And the slow American response to the public-health crisis has led many to conclude they would be safer back home, even when home is China, the original epicenter of the outbreak.
Zhang’s parents in Beijing were confined to their home for weeks, only able to leave their neighborhood with a special pass. “I was so worried about them,” he said. “Now they are worried about me.”
In a WeChat group, anxious Chinese parents shared data about coronavirus cases in their children’s college towns, swapped details about online marketers who would ship face masks to America, and fretted about empty store shelves. “No eggs, no protein,” one mother wrote about her child’s aborted trip to an American grocery store, appending a sobbing emoji.
Andrew Chen of WholeRen Education, an international-education consulting company, has been organizing hourslong virtual Q&A sessions for parents with Chinese-speaking officials at American colleges and high schools. They have fielded hundreds of questions. “There are a lot of concerned parents,” he told me.
Still, Chen is unsure whether there will be mass departures of students to China. In a WeChat survey of 600 parents he conducted last week, just 2 percent said their children were now in China.
One reason students may hesitate is China, like many countries, has put in place quarantine rules for travelers from abroad, confining them to special quarantine hotels for 14 days. Returning students have also been subject to social-media criticism from people who worry that they will increase infection rates just when China seems to have gotten the epidemic under control. SupChina, a news site focused on China, details
some of the vitriolic comments posted on students’ accounts: “Why did you come back? So your foreign dad is not as good as you thought?” and “The quarantine seems like a vacation for you. Luxury hotel, single room, wifi, food…you are in luck!”
Zhang, who is studying for a master’s degree in quantitative finance, said he feared that a long trip with hundreds of strangers who had not been tested for COVID-19, the disease caused by the coronavirus, put him at far greater risk than self-isolating in his studio apartment. His parents came to agree.
“It’s more dangerous to be on a plane,” he said. “I could get exposed.”
Zhang was also concerned about how he would navigate a 12-hour time difference if most of his classes continued in their regular slots. International students can face other logistical hurdles — platforms used for online learning like Zoom or Google Meet, for example, are not licensed and available in all countries.
Still, several of Zhang’s friends decided to return home, scrambling to find flights out of New York. As America hunkers down, it’s far from clear when they, and other international students, will be back.
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