Due to the coronavirus outbreak, all abroad programs have been cut short and students have been sent home. So as of right now, I’m currently home in the United States staying with some family and preparing to start summer courses to make up for the missed credits of the spring semester.
When COVID-19 first started showing up, I was still in Japan. I remember I didn’t even start hearing about it until I saw some random post on Facebook. Back then, it still wasn’t a concern for anyone outside of China. I promptly forgot about it since I had zero concern that it would affect my program. Obviously, that changed drastically over the course of a few weeks. I started hearing more about it during the last week of the fall semester at Waseda, which ended at the beginning of February. That’s when I picked up my own masks from the local conbini.
I was more worried about catching a flu while in a foreign country than getting so sick I might end up in the hospital. Plus, there was a child in my host family house, and I didn’t want to risk her getting sick. I started traveling around wearing masks on the trains and while traveling on foot. As the days passed, I started noticing more and more people wearing them. As the weeks progressed, I was thankful for this because, come the Nikko trip, it was near impossible to find them anywhere in Japan. The masks were being bought out left and right. My host mother and I had to buy these child-sized masks we’d seen in a conbini while on vacation. Thankfully, they fit. Once we’d returned home, I was able to use the three masks I still had left over from my original pack.
Earlier in the month, my family surprised me with a plane ticket home for the spring holiday. Originally, they were supposed to come out to Japan, but because of some complications with work, that hadn’t been possible. So, a couple days after the Nikko trip, I was all packed up and ready to return home for a month. I wore a mask the entire way to the airport and the entire 12-hour plane ride to America. I wasn’t the only one either. Almost everyone on the plane wore a mask, even a few of the air hostesses. The change I saw when stepping off that plane was insane. Everyone looked at me strangely because I wore a mask and at that point, COVID-19 wasn’t a concern in the U.S. This was on February 14th. Happy Valentine’s Day, right?
While home, I closely monitored the situation back in Japan and began to grow more concerned every day as the situation seemed to become worse and worse.
I didn’t want to have to leave Japan; I still had all of my things there, not to mention there was so much I’d had yet to do and see. One of my friends and I were making plans for Hanami (cherry blossom viewing) in Kyoto in April for a weekend. My host family and I had plans to go to Tokyo Disney and then Hokkaido in August. I still wanted to check out the Ghibli museum and the Pikachu Attack in Yokohama in August. All of those goals became harder and harder to grasp when I received the email about Waseda pushing back their start date past April 20. There was no concrete date which made things even more difficult because, if it were too late in April, I would have to choose between finishing my semester in Japan and not enrolling in the fall semester at UMaine, or canceling my entire semester abroad and coming home early.
I didn’t want to make the choice, but I also knew I couldn’t jeopardize my graduation time at UMaine, so I made the call and canceled my program. Low and behold, a few days later, all study abroad programs were canceled anyway. Ironically enough, it happened on March 12, the day I was supposed to fly back to Japan.
Thankfully, I didn’t have to stress about catching a last-minute flight back to America or worry about suffering any type of quarantine, but all of my things were still stuck in Japan which means my host family had to pack it all up for me and ship it to my home in the U.S. There are still things I need to sort out that make it complicated since I’m not actually in the country, but I’m thankful to have my host family there, willing to help with everything. A lot of my friends weren’t so lucky.
One was visiting home and instead of choosing to either stay in the dorms or with a family, she ended up renting her own apartment. This was cool until her program got canceled and now she has to figure out a way to get everything back without being able to go back to the country. Another one, before her program got canceled, had the same issue of finding toilet paper that everyone in America had. Most people in Japan started panic buying the stuff and she ended up having to camp outside a store in the rain an hour before it opened just to get a few rolls.
This virus has complicated a lot of people’s plans and has ruined the experiences of those of us enrolled in abroad programs. Not just because of the credit aspect, but because of our thirst for knowledge and adventure. We went abroad because we wanted to live in another country, meet new people and create life-long memories.
The semester I had abroad was one of the best parts about university, and I’m so thankful for all the people that made it possible, from the Office of International Programs (OIP) on campus to the host family I stayed with for a short time. I still have a ton of adventures I never had the chance to share with any of you, so be on the lookout for those upcoming articles. I also want to thank everyone from OIP and on campus for working tirelessly to get all of us back here and set up with online classes. I know hasn’t been easy, and it means a lot to us all how much work you’re putting in.