Lisa Zi Ting Shen - Swarthmore College

These past few weeks, my family and I have faced the most unexpected and disturbing turn of events. I was studying abroad at Oxford University when I finally received the anticipated email: I was recalled back to the US. The pandemic was getting worse, and I had to head back to my home in Los Angeles within 48 hours. I had an excruciatingly rough start to my study abroad program, and I had only begun to fully enjoy my experience. The past few months were far from ideal, and I was frustrated that my study abroad experience was cut short. However, limited time abroad was not my greatest worry.

Approximately a week before I was recalled, my parents’ landlord raised the cost of rent and evicted my parents when they said they could not afford it. It was a tragic and disturbing coincidence. Where is home now? How could the landlord leave my parents stranded amid the coronavirus outbreak?

I was stressed out of my mind. The thought of being homeless during a pandemic is terrifying and was almost my family’s lived reality. I can only imagine my parents’ anxiety and fear.

My parents had to act fast. By the grace of God, my dad was fortunately granted housing at a senior residence community. My parents rushed to move into their new apartment, while I began packing to return to the US.

Amid my parents’ housing crisis, they did not have time to gather supplies for the self-isolation period. By the time they could stop by the nearest grocery store, all the toilet paper rolls and other home essentials were sold out. My parents told me that they had about a few days’ worth of toilet paper and towels, and asked me to bring back toilet paper from abroad. I was stunned by this seemingly ridiculous request. Of all things, I never thought I’d have to carry back toilet paper from the UK. What appeared to be a trivial, albeit bizarre, request revealed to me how truly desperate my parents’ situation was.

These past few weeks reminded me of how callous and selfish people can be.

But, more importantly, these weeks have reminded me how fortunate I am—fortunate to be supported by Swarthmore College and fortunate to have such strong-willed parents. During my scariest and direst hours, my college reached out and lifted me safely back home. Recent events have reminded me how caring and strong people can be. Looking back, I realize I was never truly alone.

Lisa Zi Ting Shen

Lisa Zi Ting Shen is a junior studying psychology and political science at Swarthmore College. They are studying econometrics at University of Oxford this semester. They currently reside in Los Angeles, California.