In this episode, we speak with Miss Yitian REN, a first year PhD student at The University of Manchester (UK), originally from Xi’an, Shaanxi, China. Yitian shared her experiences as a Chinese international student amid the current COVID-19 Global Pandemic. She reflected on her emotional journey throughout different stages and different regional outbreaks. Initially, when COVID 19 brought China to a standstill, she was deeply concerned about the safety of her loved ones back in China. She tried to order masks online for her parents in China using e-commerce platforms like Taobao. Then, as the pandemic struck the Western world, she is now confined to her accommodation in Manchester, unable to carry out her normal social activity. Although the national lockdown in the UK has not impacted severely on her academic progress, she reflected that it has had considerable negative impacts on her fellow PhD students whose fieldwork plans had to be postponed or altered. The COVID-19 global pandemic has also led to the cancellation or postponement of almost all international academic conferences in her field. As a PhD student, this has greatly reduced opportunities for her to have face-to-face communication and exchange with seasoned scholars in her field. She also agreed that the differentiated national strategies in containing the COVID19 outbreaks across the world may have potential impacts on Chinese international students’ future career plans, for example, their preferred work destinations.
Yitian mentioned the emotional toll that this global pandemic has had on her, e.g. anxiety triggered by profound and prolonged uncertainties, as well as sorrow brought by daily updates of spiky global infections and death cases.
Moreover, Yitian has experienced intricate emotional ups and downs amid concerns about racism against Chinese/East Asian people in Western societies. She revealed a sense of unease wearing masks in public, but pointed out that she has had very positive experiences as all the local people around her are friendly and understanding. However, due to selective reporting and magnifying of racist incidents in global media, her loved ones back in China have been extremely worried for her.
On the brighter side, Yitian acknowledged that her communication with her parents back in China has been much more frequent due to mutual concerns about safety. This has inadvertently strengthened her emotional ties with her parents.
Reflecting on the Chinese communities’ experiences in Western societies, Yitian felt that their awareness of the severity of COVID-19 has been much higher than many of their Western counterparts. This has shaped their behaviour, e.g. wearing masks and buying masks way before Western counterparts began to think about buying masks.
Yitian decided to stay in the UK instead of going back to China amid the waves of panic resulting from UK’s initial herd immunity strategy and slower measures to contain the pandemic. She suggested three reasons. First, she felt that since she chose to study in the UK, she would prefer to engage with the community in the UK amid this pandemic to get a better understanding of the local community and culture. Second, she found the skyrocketing air ticket prices (due to limited supplies of international flights) unaffordable. Third, as there are now fewer direct flights, travelling home would mean around 30 hours on transit, which can increase the chances for her to contract the virus on her journey home. In comparison, working from home in the UK may pose less danger. Despite her own decision to stay in the UK, she could completely understand the decision for other students who decided to fly back to China, as there are far too many uncertainties about staying abroad under the current circumstances.
It has been a great pleasure to speak with Yitian on her views and experiences amid the current COVID-19 global pandemic. We wish Yitian and her loved ones good health!