Thuy Anh Tran '21, an international student from Hanoi, Vietnam, flew to London, England for her spring semester. Like countless other study abroad students this spring, she carefully selected her destination and a program that matched her academic needs, only to return home before she could reach the halfway point of the semester.
“At first I was given the option to stay in London,” Tran said. “I didn’t want to miss out on this amazing opportunity.”
Shortly after, Tran received a phone call from her mom, who told her that Vietnam’s borders would close within the week.
The uncertainty of future flights was the biggest factor in Tran’s decision to return to Vietnam. She booked a flight for Wednesday, then pushed it up to Monday, then Sunday. She eventually left on March 14, two days before her 21st birthday.
“It was either that flight, or I wouldn’t be returning home at all,” Tran said.
After stepping off the plane, Tran was immediately sent to a military base, which had been converted to a quarantine camp. Vietnam’s strict 14-day quarantine mandated that anyone returning to Vietnam must spend two weeks in isolation before being allowed to travel in the country.
Because of the large number of people returning to Vietnam and limited space, 10 people shared a room in the quarantine camp.
“They were all strangers,” Tran said. “We didn’t know each other but had to be together for 14 days. We were like a big family of people from all over the world. There were people in my room coming from the UK, from Korea, from Belgium, from all over the place.”
Beds were placed six feet apart from one another to allow for social distancing. Tran and her roommates were advised to spend the two weeks in bed, watching for possible symptoms. With nothing to do but rest, Tran said they passed the time by sharing stories about their travels.
After being released from the quarantine camp, Tran was able to return home and see her family. She immediately began trying to catch up on her London courses, since she did not have access to Wi-Fi in the quarantine camp. With internet access at home, Tran keeps in touch with her quarantine camp roommates.
Tran said getting back into a workflow was tough but helped her to grow. She communicated with her professors in London about the six-hour time difference and eventually adjusted to taking classes from home. Still, Zoom classes proved to be challenging. Aside from a few perks, such as rewatching confusing material and screen-sharing, Tran sees online classes as inferior to in-person classes.
“I don’t think Zoom classes are as effective as face-to-face classes since I’m tempted to mute everyone, go back to bed and watch the recording later, especially when the meetings are at 12 a.m. my time,” Tran said.
Despite these challenges, Tran plans to take online classes for at least part of the fall semester. After speaking with her advisor, Tran decided to wait and see whether Lehigh has the virus under control when students return to campus before heading back to Bethlehem. Although Hanoi has far fewer cases than the U.S., peaking at 25 new cases on March 15, Tran is nervous that international travel will increase her exposure to the virus.
“From my own experience at the quarantine camp, a lot of people don’t show symptoms but still have the virus. But at the camp, we all got tested, so they were able to figure out who had it and who was healthy,” Tran said. “At Lehigh, I don’t know how that is going to work because after traveling internationally, I will be the one who potentially carries the virus. What if I don’t show symptoms and give it to you?”
In the meantime, Tran is a marketing intern for Second Time Founders, a startup in San Francisco. She was placed with the company through the Lehigh Startup Academy program, which offered virtual internships for summer 2020 in response to the pandemic. As a marketing and business information systems double major, Tran said she is gaining valuable professional experience even while working remotely. She is responsible for boosting the company’s social media presence, analyzing data to make recommendations for their Facebook page and helping with various projects.
Since most of the people in the company are on the West Coast, Tran adjusts her schedule to wake up at 6 a.m. for meetings. She watches her coworkers elsewhere stay up as late as midnight to accommodate one another’s time differences.
Like her professors in London, Tran said her boss has been understanding about the 14-hour time difference between San Francisco and Hanoi, occasionally waking up early for one-on-one meetings with Tran on Vietnamese time.
While not at work, Tran has been enjoying restaurants, cafes and malls in Hanoi since April, when the city’s lockdown was lifted. She hopes it will be safe to return to Lehigh in the fall where she can do all the things she once took for granted, like going for lunch with friends and attending classes.