Ashley Jenkins chats with the Tyler Morning Telegraph via Skype from Shanghai, China, crying that she received her exit visa and can finally return to the U.S. after over a month of being stranded.

Ashley Jenkins was stuck in China amid the coronavirus threat and desperately trying to get back home. Now after a month of repeated attempts, she’s on a flight with an eventual destination of East Texas.

She finally got what she needed — an exit visa — for a Thursday flight out of China to Dallas-Fort Worth International Airport. In an exclusive video interview with the Tyler Morning Telegraph, she was overwhelmed with emotions upon hearing the news.

“I’ve been dealing with this for a month and this is the last thing I need to get back to America. So I can come back home now,” Jenkins said. “That’s the last thing I needed. I have an exit visa. I can leave this country. I can leave this virus.”

Jenkins, of Mabank, came to China in mid-January to teach English at a language center just before the disease outbreak.

The 2019 outbreak of coronavirus was first detected in Wuhan City in the Hubei Province of China and the disease has since expanded, according to the U.S. Centers for Disease Control and Prevention.

On Jan. 30, the international health regulations emergency committee of the World Health Organization (WHO) declared the outbreak a public health emergency of international concern.

She never got the chance to do the work she came for. The only other English-speaking person she knew, who was supposed to be helping her with the Chinese bank account, assaulted her near Shanghai and took her passport and visa.

“He took my phone, threw it in the toilet, then hit me in the face when I tried to get it out,” she said. “And then he threw me against the wall a few times. So he took my phone and took my passport and I was left with nothing.”

Her boss in China didn’t believe her and wanted proof. A police report stopped her from being kicked out of her apartment.

“China is stuck in the 1960s,” Jenkins said. “So they always believe that the man is the stronger one, the one who makes the money, the one who makes the decisions.”

Without her passport and visa, she couldn’t leave the country or even use transportation.

When the airport in Shanghai was shut down, Hong Kong, which is 14 hours away, was her only option. Upon getting there, she then learned Hong Kong was shut down and had to return to Shanghai.

She posted a video online to get help and she finally found a couple to give her a cell phone. She said a foreigner cannot get a SIM card in China.

“After I posted that video, I had some people reach out to me. For me to even be in Shanghai right now is insane. The connections are just insane,” Jenkins said. “Basically, it’s been really difficult, but I did have really good people in my corner, who were more willing to help to get me to Shanghai.”

She contacted the embassy and got a flight, but was told an exit visa was required. She kept going back and getting different responses. Around this time, flights started getting canceled due to the cornonavirus.

“It’s just kind of crazy to me because it’s so China. It’s just been insane. It’s like from a movie,” Jenkins said. “I think what I would want to tell people is don’t come to China. I’ve lived here for a year before and I didn’t like it.”

She felt like she was losing her mind, especially with the extra precautions of the disease scare.

“This situation with the coronavirus has made it, I feel like I should be in a new ‘Mission Impossible’ movie,” she said. “It’s like ‘The Twilight Zone.’ Think of ‘The Twilight Zone,’ that’s it.”

The experience has been costly as well as mentally, physically and emotionally exhausting, she said.

“I really feel like when an American is in a foreign country — especially during something as crazy as coronavirus — people who have influence in America should try to help out,” Jenkins said. “I’ve done this by myself and by the will of good people. I have had no help other than from good people who are not in the system.”

After finding out she can go home, she’s looking forward to be back in America and with her family.

“I just want to see my family and make sure that they’re OK,” she said. “I just want to make sure that they know I’m OK and want to make sure that they’re OK.”

She has a 17-hour layover in South Korea and will have to self-quarantine for 14 days due to health reasons, but she’s excited to be out of China.

“It cost a lot of money but I have it (visa). I have it, which means I can make my flight tomorrow and leave this God-forsaken country,” Jenkins said. “That’s the golden ticket. Like ‘Willy Wonka and the Chocolate Factory,’ like I am gone, I can leave.”

She’s grateful for the people who helped her along the way. The experience has proven her strength and will power.

“What I’ve gone through I can be OK with that. But I know if a lot of people in a foreign country, not knowing the language, I don’t know if they would be OK with that,” she said. “I’m glad it happened to me and not someone else who didn’t know how to deal with it.”

When she gets to America, she says there will be more stories to tell about China and the coronavirus.

“I will never come here again. I can promise you that. I will go visit other countries around this country,” she said. “I have so much more of a story to tell about what’s going on with coronavirus. It’s not for the faint of heart.”

She even recalled watching “The Ellen DeGeneres Show” to keep her spirits up. One of her first things to do in America is eat an Impossible Whopper at Burger King because she’s vegan and could rarely eat the food.


Multimedia Journalist

I came to the Tyler Morning Telegraph in September 2019. I report on crime, courts, breaking news and various events in Tyler and East Texas.