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A ‘thousand miles away’: International students react to the virus infecting their hometown

As Shaoyang Zhou walked through Armstrong Student Center to class last Tuesday, he knew people were watching him. Some stopped and stared, but this was exactly the reaction he was hoping for. 

Zhou purchased a hazmat suit, and on Tuesday, Jan. 28, he decided to wear it around campus to raise awareness for the 2019 novel coronavirus itself and the devastating impact it has had in his community in Wuhan. 

Zhou is a senior at Miami University majoring in economics. He was born and raised in Wuhan, the origin of the outbreak. He stayed in Oxford over winter break but tries to stay in constant connection with his family. 

Zhou said there was a case of coronavirus near his parents’ home, and that hospitals in Wuhan are under intense pressure.

Far from home, Zhou decided to take measures into his own hands to protect himself. He first went looking for a surgical mask, but since those were out of stock, a gas mask was his second option. 

“I am [a] thousand miles away [from home], and I feel bad for the fact that there seems to be nothing I can do,” Zhou said. “I wish people [would] know that things are bad back in Wuhan, people are suffering, I wish people can pray for Wuhan, cheer the city up.” 

“My family is the thing that I worry about the most,” Zhou said. “I keep telling them ‘don’t go out’ every single day, just for the 1 percent chance [they] get infected.” 

Zhou isn’t the only Miami student worried about family back home. Miami has around 70 students from Wuhan. Twelve students were unable to return for the spring semester due to the travel ban that prohibits people from leaving Wuhan, said Yuenan Jin Rodriguez, international student coordinator of Miami Global Initiatives

Wuhan has been on lockdown since Jan. 23, with bus and train services stopped and tunnels closed off, according to Business Insider

“We are working with a handful of [the students] to come back later in the semester,” Rodriguez. 

Students from Wuhan have been reaching out to Global Initiatives, specifically Molly Heidemann, the director of international student and scholar services, to continue their education at Miami. 

Global Initiatives has directed students to work with One Stop to ensure they are able to pay tuition for their Miami education because banks in Wuhan are closed due to the outbreak, Rodriquez said. 

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After the news broke that two Miami students were being tested for the virus, Heideman sent an email to international students. 

“We know there have been a lot of concerns and fears regarding the coronavirus,” the email read. “I know it is very hard to be far from home during a situation like this. I hope that all your friends and family back home are safe and well.”