Wigan student's study year cut short in China after coronavirus outbreak

A Wigan university student’s study year in China has been cut short after the outbreak of the Wuhan coronavirus.

Wednesday, 5th February 2020, 9:55 am
Updated Wednesday, 5th February 2020, 9:57 am
Joe Keulemans, top left, with fellow exchange students at a sports event during his visit to China

Joe Keulemans, who is a law with philosophy student at the University of Liverpool, was less than halfway through his one-year study in Suzhou before the deadly virus began to strike.

The 21-year-old was offered the chance to extend his studies in a part of a world he’d never been to along with 50 other students before the University of Liverpool pulled the plug on the programme to protect the students’ health and wellbeing.

Keulemans was fortunate to be back in Wigan with his family on his winter break for the Chinese New Year as the virus started to spread.

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He admitted that although he was gutted that he couldn’t continue his adventure in China, it was the safest course of action to stay in the UK.

He said: “I found out that I was not going to be returning to China on the day where I was supposed to be going back on Monday, January 27.

“It was really bittersweet- I didn’t feel my time in China was over as we didn’t get any real closure, but obviously it’s good to be back with my family and friends when the situation over there is deteriorating more every day.

“I had heard nothing about it while I was there ... and I only found out when I got back but obviously I know a lot about it now.

“I’m really happy to be back and it was the safest course of action to remain here.

“We stayed in Suzhou, a city the size of London about 40 minutes outside of Shanghai.

“Over the course of the study, we learned Mandarin, as well as Chinese business, Chinese philosophy and Chinese politics.

“It was an unbelievable opportunity and I’ve got so many fond memories of my time in China.

“I will always remember Christmas on the beaches of Macau; and playing rugby for the city of Suzhou and the opportunity to embrace a totally different culture.

“In the large international cities like Shanghai, it could have been in any city in the world, but in the rural towns filled with ancient temples it was like going back in time; a completely different experience.

“I loved it there and I’m really grateful of the experience that I was able to have.

“I am a bit disappointed that I won’t be allowed to return but I fully understand given the tragic circumstances affecting so many people in China.

There was one major silver lining for the fourth-year student remaining in the United Kingdom - he can now watch his beloved Wigan Athletic battle for Championship survival for the remainder of the season.

“I’m a season-ticket holder and I have been all of my life,” said Joe.

“I watched almost all the matches on iFollow, and that included waking up at 3.45am to watch the midweek matches!”