Woman standing in outdoor hall
Melissa Cho '21 has chosen to stay at Chapman for safety. All students have now been separated into individual dorms.

When Stay-at-Home is Far From Home Three international students find comfort and safety in campus housing.

Because of COVID-19, Chapman University’s halls, labs and classrooms have grown quiet since the university shifted to remote instruction. However, there is one part of campus that shows signs of activity – and all within the bounds of social distancing protocols, of course.

That would be the 200 students who have stayed on in campus housing, a fraction of the 3,415 students who were living on campus before the coronavirus crisis. For a variety of reasons, these students were approved to stay.

Among them are three roommates who originally shared a dorm suite: Melissa Cho ’21 a news and documentary, theatre double major, Jessica Tong ’21, a public relations and advertising major and Anna Chen ’21, an animation and visual effects major.

Cho, Tong and Chen are international students who made the serious decision to remain in campus housing rather than travel home to Taiwan, China and Thailand, respectively.

Students have now been moved from shared suites into single units to better maintain social distancing procedures, but we checked in on the trio just before they separated.

Empty student housing
Student housing at Chapman University sits empty, save for 200 students in extenuating circumstances.

Should I Stay or Should I Go?

The decision to stay wasn’t easy, but it was the safest option. Each of the young women would have had to travel through crowded international airports.

“A lot of friends who live abroad have all flocked home, but the thought of a mass of humans all flying back together just didn’t sit well with me,” says Cho. “I have had several family members here and friends who have questioned why I’m still staying, but I believe it’s the safest option.”

Cho’s parents completely back her decision, she says, and have helped her through their positivity – as well as sending a much loved care package.

Aside from the potential increased risks of exposure during travel, there’s another complication related to being away from campus: The students are still taking classes. The time zones back home are far ahead of Orange, California.

“Since I live in Taipei, I’m not really down to take a class at 3 a.m. in the morning. My two roommates think the same way,” said Cho.

Family, friends and home are most of the world away, but the trio has had each other to lean on – in some cases quite literally.

Growing Chapman Community

The three housing suitemates were already close before Chapman went fully remote, and through the COVID-19 crisis they’ve gotten closer, even though they’re neighbors now, not roommates.

Three women doing yoga
Prior to being separated into other dorms, Anna Chen ’21 Melissa Cho ’21 and Jessica Tong ’21, hang out for one of their daily workouts.

Every day, they try to do some kind of activity to stay mentally sharp and personally connected, although no longer in the same dorm.

“I’m grateful to have my suitemates around,” said Chen. “We’ve been doing daily workouts and movie nights together, and that has really kept my spirits up.” 

Cho says that living in the dorms gives her a sense that she’s still participating in the Chapman Experience in some way. Plus, individually boxed meals are provided from the Randall Dining Commons for breakfast, lunch and dinner, with brunch on the weekends. 

But in other ways, the quiet life they’re now leading reminds them that it all used to be quite different.

“There’s certainly a level of disconnect, since I’ve always loved meeting, chatting, and learning with my friends in class,” said Cho.

Although the number of students on campus is small, Cho reports that as everyone now settles into their own single units, ironically it makes dorm life seem more full. More windows are twinkling at night, there are voices in the halls and through their open windows she can hear the sounds of a neighbor playing with his dog.

The friends were sad to be split up, but the good news is they’re just doors – not a world – away from each other. Meanwhile, they set their sights on the future. As Tong sums it up, “I can’t wait for the day when this is over and all the Panthers come back to campus again.”


Woman with red hair in yellow dress

Brittany Hanson

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