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  • Writer's pictureThe Convergence

What an experience! From exchange, coming back home, and serving SHN

By Xenia Chan (Guest Writer)

Xenia (front row, second from right) with fellow NUS students in Bristol during her Student Exchange Programme (SEP) at University of Bristol. Photo: Xenia Chan

I first became concerned about the spread of Covid-19 to the UK when the earliest cases sprouted in Italy.

As travel within the EU is easy, I did not expect it to be long before the virus started to spread to the UK. In fact, the first case of Covid-19 in Bristol was a student from my host university, the University of Bristol.

As the infected student was a resident of one of the university hostels, it incited a lot of fear and anxiety amongst students living in university accommodations, though she had gone straight from the airport to the hospital without stepping foot in her accommodation.

The alarmism that followed, however, was one of the biggest issues I faced when I was in Bristol.

I remember one specific incident when one Singaporean student had sent a message to our Bristol exchange group informing us that one of her residence housemates had contracted Covid-19. Only later did she clarify that the housemate was just ill.

These false rumors of Covid-19 cases, coupled with the British government’s seemingly lacking approach to the crisis, created a climate of excessive fear and anxiety amongst Singaporean students in Bristol. In turn, this led a lot of my peers to look for the next earliest possible flight back to Singapore the following week.

What I have learnt from this is that all of us have a responsibility to not spread news that has not been verified by professionals as it would cause unnecessary panic. If left to escalate on a larger scale, it could become extremely dangerous.

Sentiments on being recalled back to Singapore

We received news that all students studying abroad were to be recalled back to Singapore through a press release statement [ZXM1] from the Ministry of Education (MOE) on 15 March 2020, and later through an email sent out by NUS.

The process of returning to Singapore, however, was filled with anxiety and ambiguity.

First, we were not given a set date to return to Singapore by, from NUS or MOE.

Second, air ticket prices were skyrocketing as we purchased extremely last-minute tickets and many Singaporeans were scrambling for direct flights back to Singapore to avoid stopovers.

Worse still, the increasing number of racist attacks targeted at Asians across the world made me feel increasingly unsafe in the UK. Just a couple weekends before, I had heard the news about the assault of a Singaporean law student from the University College of London (UCL) in London.

My friends and I, too, experienced some racism ourselves while in Eastern Europe during our reading week, the first week of March. When we were in Croatia, a group of boys shouted “coronavirus” at us, and we were even turned away at a petrol station.

All of these made the journey from receiving news of the recall to actually coming home, extremely nerve-wracking.

Xenia (first from right) with friends in Croatia while on SEP. Photo: Xenia Chan

The journey from London Heathrow Airport to Changi Airport

The return back from London Heathrow Airport to Changi Airport was an interesting one.

My original Qantas flight was cancelled at 3am the morning of the flight because of travel restrictions implemented by Singapore.

Thankfully, the arrangement between the Ministry of Foreign Affairs (MFA) and Singapore Airlines (SIA) had opened up more direct flights from London to Singapore.

As a result, I was able to book a flight that same morning.

The trip from Bristol to Singapore was filled with tension. Everywhere I went, I saw people wearing masks. Some were even decked out in goggles and full body suits.

Fortunately, my friends and I managed to purchase some masks online before coming home, which put us more at ease for the journey home.

Amidst the tense and anxiety-filled atmosphere, we joked with each other and tried to make the best out of the situation.

I am thankful that I had them with me for the journey home, as their presence alone made the journey less stressful than it would have been.

Xenia (middle) with friends at the London Heathrow Airport. Photo: Xenia Chan

Situation at Changi Airport

Upon arrival at Changi Airport, we received a printed copy of the terms of our Stay-Home Notice (SHN) as well as a form to indicate that we were aware of the SHN and the consequences of violating the notice.

We were then made to form lines to speak with an officer and register our phone numbers for random checks to ensure that we were at our SHN location.

To ensure that we remain at our SHN location for the entire 14 days, the Immigration and Checkpoints Authority (ICA) sends us messages at random times of the day which necessitate us to switch on our phone’s GPS as proof of our location. Occasionally, we are required to take a picture of ourselves and our surroundings.

Although it may seem a little excessive to some, I believe that these measures are necessary to reduce the number of Covid-19 cases that are imported into Singapore.

These imported cases have the potential to create more virus clusters within the community, especially since some people might not understand the severity of the crisis and continue to interact with others without precaution.

My Stay-Home Notice (SHN) experience

I’m currently serving my 12th day of SHN. For the duration of my SHN, a typical day just involves exercising, eating, watching shows on Netflix and texting my friends.

I spend most of my day isolated in my room as I am serving my SHN at home, so I try to limit interactions with my family members as much as possible.

I also have my own bathroom and use a separate set of cutlery, bowls and plates from my family to ensure limited contact with them.

It does get boring and lonely at times, but technology has allowed me to stay in close contact with my friends through video calls and online games.

It is evident that many old online gaming favourites are making a comeback, and it has definitely been a blast seeing all the Club Penguin and Animal Crossing memes.

Xenia while at home serving SHN. Photo: Xenia Chan

Some of my friends who are also serving their SHN have also experienced some loneliness or the feeling of being trapped, especially if they are staying in a hotel room or on campus.

But one of them said something that I really agree with - that she learned to embrace her life on pause, and the introspection that came with it.

I think SHN and now the circuit breaker can also be seen in a positive light, in that it gives us an opportunity to slow our lives down, and be reflective, which can be especially beneficial in a fast-paced society like Singapore.

Who knows what kind of epiphanies we might get?

On another note, I am especially grateful to my family at this time, as they take the SHN seriously and also help to ensure that I am as comfortable as possible during this period.

For meals, my parents usually place the food on a table outside my room. After finishing the meal, I will leave the dishes outside my room as well.

My brother, who is also a student in NUS, has also shifted to his room in Temasek Hall such that I will have my own bathroom.

As we may pass on the virus to others even before we show symptoms, it’s definitely important to take extra steps to ensure the safety of our loved ones, and our fellow citizens.

For others who are also serving their SHNs, fourteen days alone may seem like a long time, but it will be over before you know it!

Make sure to stay in contact with friends and family so they know you are okay, and also so you will feel less alone.

I took a lot of comfort in knowing that my isolation will help to ensure the safety of our community, and I hope you do too.

Photo: The Convergence

Thoughts on the Entire Situation

In summary, I think the whole covid-19 situation has taught me that in times of crises like this, it’s easy to be selfish through actions such as hoarding essentials or not making an effort to stay home.

The fact that the number of unlinked Covid-19 cases have been increasing, and that the government had to implement a circuit breaker to enforce social distancing is evident that Singaporeans have not been taking the situation seriously.

It is important to remember that our community is only as strong as our weakest link, and for Singapore to beat this virus, we need to stand united and think of one another.

As long as all Singaporeans do their part, I am confident that we will be able to beat this virus in no time!


Xenia Chan is a Year 3 NUS Global Studies major. She enjoys travelling, meeting new people and experiencing different cultures.

Views expressed here are strictly those of the author(s) and not of the organization.


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