Rotary exchange student shares COVID insights after return to Taiwan

Jessie Chuang, a 17- year-old from Taiwan, was told that she would, “learn lifelong leadership skills, a new language and culture, build lasting friendships with young people from around the world and become a global citizen,” when she was accepted into the Rotary Youth Exchange as a scholarship recipient. What she didn’t expect was to also experience a global pandemic that cut short her education and social adventure. 

On March 13, Cedar Falls Schools closed for their annual spring break. But this spring break was different as students never came back to school after the week was over. Jessie, like many other students during spring break, didn’t leave her house for fear of contracting the new COVID-19 virus from others besides going for a walk or getting groceries. 

But, Jessie’s house in Cedar Falls wasn’t her home. Her home was in Taiwan with her parents 7,386 miles away, and with the threat of borders and airports closing, and a rise in cases and deaths from COVID-19, both of Chuang’s parents told her they wanted her home. 

However, Chuang said she didn’t want to go home to Taiwan. “I’m not happy with having to go back home so early. It is totally out of my plan. I am kind of sad,” she said. “It’s a pity that I can’t graduate in the U.S. I was looking forward to my U.S. trip. I miss my host family and my friends,” she said. 

Chuang also said that the virus didn’t allow her to travel like she hoped. “I actually thought I would go to more big cities. I only went to a few places. Might be the virus’ fault,” she said with a laugh.

Chuang returned to Taiwan to live with her family on March 25. When she arrived in Taiwan she had to self-quarantine for three weeks. After these three weeks, Chuang said she carried on with her usual life. Chuang was able to do this because according to the Taiwan Centers for Disease Control, the virus did not spread as much there. 

“I hang out a lot,” she said. “The situation here is getting better so people don’t really care about distance now. It’s not very scary in Taiwan.” Chuang said that in mid May there had been no new coronavirus cases, and there have been only seven total deaths during the pandemic. Chuang said, “These days no one has the virus in Taiwan.”

When Chuang was in Cedar Falls in the beginning of the pandemic, she mostly stayed in her house. But in Taiwan, Chuang said that “most businesses carried on as usual,” and that “everything is still open,” including schools and restaurants. 

Although Chuang is not in full time school now, she said she is taking The International English Language Testing System (IELTS) classes. Chuang said that Taiwan is taking precaution by closing “dangerous” places like karaoke rooms and swimming pools. One requirement, Chuang said, was that if you take public transport, “you have to wear a mask.” Chaung follows this precaution, as she said she wears a mask when she goes out. 

Although Taiwan was stabilizing around zero cases a few weeks after Chuang got back to Taiwan, Iowa’s cases were climbing. Currently, Taiwan has 441total cases of the coronavirus, while Iowa has 15,349 total cases.   

Chuang said she wants to be back in Iowa “even though there is nothing to do there.” Before Chuang left on March 25, she said Cedar Falls was like “a dead town.” She said she hopes to go back to the United States, to finish her Rotary year if the virus gets under control. 

 

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