While each student studying abroad returned home due to COVID-19, Millersville University student, David Milam, experienced an especially unique trip while being in Seoul, South Korea.
Milam knew his trip would be different than originally expected right after his first flight. His connecting flight from San Francisco to Seoul had an hour-long delay because the plane they were about to board had just come from China. Workers decontaminated the plane before any new passengers boarded. Once landing in Seoul, Milam says, “I got off the plane and there [were] officials everywhere and people in biohazard suits herding people who had just been to China into a different area of the airport.”
His first days were filled with orientation and seeing the way that COVID-19 was being handled in South Korea. During orientation, Milam learned that they should be wearing masks at all times when in public spaces. In the metro, people were constantly disinfecting the surfaces for travelers.
Early on into the trip, everyone started to receive daily updates on their phones, keeping them informed. They would learn who has the virus, how many cases there currently were, and which locations to avoid. These updates were loud alarms sounding similar to Amber Alerts. When in public, everyone would get these updates at the same time. If they were sitting down in a restaurant, the space would suddenly be filled with these loud alerts coming from everyone’s phones.
These updates informed them that the citizens in Daegu were supposed to be quarantining and they were failing to do so. With the COVID-19 situation getting worse, schools and museums started to close down, while restaurants and stores remained open. “They were just constantly playing it safe and that’s why South Korea didn’t have to completely shut down the way that America did. In hindsight, I never felt in danger there because of how well South Korea was handling everything,” Milam says.
Milam’s excursion took a turn for the worse on February 25, four days into the trip. Students learned that their affiliate program, International Studies Abroad or ISA, as well as Korea University were requiring all students taking classes in another country to return home. They had three days to go back, and some students even left the next day.
For Milam, his first few weeks in Seoul were supposed to be filled with learning about Korea and enjoying free time before classes began. Instead, his study abroad trip ended just as it began when he had to return back to the United States after just six days. With his last bit of time left in Seoul, Milam took advantage of the fact that there were minimal people around the tourist attractions. He got great pictures in front of palaces, monuments, and famous streets.
On his trip back home, he was screened on the airplane in Tokyo before coming back to the United States. There, his temperature was taken and he was asked questions revolving around virus symptoms. Since he was traveling from a high risk area, Milam had a mandatory two week quarantine. Currently, many people are complaining about how long America has been in enforced quarantine, but Milam has been stuck inside since the end of February.
Students studying in Korea were the first to be required to come home out of the MU students studying abroad. Even with the situation being as unfortunate as it is, Milam still looks at the trip as a beneficial experience and talks about going back to South Korea in 2021, “It’s been an experience of learning to be flexible and adapt to what’s put in front of you,” he says.