by Leah Alsept
Karen Fullin studied TESOL at the University of Findlay. Soon after graduating, Fullin left the United States to teach at Guangxi University in China in August 2018.
An English Language Instructor, Fullin covered multiple subjects like academic writing, basic statistics and research.
She was set to teach linguistics during the 2020 spring semester, but something derailed her course.
The novel coronavirus, also called COVID-19, has caused much concern in the recent months.
Fullin was first notified of the virus around Dec. by messages she signed up for from U.S. Embassy in China.
“We got this little notice and it was just like this little blurb,” she said. “But it was like, ‘Oh! A new, novel coronavirus has been discovered,’ and that was it.”
“I looked at the map and like, “Oh, Hubei, that’s not close to me at all,” and went about my life as normal,” Fullin said.
It wasn’t until about a month later when the virus hit the news, she said.
“I was invited to a friend’s house for the Chinese New Year,” she said. “I remember her family asking, ‘Karen, do you have a mask?’”
When she returned to campus, Fullin said things started changing hourly.
“One day I went to the store, and came back, no problem,” she said about her trips outside the walled campus of Guangxi. “Couple days later I went to go get something and they [Campus Guards] were like, ‘We need to take your temperature.’ The next time they needed my ID.”
The World Health Organization in its Mar. 29 Situation Report states there are 634,835 confirmed cases of the disease worldwide. There are 122,653 total cases in the United States as reported by the CDC on Mar. 29, which includes data from both “confirmed and presumptive positive cases of COVID-19,” the website states.
COVID-19 is a respiratory virus that the CDC assumes to be spread person to person.
“Between people who are in close contact with one another (within about 6 feet),” the website states, “Through respiratory droplets produced when an infected person coughs or sneezes.”
The CDC says the droplets can also “land in the mouths of noses of people who are nearby or possibly be inhaled into the lungs.”
Fullin made her decision to leave China on Feb. 18 after receiving an email from the U.S. Embassy stating there wouldn’t be much they could do to help Americans overseas.
If she wanted to go home directly from China, she said she would have had to fly from her province’s airport to Beijing, to the U.S.
“The U.S. had recently put in a policy that any travelers from China would have to be filtered through certain airports and go into quarantine for two weeks,” she said, deciding that she’d leave Feb. 22.
Malaysia was the next stop for Fullin as she quarantined herself for two weeks with another teacher.
“It was kind of a vacation, but it was not a vacation in that,” she said. “We were just kind of relaxing in an Airbnb and seeing how things developed.”
Fullin arrived back in the U.S. on Mar. 8, the Sunday before Spring Break ended for University of Findlay students. She says she has developed no symptoms from her time overseas.
International students at UF had concerns about leaving the U.S. to return home.
Dr. Chris Sippel, Associate Vice President for International, Intercultural, and Service Engagement at the University of Findlay listed some concerns the students had about going back.
“One is that,” he recounted, ‘Will I be able to get back?’
“Of course, another concern is, contracting the virus en route,” Dr. Sippel said. “Meaning that you’re gonna be in these airplanes and also in airports.”
“Which then extends into a third concern—” he said, “‘What if I bring this back? And go home and perhaps have someone in one of the at-risk categories and they live at home with us,’ grandparents or something.”
Although these are stressful times, Dr. Sippel noted that the University and the Buford Center were there to support any student who needed it, following the precautions of the government.
“We gotta really focus on making sure that all students are cared for that are still on campus,” he said. “We also need to give people mobility, but we also need to be very aware of the practice of social distancing.”
In China, Fullin wondered what the United States was doing about the virus.
“When the virus, was, like when it was deemed that it was a threat,” she said about being in China. “Things shut down really fast.” Holiday events, restaurants, and movie theaters were all shut down to keep public gatherings to a minimum, she said.
Reading her student’s feed on WeChat, a Chinese chatting app, Fullin said that her students posted jokes and memes about the coronavirus, but also felt strongly about unity and nationalism. (Nationalism?)
“The U.S. is much more free. It’s very hard for the government to say, ‘Everyone must do this,’ because we’re just founded on a much more free nation,” she said. “I wonder if they’ll be able to shut things down as effectively just because of the different styles of culture.”
Dr. Fang Wang, Assistant Professor of Communication at the University of Findlay, said in an email interview that she hopes both Chinese and American ways of news “function well to serve the people.”
Like Fullin, Dr. Wang uses WeChat to check what’s going on in the daily news while also staying updated by reading the New York Times and global version of China Daily.
“News agents in China are state-owned and censored by the central government,” Wang said. “All newspapers in the country share the same news stories no matter it is local or national.”
She says that Chinese central controlled news reports may help to save time to militate the outbreak during this pandemic situation.
“Comparatively, in U.S.,” she said, “The First Amendment to the U.S. Constitution guarantees the freedom of the press. More voices in the news ensure the surveillance, and help to find the best solution to the stop the outbreak.”
Fullin just hopes that things get better quickly, not just for the sake of herself, but for the sake of all countries.
“My hope is that people can act together and consider others and that this can become something small and we’ll be able to have international travel again,” she said.
For more information on COVID-19, visit who.int/health-topics/coronavirus and cdc.gov/coronavirus. For UF updates on the current coronavirus situation, please visit https://www.findlay.edu/offices/student-affairs/safety-security/health-alerts.