[Dean Lantz] is really taking into account all the Chinese students and I appreciate it so much. It’s such an unexpected surprise.”  

 Amy recounted her “people-watching” experience during her previous quarantine, reminiscing the joy of seeing all types of people on the street from her hotel balcony. From seeing delivery motorists, to hearing the music of a Chinese dance, “广场舞(guang chang wu),” a popular pastime for retired women, Amy could not contain her excitement of being home.  

 Katherine O’ Hearn (‘24) seconded Amy’s enthusiasm when asked about her winter break plans. In addition to traveling back to Hong Kong, she will also be hosting Mirabel Raphael (‘24).  

“I’m very excited because I will be able to show her places that I’ve been talking about and love going to, especially since she hasn’t been to Asia before.” Katherine said.  

 This opportunity has captured the excitement of international students. For most, meeting family and friends at home again is greatly appreciated.  

 “Winter break’s policies demonstrate Webb’s care for international students and their understanding for their homesickness,” Ender Liu (’25) said. “I look forward especially to family and friend gatherings back at home where we’ll get to catch up on life and reconnect on our relationships.” 

 “What I’m hoping too is that the VWS [and WSC] students who come back and tell me just one thing that really fed your soul over your vacation at home,” Dean Lantz said. “Whether it was seeing a place, or being with someone, or just being in a familiar place that you call home. These are the little things that students take for granted but some international students haven’t been able to do for a long time.”