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An Adventure of an Au Pair in China: When Choosing to Conceal Medical History

All characters in the text are pseudonyms.

We've decided to document this true story, not to sensationalize or intimidate exchange students considering China as a travel destination. Our sole purpose is to convey a simple message to those venturing into foreign lands: maintaining health during travel is crucial, both physically and mentally!

Pic: Au Pair Jenny was in Beijing.
Pic: Jenny and her Host Family

Jenny, a Colombian exchange student, arrived in Beijing through AiC and stayed with a host family. From the initial adjustment period to later normalcy, Jenny spent four months as an exchange student in this Beijing household. The children were adorable, the host family loving, and despite the challenging Chinese language course, Jenny seemed content with everything in China. However, her happiness took an abrupt halt on the fifth month. Julie, the host family member, suddenly contacted us, mentioning that Jenny had been quiet for the past few days. AiC staff initially dismissed it, thinking Jenny might be in a low mood and just needed someone to talk to (AiC staff are qualified with a professional background in psychology and counseling). However, a subsequent video from the host family made us realize that the situation might not be that simple: the video showed Jenny with a vacant stare, displaying a continuous, somewhat unsettling smile to external stimuli. "She's been like this for two days, barely eating or drinking, just staying in her room. She doesn't respond to our calls," expressed the host family mother with concern. "And I'm worried about her sleep at night, being alone in her room. She doesn't speak, but keeps holding onto her suitcase. I found many pills in her suitcase." After reviewing the images, videos, and multiple video calls with AiC staff, we concluded that Jenny might be experiencing a psychological episode. Simultaneously, we documented the medications she was taking Valcote.

Pic: Jenny was in an ambulance
Pic: Jenny's "unknown“ medicine

We promptly arranged for follow-up actions. Due to the host family mother being occupied with childcare, AiC sent Yuki from Shanghai to assist in caring for Jenny and accompany her to seek medical attention. AiC also reached out to Jenny's recommending agency — a Colombian youth cultural exchange travel agency. Simultaneously, AiC attempted to contact the Colombian embassy in hopes of obtaining assistance and guidance. Yes, this was the first time we encountered such a situation!

On the night AiC staff was en route to Jenny's Beijing host family, an emergency unfolded. Jenny suddenly became unresponsive and seemingly fell into a semi-comatose state. The host family urgently called for an ambulance. When AiC staff member Yuki arrived in Beijing, Jenny was already admitted to the hospital.

Pic: Diagnosis of Jenny in Beijing Anding hospital

Things seem to gradually take a turn for the better at the worst times. AiC's Colombian partner agency got in touch with Jenny's family, revealing that Jenny had experienced panic attacks three years ago. Since then, as a preventive measure, she had been taking a medication called Valcote daily. However, when applying to be an exchange student in China six months ago, Jenny had concealed her medical history on the application form and, during the medical examination, convinced the doctor to state "no history of mental illness" on the form. AiC's Colombian partner agency also contacted the hospital that had treated Jenny before, obtained her medical records, and translated them into English for AiC. The hospital in China stated that this medical history was immensely helpful! Jenny was experiencing panic attacks, leading to prolonged insomnia (Chinese doctors estimated she hadn't slept for a week). For this recent episode, the doctor prescribed a few pills, saying, "Get a good night's sleep, and you'll be back to normal!" In their words, "No big issue!" Simultaneously, the Colombian embassy in Beijing sent a consul and staff to visit Jenny, expressing gratitude for AiC's assistance: "Thank you for taking care of our Colombian student; you are indeed a reassuring cultural exchange organization!" Perhaps, it's only in times of trouble that one realizes how warm the help from many foreign friends can be! Although AiC's Chinese team had never traveled to Colombia, that country only seen on a spinning globe and heard of in the news, AiC maintained continuous contact with several Colombians over these days, including Jenny's family, the Colombian cultural exchange company, and embassy staff! It seems everyone is eagerly anticipating Jenny's swift recovery! Countless expectations! As predicted by the stable hospital doctor, Jenny quickly recovered, not even spending a day in the hospital! The subsequent medical and repatriation expenses were covered by AiC since the insurance company rejected this claim, citing: secondary psychological disorders should not be eligible for travel medical insurance claims. Nevertheless, witnessing Jenny safely return home, we believe everything was worthwhile!

We documented Jenny's story to remind those contemplating international cultural exchange or long-term travel that cultural conflicts in different countries are inevitable. If you have a history of psychological illness, it might not be suitable! More importantly, carry your medical records or inform friends and intermediaries who can help you. This disclosure obligation might just save your life! Jenny received assistance from numerous enthusiastic Colombian partners. We hope that as you read this article, you can appreciate the positive side of human interactions and realize that there will always be someone to lend a helping hand in times of difficulty!