Between classes being moved online for the rest of the semester, adjusting to using Zoom for lectures and having to suddenly move back home, the effects of the global pandemic COVID-19 have been devastating for students around the country.
The effects the coronavirus has had on me are different from my peers, though. While most of my classmates packed everything they could into their cars and drove home, I had to jump on a plane to Tokyo in the hopes of avoiding being placed in a quarantine facility.
It all started with the news during spring break: our break was going to be extended an extra week, and classes would be transitioned to online indefinitely. Social distancing and a two-week long self-quarantine after international travel were strongly recommended.
Over this extended spring break, I stayed in Oxford and texted back and forth with my parents about whether or not I should come back home. Upon learning that classes would be online for the rest of the semester, we made plans for me to fly back to Tokyo at the end of the first week of online classes, giving me enough time to hire movers to move everything out of my apartment and into a storage unit.
Then, the Sunday night before online classes started, I got out of the shower to see that I missed a call from my dad, and texts from both parents. Concerned, I replied immediately, asking what’s wrong. My dad responded by facetiming me, telling me the news.
Japan’s Prime Minister Shinzo Abe was considering shutting down the borders by the end of the week. My parents, while talking to me, started trying to book a flight for 5 a.m. the next morning for me to fly home to avoid being quarantined or turned away.
I swear, when my parents were talking, my heart felt like it stopped for a minute. How would I manage to pack up everything I own and leave, not knowing when I would return? How would I move everything out of my apartment and into a storage unit? What happens if I get quarantined, or worse, turned away? Where would I go?
My parents calmed me down, and we ultimately decided that I’ll be flying out around 7:30 a.m. on Tuesday — a day later than they wanted — but it gave me a good amount of time to pack what I needed. My parents coached me through what I should say if customs agents at the airport ask me what I’m doing in Japan.
“Mom is coming to meet you at the airport, and you guys are taking a private car home,” my dad texted me. “They’re looking for tourists that don’t have a fixed place to stay or pre-arranged transportation.”
My dad told me that if I said the wrong thing, or if they got the wrong impression of me, there was a strong possibility of me being thrown into quarantine. Thinking about what would happen if I said the wrong thing freaked me out even more. I didn’t want to make a stupid mistake that would get me thrown in quarantine; I didn’t want to be quarantined, period.
I went to sleep on Sunday with a million thoughts running through my mind. I just wished I were in Japan already, home safe and sound with my family.
On Monday, I packed my belongings and my room as best I could between classes on Zoom. There’s really no telling as to when I’m coming back to Oxford.
I drove to Olive Branch to stay the night with my cousins before going to the Memphis airport to catch my flight to Dallas the next morning. The Memphis and Dallas Fort-Worth airports were fairly empty, which was absolutely unreal to me. In the line for security in Memphis, we all had to stand six feet apart.
During my flight from Dallas to Tokyo, I couldn’t find it in me to watch the new movies that American Airlines had uploaded. I was still thinking about the fact that Japan may very well turn me away upon arrival. I tried to take a nap, play games on my phone, listen to music and even fill out my customs form to try and distract myself, but to no avail. The thought of being quarantined or refused entry into Japan was at the forefront of my mind.
Knowing that Japan was starting to turn away people from 18 European countries in the last two weeks also worried me. I thought to myself, “Please don’t refuse people from the United States yet.”
Thirteen hours later, I landed at Narita International Airport. The airport, which was usually bustling, was almost completely empty. You could hear a pin drop the entire walk from getting off the airplane to immigration.
Once I neared the entrance to immigration, I saw a few Japanese officials walking toward me and the rest of the people on my flight.
“Where are you coming from?” one of the officials asked me.
Oh no, I thought to myself. This must be the beginning of what my parents were warning me about. Please let me in. I responded, “Dallas.”
“Dallas Fort-Worth?” the official asked. I nodded my head, yes. The officials beckoned me to enter immigration with no further questions.
I went through immigration and picked up my bags with no issues. When I went through customs, the only question I got from the customs agent was, “these are all the bags you have, right?” I’m in the clear. No quarantine for me. I couldn’t have felt more relieved.
I’ve gone through customs, and I go into the arrival terminal to see my mom wearing a mask. As soon as I got to her, she put one on me immediately. During the ride back from Narita to our apartment in the suburbs of Tokyo, my mom gave me a recap of what’s been going on in Tokyo with the coronavirus.
It sounded to me that Japan was handling this a lot better than the United States has been. Knowing that I flew to a country where the people are known to be cautious relieved me. The Japanese tend to hold back from physical contact, and most of them already wear face masks. They also actually social distance and stay inside as they are told. My brother’s school, the American School in Japan (ASIJ), has been emailing the students’ parents about the possibility of transitioning to distance learning since mid-February.
Now here I am, almost done with the two weeks of self-quarantine. I may not be allowed to leave the apartment for a few more days, and my two online classes may be at 10 p.m. and 4 a.m. — thoroughly messing up my sleep schedule for the remainder of the semester — but I learned that just a few days ago, Japan is banning visitors from the United States. I’m counting my blessings that I got home when I did.
While I may be home with my family, there’s still some uncertainties that I have. In the sudden decision to leave the country, I left everything I didn’t bring with me in my apartment. When will I be coming back to move everything out — if I’m even allowed to leave? Will I even be able to come back to the United States for the next semester of school? In short, I still have a lot of questions, but no answers.