When Jessica Xie-Moulton left to visit her grandparents in China in December 2019, she thought she would be spending a relaxing summer holidays with family. Her return flight was booked for early February.

Instead, Jessica’s world changed almost overnight. Her grandparents live in a small two-bedroom apartment in Hubei province. They are four hours from Wuhan, the epicentre of the COVID-19 outbreak. In late January the province was sealed off from the outside world. Jessica understood some Chinese but did not understand all the announcements, and her grandparents had little English.

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Her parents in Australia and her grandparents tried to arrange a return to Australia. She was unable to access flights as airlines would not accept an unaccompanied minor. They then tried to find ways to occupy Jessica as they searched for a way for her to return to Australia.

Jessica’s teachers at Australind Senior High School sent her homework. There were technical difficulties, however, and she soon realised that it was difficult to do the homework without attending the class. Jessica was worried and scared. She recalls being unhappy and crying a lot.

Jessica enjoys creating art. She had so much free time in lockdown that she decided to use her art skills to raise funds for the local hospital. On social media she offered to design Facebook avatars in return for donations to the hospital. Her mum in Australia helped, as did her friends in Australind. She raised over $2000 for the hospital.

Her mum, Anna, enrolled Jessica at SIDE because it was unclear when she could return to Australia. Anna thought the routine of a school day and the challenge of learning new things would be good for Jessica’s mental health and academic growth. Commencing with SIDE was a little stressful for Jessica because she hadn’t done schoolwork for two months. Then teachers started contacting her and she began Webex classes. She said it was reassuring to be part of classes again, and to have the support of teachers and the Student Coordinator.

Anna and her husband Allan continued the search for a way to bring Jessica home to Australia. Anna said it was a very difficult and worrying time and that the uncertainty was the most distressing aspect. In desperation they began individually contacting all the relevant Australian and international authorities to apply for her return. This gave them hope that they might see her soon.

Finally, on 9th June Jessica arrived in Sydney to be met by her mother. She spent the following two weeks in quarantine in WA.

“It is amazing to be home. I am very close to my grandparents, but I missed my family. Concentrating on my art was good and being in touch via VPN with my friends was also important. And I am now quite fluent in Chinese. I am looking forward to seeing my friends in person and not on a screen.”

Jessica begins school at Bunbury SHS in Term 3, in the specialist visual arts program.

Jessica has appeared in articles about her experiences in lockdown in China. Follow the links to check them out.

https://www.sbs.com.au/news/fifty-five-days-and-counting-the-australian-teenager-stuck-without-her-parents-near-wuhan

https://www.sbs.com.au/news/an-australian-girl-stranded-near-wuhan-for-six-months-has-been-reunited-with-her-mum

https://thewest.com.au/news/harvey-waroona-reporter/australind-teen-trapped-in-virus-lockdown-ng-b881492503z