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What It’s Like Traveling Across Continents During the COVID-19 Outbreak

By: Irene Chung

I have always been passionate about travel. When I have a break or any opportunity abroad, I’ll book a ticket without a doubt because I love to experience foreign cultures in person. Early this January, my friends and I planned a trip to Lisbon for our spring break. We were originally a group of seven and were all excited to explore this new country on our own. However, as spring break approached, the coronavirus in Europe was out of control. Three of our friends dropped the trip suddenly due to safety concerns, so eventually, we became a party of four girls with uncertainties and a slight sense of insecurity.


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The outbreak of coronavirus made us constantly worry during our the entire trip. Once we arrived in Lisbon, two of my friends decided to fly back to the US earlier because they were so stressed about the situation and afraid of possible travel bans (and those did happen). In the middle of our trip, we received an email from BU regarding remote education after spring break. As an international student, I was worried about whether I could get a ticket back to Taiwan and still had no idea when I should come back to campus. Would school continue online until the end of the semester? Should I move out right now and keep my stuff in storage? Among international students, I was one of the luckiest, as I could go back home eventually. Some international students, especially those from China, could not go back home for hundreds of reasons, and therefore, they have to face the fear and insecurity of this pandemic on their own in a foreign country.

When my parents saw the email from BU, they were really worried about me, for sure, and made me book a plane ticket as soon as possible. I hadn’t been home for eight months, and I couldn’t believe I was coming home because of the coronavirus. I was really afraid of the chance of being infected in my next two long flights, and for one week, I could not sleep soundly because I was constantly worrying. On March 12th, I flew back to Boston from Lisbon, spent two whole days packing and moving out, Ubered to New York, and then underwent the 15-hour flight to my home. 


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The moment I saw my parents at the airport, I had a mix of emotions and really wanted to hug them to soothe my anxiety. However, in order to minimize physical interactions, I tried to crack a smile instead of hugging them, telling them that I was fine, but exhausted. The past few days seemed surreal as I went to Europe, the US, and finally back to Asia. I love to travel so much, but for once, it had become a nightmare. During the 15-plus hours on the enclosed airplane, I was so afraid of uncertainties and the invisible virus that I ate and drank nothing and could not relax at all. 

Now I am safe at home and self-quarantining. I really want to be back to campus as soon as possible, as there are so many things left undone that I want to finish in person. However, I am still really thankful for how fortunate I am that I was able to go back home and stay with my family during this challenging time.

I hope each of you stays safe and well and still finds motivation to complete this semester in a special way!


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Irene is currently a senior studying health science and journalism at Boston University. She is from Taipei Taiwan, a tropical country, but she always wants to live in a cold city like Boston. In her free time, she loves to read, draw, hang out with friends, and explore the city by trying new restaurants and cafes. To view more about her work, visit her art account @irenechung.com.
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