The Novel Coronavirus, appeared in December last year, has caused lots of damages in many aspects around the world. Since the first outbreak epicenter of the virus was Wuhan, China, some western people openly have expressed their hatred toward Asians and even assaulted them. Under this circumstance, the Dongguk Post interviewed two exchange students, and one student studying abroad to find out how students living in the West are and how they deal with discriminations.
Interviewees: Oh Soo-jin(25), Hwang In-jeong(21), Heo Se-rim(21)
Q. Can you introduce yourself?
Soo-jin: Hello, I am Oh Soo-jin, a student of Dongguk University. My major is Korean Language and Literature and double majoring in Advertising and Public Relations. I went to Northern State University of the United States as an exchange student majoring in marketing this spring semester.
In-jeong: Hello, I am Hwang In-jeong, 21 years old, a senior of the Major of English Interpretation and Translation of Dongguk University! Currently, I am an exchange student of Ca’Foscari University in Italy and I am majoring in International Trade and Economics here.
Se-rim: Hello, I am Heo Se-rim and I am a freshman of Dental School of Pontifical Xavierian University of Colombia. It has been one year since I came here.
Q. What is the current situation of COVID-19 in that country?
Soo-jin: As of May 31st, 2020, the number of confirmed cases is 1.8 million and the death toll is 100 thousand. The United States has the most cumulative confirmed cases in the world.
In-jeong: At first, it was so serious that Italy was called Europe’s China. But now it is much better. Restaurants, shops, clothing stores, museums are all open. There are many people walking around outside now, and it is almost the same as before it got serious.
Se-rim: There are approximately 20 thousand confirmed cases and the number of patients is increasing every day as other countries. There are restrictions on going out except for light exercise or emergency situations, and most stores are closed except for banks and marts.
Q. Have you ever suffered racial discrimination due to COVID-19?
If so, what was the situation?
Soo-jin: Last March, my friends and I went on a trip to New York. On my way to the trip, I tried to prevent infection with a face mask and hand sanitizer. But it was hard to find people wearing face masks in the U.S. After arriving in New York, we did not wear face masks, since some of my other friends suffered from racism because they wore face masks. For example, people said to them “If you wear masks, other people will feel anxious.” Also in a passing car, a group of people pulled down the window and shot spray on my friends. From then, my friends and I did not wear masks because we thought that wearing a mask could be a target of racism. We even ran into a group of men who coughed on purpose and sarcastically said “Corona, Corona.”
In-jeong: By the time the COVID-19 began to get worse, I saw Europeans closing their mouths and noses with their collars when passing by Asian people. Some young people even intentionally passed by Asian people coughing and saying the word “Corona.”
Se-rim: Walking around the school, a person in a car pointed his finger at me, referring to the word “Corona.” I could not fully understand what he said since I am not fluent in Spanish yet, but I felt it was racism when I heard his expression and intonation.
Q. Before and after COVID-19, what has changed around you?
Soo-jin: After spring break, all classes have been converted to online lectures. Libraries and sports facilities are all closed. It was very burdensome to have a group life because it was right after other students traveled to many cities. There were students who wore face masks when cooking in the kitchen, and I also used hand sanitizers whenever I opened and closed the door.
In-jeong: There is a perception that only sick people wear face masks in Europe, so even when COVID-19 was very serious, no one wore masks. Only after the government issued a notice that people who do not wear a face mask would be fined, people started to wear face masks. Also, the streets of Venice, which were always full of tourists, were like a dead city. I was not allowed to go out of the dormitory except for the market.
Hwang In-jeong is hanging out with her foreign friends in Italy
./Photography from Hwang In-jeong
Q. What was the hard part as a result of the COVID-19?
Soo-jin: When I went to the mart wearing a face mask, a lot of people looked at me since many people did not wear face masks there. Although there were no cases of infection in my area at that time, I felt that I could no longer relax in this atmosphere. I came back home early in April since all the classes were online. I had a hard time taking online classes after I came back home because of the time difference. As I majored in marketing, I was working on various team projects, which made me wake up at 2 A.M. for video conferencing and give video presentation as soon as I woke up at 7 A.M.
In-jeong: I think the exchange student’s main point is travel, but it was so sorry that I had to stay in the dormitory for about two months. Also, many Korean and foreign friends had to go back to their countries, which made me sad.
Se-rim: The first half of this year was my first semester here. About two months after the start of the semester, however, the COVID-19 landed in South America, too. By the time I felt that I have adjusted to some extent to school life, I heard the news that the classes would be converted to online lectures. I found it difficult to adjust again to a new environment, for example not knowing well about which site I have to enter, how the timetable would changes, how to take the test, and so on.
Q. Were there any stories that helped you overcome racism?
Soo-jin: The worries and support from Stacey, who is a teacher in charge of international affairs, and professors helped me. Stacey was worried about our safety as exchange students and tried to ease our inconvenience. I was hurt and scared by racial discrimination, but every warm word from the teachers gave me a lot of strength.
Se-rim: Some people call me “China” or “Chinese” when I pass by the street. However, since I am an Asian, the difference of race between me and native people gives an opportunity to me, which let me take a video promoting our department with seniors even though I am a freshman. The difference in appearance is the fundamental cause of racism, but at the same time, it is also the provider of freedom and confidence to lightly overcome such discrimination.
Q. Why did you come to Korea before the end of the semester?
Soo-jin: Since I thought I could no longer achieve the ultimate goal of the exchange student. I went to U.S. to communicate freely with people in English, but after the COVID-19 spread, meeting people became difficult.
Q. Would you visit the country again if you have a chance in the future?
Soo-jin: Although it was a short exchange student life, it was a really valuable experience. Also, except for some people, most people were kind to me without any discrimination. So I had more good memories in there. I want to go again because I could not finish what I had planned.
Heo Se-rim is taking a photo with her Colombian friends before class.
/Photography from Heo Se-rim
Q. Why did you choose to stay there?
In-jeong: I do not want to go back to Korea taking a chartered flight, as much as I decided to stay here. It has been about four months since I came to Italy as an exchange student, and I had to self quarantine in the dormitory for two months out of these four months because of the COVID-19, so I want to enjoy Europe more when the situation gets better.
Se-rim: The sky I see when I pull up the blinds in the morning is truly spectacular. And I think it is a good country to live in because here is always cool autumn weather. The weather is so nice and fruits are varied and delicious. There seems to be some reasons why people’s happiness of this country ranks second in the world. I also feel happier here than when I lived in Korea.
Q. Please tell me what you want to say for the last time.
Soo-jin: The world is having a hard time due to the Novel Coronavirus, so I hope it ends soon. On a flight back to Korea, armed with gloves and masks, as if I were really going to flee, I thought a lot. Nevertheless, I was thankful that I came back safely. Also, during the period of self-quarantine, I felt that the Korean society was really working for all the people. I want everyone around the world would healthily overcome this crisis.
In-jeong: Everyone around the world is suffering from COVID-19, so it is most important to find what we can do in this situation and have a meaningful time! I am also enjoying a meaningful exchange student’s life with my Korean and foreign friends, looking for small happiness in these days!
Se-rim: Perhaps since I live in a foreign country, my patriotism is growing. I was very proud to see that Korea stood as a precedent for a country dealing with the COVID-19 well. That is why I cannot be intimidated by racial discrimination. Thank you. I heard that the COVID-19 has subsided to some extent in Korea, but always take care of your health and make sure to wear a face mask even if you feel stuffy in the summer!
Lee Da-young firstname.lastname@example.org
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