Writing as a Form of Therapy: How My Chinese Students Processed COVID-19 Through Journaling

I made a quick decision to not act like “business as usual” in my writing course. There’s no doubt my Chinese students were facing new challenges and abnormal historical events during COVID-19. Not only did they have to experience lockdown but they had to continue online classes as if the world wasn’t being ravaged by a newly discovered coronavirus. That’s why I decided to create the “Corona Chronicles” assignment.

Writing as a Form of Therapy

In February 2020, China was gripped by the coronavirus epidemic while the rest of the world watched from afar. I was in America at that time, unable to return to Dalian, China to resume spring classes face-to-face. I sat at home seemingly untouched by the infectious disease while China was under complete lockdown.

To not give my students the opportunity to write freely about their experience with the coronavirus is shortsighted and a missed opportunity to help students process historical events like this.

That’s when I created the writing task “Corona Chronicles.” In this informal assignment, students could write as little or as much as they wanted about COVID-19 without judgement from me; it was a low stakes, formative assignment, not assessed on quality of writing, but more the development of ideas. Writing in this form would be an expressive tool that provided a chance to process their thoughts, feelings, and experiences during the Chinese epidemic. What I didn’t expect to find was a common theme of positivity. I assumed they would use these chronicles as a diary, a sound board to voice their complaints. Instead, I was met with advice for staying mentally and physically healthy.

With their permission to share, my students adapted the Corona Chronicle assignment to fit their needs to process this hard time. Hopefully, their experience will resonate with you or make you want to take up journaling.

The “Corona Chronicles” Writing Assignment

1. Observational Journals

“This is my 66th day at home…” wrote Earl, “and for the first time in my life, I didn’t travel during the Spring Festival. There wasn’t a holiday party, like my family has done for the last 18 years. We all hid in our own homes, and no one went out unless we bought vegetables and rice. My holiday felt completely empty. My friends and I cut off all real-life contact, and we chatted online about the next holiday plan and the headaches of online learning. Despite these challenges, a day came when our city police formed a convoy to escort one of our hometown’s doctors from the airport who returned from Wuhan City. Doctors from all over the country have been treating patients in Wuhan for more than 60 days, and now there are no new patients in Hubei Province, so these doctors had returned to their hometowns in batches. Seeing convoys escorting the mayor, escorting the bodies of heroes, even escorting the Madam president. Each full of people. I see people hanging out of their apartment windows cheering and praising loudly as they drive by. Down below, both sides of the street were empty and silent except for citizens celebrating above from their open windows. It was the greatest tribute to the returning doctor. A high praise.”

Earl

The oldest and perhaps most informal form of writing is that of a personal journal of observations. As you can see with Earl, he records the most meaningful thoughts and feelings. Journaling is a way for writers to “clear the mind” or “to grasp experiences more clearly.” For me, it relieves tension.

2. Fitness Journals

“When I start to get really bored at home, I plan different exercises. I don’t want to lay in bed doing nothing every day, which would make me become lazy, so I start exercising in my room. I bought some exercise equipment online. Now I do yoga, aerobics, and ever since school started, I practice the exercises uploaded by our KIN teacher”

Bella

This student used her “Corona Chronicle” to record her fitness levels and stretching sessions. I assume this was therapeutic for her to have control of her body, when the rest of China was out of control. She could measure her progress and see change.

3. Personal Junk Journal

I saw many videos on the news that recorded Wuhan during their most difficult time. Honestly, I was shocked and started to believe horror movies couldn’t be more relatable, especially compared to what we are suffering with at the moment. Two videos really hit me: one where a girl was chasing an ambulance, crying and yelling that she did not have her mother anymore; an old man who kneeled in front of a doctor and begged the doctor to save his daughter’s life.

What I am trying to say is, don’t panic. New cases from the media doesn’t mean death. People can still recover. The government is actually doing something. Don’t put your soul in those negative news sites. Things are getting better and better, so don’t panic.

Rebecca

This was probably the most popular journal type in our “Corona Chronicle” assignment because students were experiencing rough episodes and stress. A personal junk journal is for venting frustrations and stressful events–basically all negative energy in general. It can be your purifying relief or coping tool during hard times, so you don’t hold any tension inside. Social media added to the hysteria, but journaling can achieve a balance between the good and bad.

4. Reflection Journal

After I came back from Korea, I was quarantined for 14 days at a hotel. This was my first time staying in a closed space alone for such a long time. I felt lonely at first and even scared at night, but soon I started to enjoy the time of myself, and valued the space of myself. I thought about my future and also reflected on myself for a long time. It was really a meaningful experience for me.

Hilbert

For me, I live in Hubei Province where the coronavirus started. I never expected my home to be the most dangerous place in the world. I was scared and didn’t dare to go outside or order food online. I thought every person around me was not safe, even my parents. The government forced the policy, forbidding everyone from going outside. To avoid going out for work or food, everything was prepared by the volunteers or the watchers on every social block.

Day by day, we stayed at home, cooking on our own, learning guitar, watching TV, playing games–then suddenly, the situation got better, and everyone could go out into an atmosphere of victory.

My advice to foreigners is that it may seems hard to stay locked inside, but in my opinion, we should sacrifice our conveniences to save all the people around the country. And then, I believe the disease can be defeated one day and everyone can enjoy the fresh air outside.    

Archer

What started out as loneliness ended with a deep inner reflection for Hilbert. His reflective journal stored both good and bad things that happened to him, and from that, he self-reflected and learned from his own thought process.

5. Food Journal

My friend Samantha, Candice, and I all made delicious food at home. We share pictures with each other on WeChat. Every once in a while, we have a video chat, making fun of each other.

“Samantha, your cooking looks so ugly. Will it really taste good?”

“Oh, Serena, your stuff doesn’t look too good either.”

“Candice, you need to lose some weight. ha-ha.”

I hope we can really get together soon. In the meantime, I continue to learn a few dishes from my grandma at my house!

Serena

Cooks are creative people. I can only assume that by Serena keeping a food journal, this allowed her to tap into her creative side during lockdown. Serena went beyond collecting recipes; she made cooking a digital social event with her close friends. I bet that her cooking helped keep her mind off COVID.

6. Gratitude Journal

Staying at home has increased the time I spend with my loved ones. I also understand that if there was no epidemic, I might not have had much communication with my family, and I wouldn’t have spent much time with them. I like spending time with our dog, and my feelings have become deeper with family. At the same time, it also made me realize that the feelings between people will not fade because they do not meet.

Zora

Because of the epidemic, some of our ways of socializing have also changed. Yesterday my friend invited me to attend her birthday party, but I politely turned her down. Since I care for her, I kept away from her, but in the middle of the night at twelve o’clock, during the first moment of her birthday, I sent her the sincerest blessing through WeChat.

I also video call with my friends and cheer them on for passing day 60 of lock down. Though we are not in each other’s company physically, we are psychologically and spiritually connected, and we are all confident that we can survive the outbreak. We always say, “Come on, take care of yourself. When this awful outbreak is over, let’s go shopping, eat fried chicken, and go swing in the park.” This will bring us joy and encouragement!

Abby

When my best friend from elementary school got caught in the middle of the coronavirus while traveling from Guangzhou to Chengdu, the government asked her to self-quarantine in a hotel for fourteen days. On her 12th day, she found out a woman on the airport shuttle bus tested positive for corona, so she had to start her quarantine again. She was devastated and called me crying. To comfort my poor friend, I ordered her favorite cake and sent to the hotel where she lived temporarily.

Rebecca

Family is really what matters most. Gratitude journals improve your overall attitude towards life. When life gets busy, it’s easy to forget that. Like Zora said, COVID slowed down our fast-paced life and gave us an opportunity to reconnect with loved ones and cultivate a spirit of appreciation.

Writing as a Mode of Learning

In conclusion, I recognize that high school teachers may not be permitted by most curricula to include these types of responsive writing tasks. However, I’m genuinely so grateful to have the autonomy as a college instructor at LNU-MSU College of International Business to create unique writing assignments that cater to students’ individual lives and struggles. Since college instructors possess more freedom to incorporate individualized assignments into their courses, they have a responsibility to respond to the world by providing unique modes of learning that run in proximity with the times. Writing journals or chronicles that acknowledge the world’s events improve students reflection and articulation. Thus, I’ve learned so much from their writing.

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