Miranda Nissen is waiting.
Currently living in Mora, the 24-year-old woman is worried about finishing her bachelor’s degree. Typical student worries about grades or tuition fees aren’t a challenge for her. Miranda’s problem: Her college, Wuhan University, is quarantined within the city of Wuhan, China —the epicenter of a now global outbreak of novel coronavirus, COVID-19.
She will need to wait here in Mora until the COVID-19 outbreak slows and it is safe for her to travel back to Wuhan.
Miranda’s educational journey is unique. Her father’s federal career required the family to frequently relocate across the United States and to Mexico. Despite good grades, an international school transfer mid-way through her senior year of high school made it difficult for her to receive college scholarships.
In search of an affordable college education, Miranda discovered she could study in China under a Chinese Government Scholarship. The scholarship provided her tuition, food, housing stipend and health insurance for two years of language school and then to earn a 4-year bachelor’s degree.
Already bilingual with English and Spanish, she attended a two-year language course at Central China Normal University between 2016 and 2018 adding Chinese Mandarin to her fluent languages. She began business management classes at Wuhan University in 2018.
Miranda’s life took a turn when an international student attempted suicide.
Before she began her education in Wuhan, Miranda had been certified as an Emergency Medical Technician and worked as an EMT in Maryland.
Miranda responded to the emergency, and earned a reputation among her peers as the person to call for help.
Soon, she was responding to a large number of emergencies on campus, sometimes even being pulled from class. Over time, Miranda noticed that many of the international students were struggling not only with the typical stresses associated with college, but additional stresses of adapting to a new culture.
“I’ve seen many suicide attempts,” she said. She recognized she could be doing more to help prevent them, but also recognized her own limits. “I’m an EMT, not a counselor.”
Using knowledge from her business management courses, and building partnerships with area counselors, Miranda founded Wuhan International Students Counseling Services, the first non-profit organization dedicated to supporting international students in Wuhan.
Miranda’s life was busy between her studies and managing her non-profit, but things were on track.
Then, coronavirus appeared.
Dad will call
When COVID-19 started making the news in early January near the end of her college semester, Miranda admitted, “I wasn’t’ paying attention. I was studying for exams.” She said she was certain that if it was truly important, her dad would call.
As she finished her final tests, news of the virus grew, Miranda took simple precautions like washing her hands and making sure she wasn’t sharing drinks with friends.
Students were released for upcoming holiday celebrations of the Chinese New Year which was celebrated Jan. 25, 2020. Miranda traveled to Beijing, then to visit family in the United States.
On Jan. 23, China put Wuhan on lockdown, restricting travel and taking measures to prevent spread of the virus.
Miranda’s international peers were offered the opportunity to evacuate, but not without a cost. Miranda said the cost to board an evacuation plane out was approximately $2,000. Some of her friends chose to stay and wait it out.
Back in the U.S., Miranda took her own precautions. She saw her doctor and voluntarily isolated herself for the two-week incubation period of the disease. Her blood-test for COVID-19 came back negative.
Year of the Rat
In China, 2020 is the year of the rat. While in the United States the rat is associated with disease, and many can’t help but make superstitious connections between COVID-19 and the year of the rat, in the Chinese Zodiac it is associated with cleverness and optimism.
Miranda said while she can sometimes be superstitious, “When it comes to the rat, I don’t think it is the rat’s fault.”
Miranda has kept in touch with her friends still in Wuhan and arranged for someone to care for her cats while she is gone. She said the attitude among her friends isn’t panic; They are well supplied and patiently waiting for it to blow over.
While she waits to return to school, Miranda found a part-time job in Mora. She has been trying to take her courses online, but gaining access from the U.S. has been difficult.
“I just want my degree,” she said. She worries about school and how her non-profit will fare in her absence. One of her main counselors evacuated from China and she worries he may not return. “I don’t know how my organization is going to survive after this epidemic.”
Most beautiful city
Overall, she hopes the COVID-19 outbreak inspires people to be more conscientious of their hand-washing habits and being careful to stay home when they are sick.
“I’m hoping good will come out of it,” she said.
Miranda looks forward to going back to Wuhan. She was first drawn to the city because of its history and beauty. Miranda said that in Wuhan, people call the city “the most beautiful city” in the world because of the thousands of blossoming cherry trees there.
Miranda was thankful for the relationships and opportunities for personal growth her travels have offered her.
“I have friends from all over the world and I am grateful for that.”