Lehigh students, both international and domestic, are reacting to the recent outbreak of the coronavirus that began in Wuhan, China, and has spread to other countries around the world.
The virus has prompted Lehigh to suspend all abroad programs to China, including the Lehigh in Shanghai summer program.
Jia Wo, ‘20G, the vice president of graduate student outreach of the Global Union, said international students from China were emailed by the Office of International Students and Scholars at the start of the semester, and advised to stay inside for 14 days if they were returning from China.
The Global Union is an organization on campus that works to promote cultural diversity and bridge the gap between domestic and international students.
The Coronavirus is a topic of concern to not only the Global Union, but to Lehigh’s campus as a whole.
Wo is from Shanghai, China, and although she did not travel home over winter break, she is able to empathize with many of the conditions at home, as well as get a sense of how the Chinese international community is feeling on campus.
“I think most Chinese students on campus are kind of terrified because of the conditions back home, because back home, this thing is very serious,” Wo said. “Everyone (in China) is wearing respiratory masks every day, and they’re not allowed to get out of their house because the government asked them to stay at home.”
Yuxuan Song, ‘23, went home to Beijing, China, over winter break.
He didn’t notice much of a difference within his own community, but, many of his extended family members who live closer to Wuhan have had to make significant lifestyle changes as a result of the virus.
“A lot of my relatives live pretty close to (Wuhan), so their lives have been affected because you can’t go out of your house,” Song said. “It’s scary because it’s so easily transmitted between people that, once you’ve found a case, you just worry about if you’re going to get it or not.”
Many domestic Lehigh students are concerned about the conditions in China and the effects it may have on campus.
“It should make people alert, but not anxious,” said Miriam Soriano Gregorio, ‘20, the president of Global Union. “Once you educate yourself on this matter, and you’re able to look at the details or facts, you understand that, yes, it’s a serious problem. But it’s not necessarily something of concern that’s causing as much anxiety as the media might portray.”
The coronavirus was brought to the public’s attention at the end of January 2020, but the situation has been severe since December 2019. Wo said she believes the government chose to refrain from speaking about it.
Gregorio said the university made a wise choice regarding the safety of students when it decided to suspend study abroad programs to China.
“It’s like a national crisis back home, and here, I know there are like 12 cases,” Wo said. “But overall, people don’t pay attention to it.”
Song voiced his concerns for how working conditions in China will change as a result of the coronavirus.
Song said for a lot of small and medium-sized businesses, it’s hard because they still get paid a wage, but there aren’t going to be many workers willing to come back to work.
Wo is friends with a recent Lehigh graduate who is originally from Wuhan, whose grandparents were infected by the coronavirus. The graduate told her that the government urges many infected people to stay at home and wait for recovery because many hospitals do not have the resources to treat the virus.
Song said in spite of anxieties surrounding the virus on campus as an international student, Lehigh is doing a good job managing the situation.
“I think people accept us,” Song said. “I didn’t really feel any way, shape or form of being excluded.”