How I Decided To Fly Home To China Amid The Pandemic


Leo Zhang

My flight from Boston to New York had around five passengers on board.

Leo Zhang, Staff Writer

I am writing this article from my home in Shanghai, China, a long way from where I was a month ago and where my peers are taking their classes. As an international student, I have spent the past four years away from home. I got used to being by myself, so when homesickness was my biggest concern, going home never felt like an option. But it is different this time. As a student living abroad when this pandemic hit, I felt fear and frustration that led me to choose to fly home amid the outbreak. 

As I celebrated the Chinese New Year in Falmouth, MA with some of my friends, my family was told to stay in their homes for the next month while China went into lockdown. Things weren’t looking positive at home as the virus continued to spread. At the time, scientists had just learned that the virus had the ability to transmit from human to human, and within China, almost every single province had cases of the virus. Scientists were unsure of the fatality rate of the virus, but I was frightened for my family and felt at a loss for what to do, except to call and check in. 

Then cases started to rise globally at the end of February, although the fear hadn’t settled in that the virus could reach the US or me. As I kept on worrying about my family, my morning routine began by looking at the number of cases in China before I went to my first-period class. Each day the number just got higher and higher. Although my family had been in their houses for a month, China was still in lockdown and nobody was allowed to go out without permission. My fear continued to grow.

Cases of the coronavirus began surging across the US during Falmouth Academy’s spring break, but on the other side of the world, the increase in the number of infections started to slow. Fearful of the pandemic that was going to rage across America, yet hopeful about the decrease in cases in China, my mom suggested that I go back to China the second week into the break. I was skeptical of her suggestion because I thought that it might be too early to question how America would handle the virus. I debated between finishing my Junior year at FA or going home. I felt like it wasn’t worth it to leave, and I knew that if I left, I might not be able to return because of the restriction on travel that the Trump administration had put into place on January 31st, 2020 barring travel for “foreign nationals who had been in China in the last 14 days” (Washington Post).

Then, in Mid-March, the cases in China seemed to be disappearing compared to the exponential spread of the coronavirus in America. Even most of the lockdowns in China were lifted at this point. The more I looked at the responses from the US government, the more insecure I felt about how prepared the United States was for the virus. I was starting to change my mind about whether or not to go home. Around this time, Italy was hit hard by the virus, and I feared that the same scenario would play out in the US.

The second week into our spring break I already had multiple video conferences with my family to figure out my plans. At first, we decided that I would stay, but I quickly felt anxious and unsure if my decision was the right one. Three days later, I received a package of surgical masks my sister had mailed to me. During those three days, I felt more uneasy than I had ever been before. 

Looking at the flights online, I could hardly imagine myself being there on that plane within a few days. I wished that I could just lay back and close my eyes and the problem would go away. I calmed down and thought about it. There is a  pandemic. It spreads like wildfire, it is deadly, and it is near me. I want to be home with my family in a country that I know. I realized that if I stayed in the US my fear would only continue to grow. I looked at the situation as if I was amid a war, only the enemy was invisible but ubiquitous. Ultimately, I decided to leave, but then had to deal with countless cancelled bookings.  Finally, I got a ticket from New York to Shanghai scheduled to leave on March 24th. I wore face masks and my ski goggles throughout the whole trip because I feared catching the virus on the plane. After taking three flights over a span of three days, I arrived in Shanghai. 

The 15-hour long flight home was an Odyssey compared to the numerous other flights I have taken in the past. The Odyssey was surreal. The atmosphere on the plane was death-like, with people being packed side by side. It was like every person on the flight was distrustful of the others and fearful that someone on the flight would spread the virus to them unknowingly; as if we were all going to a funeral. After I arrived, I had to be self-quarantined for 14 days in a hotel by myself. It was a waiting game to see whether I caught the virus on the journey back home or not. Luckily, after the 14 days, I tested negative, and I finally went home. When I saw my mom, all that anxiousness and fear went away.   It was a deliverance.

In retrospect, the entire journey felt surreal. I believe in some sense my survival instinct was triggered and it compelled me to go home. During such a chaotic period, finishing school became far less important than feeling safe with my family.  Although I had a loving host family who guaranteed my security, it is a fact that sometimes no one except your family can give you the love and security you need.