Graphic courtesy of Sunny Yu

International students gear up for the flight.

Webb students face challenges on the journey home during a pandemic

Many hopeless students stepped outside the Liu Cheung theater into the rain, feeling the drizzle drain the last bits of energy from their bodies as they wondered what to do next. Students were not sure whether they should call their family to book plane tickets, say farewell to their day student friends, or simply find a quiet spot on campus to process the announcement. 

Thirty minutes prior, on that Thursday afternoon, the regularly scheduled B block class changed into an all-school meeting, announcing that Webb would temporarily close its doors due to the coronavirus outbreak. Students soon realized that day students had to leave campus by Friday afternoon and that boarding students had to move out by the next Thursday. 

Before the announcement, Webb’s trips to Houston and Hawaii were both canceled due to safety concerns, and many other students had to change their spring break plans from going home or traveling for college tours to staying local.

“My initial plan was to stay in the U.S. and visit colleges, but all the programs were canceled,” Jimmy Feng (‘21) said.

“I think leaving Webb was quite stressful at first because we had to pack everything in the span of a few days,” Cindy Nie (‘23) said.

“I remember the atmosphere in the dorm being filled with anxiety because everybody was rushing to pack all their stuff while it was also pouring outside,” Candy Gao (‘20) said.

For many, going home meant having to be on the plane for more than ten hours without being able to drink or eat comfortably. 

“The flight home was terrible because everyone was wearing face masks and goggles for 16 hours,” said Jimmy. “It was difficult to breathe, and I could not drink or eat anything. The journey felt really surreal because it happened at the most unexpected time. One week ago I was still thinking about all the summatives that were due, but the next thing I know, I was home before spring break.”

“I arrived at LAX with a hood and a mask on,” said Candy. “I ate a big meal before I left and decided not to eat anything for 20 hours to avoid cross-contamination at the airport. I prepared granola bars and chocolate and a lot of alcohol wipes… After arriving at PVG Shanghai, I was told to wait on the plane without knowing how long it’d take. I ended up staying on the plane for three hours as each passenger had to get their temperature taken. This was definitely one of the most memorable experiences in my life.”

“The flight home I was actually pretty anxious,” said Cindy. “I didn’t know if I was being fully protected and being gathered in a space with so many people wearing masks was a different experience.”

Luckily, the Webb staff and faculty members have been very supportive and understanding of all boarding students. Before students left campus for home, faculty members opened the gym, library, and common areas for students to finally relax. The dining hall staff prepared food while maintaining the social-distancing criteria, and dorm heads offered an emergency packet for all students who were to travel internationally.

“I think Webb has been extremely supportive through this process,” said Cindy. “The teachers have been trying their best to provide a normal learning experience for students and it’s been nice to reconnect with friends.”

“All the teachers and dorm heads were really supportive and gave us a lot of time,” said Jimmy. “Webb helped me a lot by being very considerate in every single aspect of our lives and addressing concerns regarding being asynchronous, course selections, and room selections, and I am glad that Webb was able to look out for us.”

“We tried to provide as much help and support as possible to domestic and international students,” said Romana Quick, Student Services Coordinator and the International Support Program Coordinator. “Including arranging transportation to LAX, giving out care packs, offering I-20 signings, and answering all questions from the international parents. I’ve been reaching out to the international students from all grade levels via WeChat to check-in. I just want to keep international communication open and keep our sense of community.”

Uniting the faculty and students as a whole, this coronavirus outbreak challenged the initial plans and expectations of many, but Webb has been able to support members in the community, especially those who had to make the major transition away from their home away from home.

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