Boris Tsang / Sun Photography Editor

After the abrupt cancellation of classes, most first-year students were forced to move out of their North Campus dorms.

April 13, 2020

First-Years Around the World Adapt to Quarantine and Isolation

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They lived in Mews and Low Rise 7. They studied in dorm common rooms and they gathered in North Campus dining halls.

Now, first-year students are scattered across the world, adjusting to quarantine as many cities and states adopt social distancing measures. While some students are finding new ways to spend free time in their childhood bedrooms, others are working through online classes 7,000 miles from their families.

When David Wang ’23 returned home to Columbia, Maryland, he was struck by the silence in the streets, usually bustling with activity.

Back at home, Wang has been adapting to pandemic life by trying to keep a routine, spending time learning new recipes through Bon Appétit cooking tutorials, participating in FaceTime workouts with his boyfriend and reading The Immortal Life of Henrietta Lacks.

While lockdowns in several cities have caused residents to rush to grocery stores for toilet paper and hand sanitizer, Wang said the response in his city has been calmer.

“One of the biggest slogans in my county a while ago was ‘Choose Civility,’ and people have been doing that,” Wang said. “The community as a whole is really trying to help their healthcare workers. You see this in small Facebook groups and near the hospital, where a lot of people are donating masks and just doing what they can during this time.”

As Wang walks through his neighborhood, he sees “Stay Strong” chalked in bold blue letters on his neighbors’ driveway and “We Got This,” surrounded by pastel pink stars.

Xinyue Shi ’23 isn’t home in China and she’s not at Cornell. Instead, she chose to stay with her mother’s childhood friend in Polk County, Iowa, because remaining at the University for five months presented logistical issues and living in China would have made taking online classes difficult.

Living away from her family and friends, Shi has adapted quickly, cooking meals for herself and doing her best to not disturb her host family. She is doing her schoolwork on the family dining table, without a work space in her room.

Shi has also been spending the abundance of free time watching seasons of Friends and taking walks in her new neighborhood.

“I’m living a retirement life,” Shi said.

Laura Azcárate ’23 of Colombia reached home just before the country canceled all incoming international flights on March 23. When Azcárate left the plane, she had to sign a contract attesting that she would self-quarantine for two weeks at home under penalty of jail time.

For the next two weeks, she barely left her room. Azcárate video chatted with her own family to avoid potentially infecting them. Within these confines, she taught herself how to play the guitar, watched Netflix and caught up on schoolwork for her online classes. But after her self-quarantine lifted, the government imposed a national lockdown throughout the county.

“Since I came back home, I haven’t crossed my house’s door again,” Azcárate said.

Although Colombia has far fewer cases than the U.S., the response to the virus has been swift and strict.

“Colombia doesn’t have as many resources as the U.S., so if this got really really serious here it could be a big problem,” Azcárate said. “They were trying since the beginning to manage it so it wouldn’t spread.”

Like many other communities throughout the world, her city in Valle del Cauca is rallying around health workers. At 8 p.m. everyday, Azcárate said, people cheer and clap from their balconies and windows to celebrate those working in hospitals. New York City residents hear the same daily applause at 7 p.m.

“You don’t have to go outside to hear it,” Azcárate said.

Thirteen hours ahead, in Taipei, Taiwan, Jennie Chiu ’23 is under less strict regulations. The government has not yet mandated a stay-at-home order, though it requires every individual to wear a mask in public. At every restaurant, mall, or post office, Chiu must get her temperature taken to ensure she doesn’t have a fever before entering.

Chiu spent much of her time poring over news articles about the pandemic. But after returning home, she said she has been taking a break from the chaos to venture out for hikes in the nearby mountains.

However, Chiu said she has experienced discrimination in her community as the wave of college students returned home from the United Kingdom and the U.S. She said some people feel that students are the cause of their pandemic troubles.

“Whenever people asked me where I came back from and I said New York, they tried to stay away from me,” Chiu said.

But Chiu is also grateful for the Taiwanese government’s handling of the situation, which has been praised widely as one of the world’s most effective.

“A few years ago we faced this type of situation with SARS, so the government already had a backup plan for the future,” Chiu said. “I think Taiwan is doing a really great job, I’m really grateful for being here.”