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Community COVID-19 Stories ➔ COVID-19 Story, Rachel Van Strien

Our family first experienced COVID as American expats living in China. We had been teaching English in Wenzhou (10 hours from the virus’ epicenter) for 4.5 years, but the government abruptly shut down our school, possibly for religious reasons. We were given 3 weeks to leave China. We immediately sold our possessions, closed the school, said our tearful goodbyes, and searched for a place to restart life. On top of it all, COVID restrictions hit China the week before we left. It felt surreal—trying to keep our 3 young children occupied in an empty apartment that no longer felt like home. We worried that our American coworkers and us would be trapped between expired visas and cancelled flights, but one by one each family made it to the US safely.

Thank God, our family made it out with N95 masks and temperature screenings through South Korea. People around us were taken away in hazmat suits or with “QUARANTINE” sashes across their chests if they exhibited any COVID-related symptoms. There was so much fear. We traveled 24 hours straight to our new home in Grand Rapids where COVID was merely a growing concern. Arriving February 1, 2020, we settled into temporary housing for two weeks of quarantine per request of our family members. We then moved into a townhome with 6 suitcases’ worth of possessions. Goodwill, Mel Trotter & In the Image helped us furnish our apartment and get winter clothing for ourselves and our children.

My husband concentrated on finding work. He averaged 2 different jobs per month throughout the shut-down to keep us afloat while the children and I sheltered in place.

Just as life began to normalize, I gave birth to our fourth child in June. I chose to give birth at home since I had always wanted to try it and since hospitals seemed risky and overrun with COVID patients.

We were so desperate for a sense of belonging and community, but thankfully—so was everyone else around us. We were welcomed and readily embraced by family and Forest Hills Baptist Church where we began attending services as often as they were open. Though our opportunities to make friends seemed more limited, friendships blossomed more quickly during COVID than we could have hoped.

School presented a real difficulty for our oldest who was midway through kindergarten when our school shut down. We attempted homeschooling first, but without proper resources or external support—it ended in tears and relief for everyone involved. Summer was a welcome reprieve! We explored wonderful parks in the GR area and enjoyed Lake Michigan. Once fall hit, we tried first virtual school then hybrid school before removing our daughter from her charter academy entirely. We are currently homeschooling with a curriculum that seems to be working for our whole family. We look forward to hopefully more stability in 2021.
January 2 2021
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Gift of Rachel Van Strien

Rachel Van Strien
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Grand Rapids
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