Students reflect on study abroad in China one year later

Seniors Anna Lund and Tryne Vander Straten recall being optimistic about returning to normalcy in early 2020

By late January of 2020, six Trinity students were abroad in China, with one other awaiting a late start to their semester. Around this time, the COVID-19 outbreak began to spread quicker, and almost immediately, the university arranged flights back to the U.S. for all six students.

“They saw [the virus outbreak] happening, so instead of waiting for when plane tickets were already sold and having that dilemma, I think they made some great decisions in getting those students out as early as possible,” Ivan Pendergast, emergency management coordinator, said in a 2020 interview.

Anna Lund, one of six students abroad in China and a junior at the time, said that her university in Beijing was quick to place students in quarantine as a preventative measure.

“Basically, everyone was just self-quarantined,” Lund said in a 2020 interview. “The quarantine on campus was more because everyone in Beijing was self-quarantined, and they did not want students leaving campus and bringing back whatever. It was more of a preventative measure.”

One year later, Lund reflects on how her unique study abroad situation helped her prepare for the “long-run” that has been year-long quarantine.

“In hindsight, my situation helped me be prepared for what was to come. For example, when campus closed last March, I had already been through a similar process before, and I was able to help my friends navigate their emotions and be there for them as they dealt with it. I don’t think any of us thought we would still be dealing with it a year later,” Lund said.

Learning to be kinder to herself during the pandemic has been essential for Lund in helping her process difficult emotions.

“That whole situation and this year of taking classes online has taught me the very important lesson of being gentle with myself by taking the time to deal with my emotions the way I need to. So often in college, I’ve pushed myself to the breaking point. Going through what I did, I learned how to have a kinder narrative towards myself,” Lund said.

Anthropology and Chinese double major Tryne Vander Straten, a junior at the time of the outbreak, was also in China when her semester abroad was abruptly cut short. Vander Straten, much like Lund, recalls being optimistic about a return to normalcy back in 2020.

“I honestly could not have imagined things would turn out this badly since the pandemic started. When I had to come back early from China due to COVID, it felt like the rug was pulled out from under me. Looking back, it feels pretty silly knowing that the biggest thing I was worried about was finishing my major. Sometimes I thought to myself, ‘Maybe I would have been safer if I’d stayed in China,’ since things there were mostly back to normal by last April,” Vander Straten said.

A year later, Vander Straten’s main focus has shifted drastically.

“In the past year, it’s exhausting and painful to see this mess continue almost unchecked. Even with vaccines, I think that Greg Abbott opening Texas again shows how little we have under control. Recently, I’ve barely thought about the things I was concerned about last year. I feel like now, it’s barely enough to just hope for the best, and try to live through the days,” Vander Straten said.

Despite the unusual academic year, Vander Straten will be graduating in May with degrees in anthropology and Chinese.

As for Lund, she plans to return to China when the time is right.

“In my future plans, I’ve always envisioned myself living in China after graduation. Of course, I wish I could have completed my semester abroad, but because I didn’t, I am in less of a rush than I was before to go to China again. Like one of my mentors told me when I first returned to campus, Chinese civilization has been around for 5,000 years, and it could easily be around for another 5,000,” said Lund.