Tiffany Cheng

June 01, 2020

When it happened

I was aware of COVID-19 before I left to study abroad because my dad was in China. I was already kind of worried and wore a face mask to the Netherlands. I was actually the only person with a face mask going through the airport, and especially being Asian, it felt weird. It was like no one was worried. This was my first time in Europe, so there were lots to take in. It was a bit of a rough start. I was really stubborn, and overpacked quite a bit, which made pulling three suitcases through the streets so hard! And then when I got to my place,

there was no elevator so I had to carry everything up so many flights of stairs! It worked out though. The weather was also hard to get used to coming from sunny California to the rainy Netherlands. And everyone bikes! When I went to rent a bike, I realized how much taller everyone else was compared to me and I asked for a child’s bike. Turns out, a lot of Americans had already come (to the bike shop) and they were out of children’s bikes so I ended up getting a bike that was giant compared to me. What made it even scarier was that it didn’t have hand brakes. I was lucky and made lots of friends, especially from other UCs, and we traveled a lot together. And then COVID-19 started impacting us. On March 7, my friend from Thailand was the first to be called home. One week later I had a scare that I contracted COVID-19 because I was studying with a friend all day and then she found out her roommate shared a cup with someone who had it. We were all getting pretty stressed by now. There was almost no information, so we didn’t know what to do. I still was traveling to France and Denmark during this time, and it was interesting to see no one was wearing masks (even if they were coughing). Every day, things started to get crazier. I remember on March 12 I asked my professor if the school was going to do anything, and he said that we didn’t have the resources to go online. That same day, the king and government made an announcement that everything would shut down, and I went back to my dorm to find everyone freaking out. The next day, everything switched and it all became a blur. It was very emotional, we were all calling our parents, everything switched to online, and UCEAP called me to go home. Personally, I was ok staying, even if it was online classes, so I contacted UCEAP and signed a waiver form to stay in-country. Then all my friends started leaving before the borders closed. I (ultimately) decided to go home to Taiwan, but didn’t rush and stayed an extra two weeks on my own. I was very shocked and upset when the program got suspended and I didn’t know what to think. This experience was something I looked forward to for over a year and this was my last semester so it sucked to have it cut short. I flew home on April 1. 

Coming home

When I came home, I felt very safe in Taiwan because everyone was very serious about protection. To travel anywhere we wore masks, goggles, and gloves. Once I arrived, I filled out a form with all of my information, I took a special taxi for people coming from Europe, got home, and went through a two-week isolation period. They would track my cell phone, I wasn’t allowed to leave my home to buy food or anything, and the mayor of the city would call me twice a day to check in on me. If I were to disobey orders, the police would come and give me a fine. They were especially interested in me because I listed in my information my symptoms which included a sore throat and stomach ache. I did take a test and the results were negative, but they still wanted to check in every day. I was lucky to come home when I did because now people have to stay in specialty quarantine hotels. Overall, it’s great being home. I video chat with my friends from study abroad all the time, sometimes talking about the trips we would have been on, but eventually just being happy that we are all safe. 

Looking back at your experience

I definitely miss my friends the most. My favorite memory is when we would bike down the streets, go grocery shopping, and just take in the city. One thing I learned about myself is that I can push myself pretty far to do a lot of things that I normally wouldn’t do. I also really enjoyed seeing how different everybody was and the interesting differences between our education systems. This was probably the most meaningful experience of my life. I made lifetime friends and we are excited to meet again when this is all over. 

For future students studying abrod

Be ready for academics. It’s difficult because Dutch students don’t care about grades the same way we do. For them, it’s more about the experience and learning. Also, be open-minded. Dutch people are very straight forward and might seem cold-blooded at first, but they are actually very nice. The Netherlands is big on biking. Embrace that, and while you are biking on the street, take a moment with yourself and look around you. Be courageous and try everything. If you’re struggling to make friends, housemates are a great place to start. Finally, even if there is a pandemic it’s ok to panic. Just breathe and call your parents. If you feel like you’re in danger there are counselors for the programs willing to help.