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START intern recounts quarantine in China

START intern recounts quarantine in China

The experience sparked her interest in international relations

June 26, 2014Scott Jones

Although Moriah Sulc’s internship at START focuses on domestic terrorism with the PIRUS project (Profiles of Individual Radicalization in the United States), the path that led her to START involved a unique incident of a more international nature. In 2009, Sulc traveled to China as part of a school trip retracing Mao Zedong’s Long March. The March was a military retreat of China’s Red Army that marked the beginning of Zedong’s rise to power.

“My trip took place at the beginning of the craze surrounding the 2009 H1N1 outbreak. Because China got so much flack for mishandling the SARS outbreak in 2003, they took extra security measures to prevent the same thing happening with H1N1,” said Sulc, currently a rising senior at Barnard College. “They took everyone's temperatures on the plane, and a passenger in our section of the plane had a high temperature. Everyone in that section of the plane was put in quarantine.” 

Out of the 10 days Sulc spent in China, five were spent in quarantine. The students missed the majority of the scheduled itinerary.  

“It was extremely frightening at first, mostly because there was so little communication. We were separated, two people per room, and a teacher came by once or twice a day to talk to us,” Sulc said. “We didn't leave our rooms for five days, and the only other people who came in or out were Chinese officials in hazmat suits who took our temperature and dropped off food. None of them spoke English, and our teachers didn't tell us much until the last couple of days.”

Even though it turned out the group was virus-free, they still had to do hard time.

“They initially told us we'd be there at least two weeks, so I was prepared to spend my birthday in quarantine,” Sulc said. “On top of that I didn’t know if I had H1N1 or not. After the initial fear wore off, it was mostly just crippling boredom. I played a lot of solitaire.”

Sulc said she has not traveled abroad since her trip to China, but not because of the quarantine. (Although she would not want to travel in the middle of pandemic again.) Despite this, Sulc’s time in China did leave her with some memorable experiences.

“One day for dinner, our meal included thousand-year-old eggs,” Sulc said. “My roommate and I both took a bite and determined we wouldn't be finishing them. The problem was that they had this pungent, really unfortunate smell, and we couldn't just leave them on the plate. So we tried to quarantine the eggs in our room. We wrapped them in plastic, then put that inside a plastic glove, then put the glove in the furthest corner of the room until they took our food away the next day.”

The incident did not have a direct influence on her interests related to START, but it certainly impacted her interest in international relations.

“That interest eventually narrowed into an interest into studying global terrorism, and finally to domestic terrorism. And here I am!” Sulc said.  

Sulc hopes in the future to either work as an intelligence analyst for the federal government or to work on developing artificial intelligence technology.