Episode 5: Xuemeng Cao–Life as an international student amid COVID 19

Guest: Ms Xuemeng Cao

Audio Podcast of Episode 5 (in Putonghua)


In this episode, we speak with Ms Xuemeng Cao, a PhD student at Warwick University (UK). Xuemeng discussed how she had spent the first few months of 2020 in quarantine and self-isolation due to COVID 19, first in her hometown when she spent her Chinese New Year holiday after submitting her PhD thesis, then in the UK when she came back to the UK to prepare for her PhD viva. To her, COVID 19 has pushed her to substantially re-adjust her work patterns, i.e. from being used to working in a formal setting within the university to working completely at home. COVID 19 has also impacted on her PhD viva arrangement, which has to be carried out online. This has posed a notable challenge on her part as this is not something that she was prepared for. Additionally, she regrets that she is now deprived of the opportunity to interact face to face with her examiners, on her PhD thesis for which she spent around three years of her time. Moreover, she revealed that COVID 19 has also disrupted the induction of her new position at the university.

Xuemeng has also made some poignant observations on how this COVID 19 pandemic has impacted on Chinese international students of all ages and study levels, from those younger ones who study in boarding schools in the UK, to undergraduates, to one-year Master’s level students, to PhD students and recent graduates. While the former two groups experienced a great degree of uncertainty and anxiety due to accommodation constraints and reduced flights, the latter groups may also be concerned about the value for money of their respective courses and/or the opportunity to attend their one-in-a-life-time graduation ceremonies.

Xuemeng also suggested that many of the issues highlighted in this pandemic (e.g. independent learning capability, cross-cultural engagement, mental health management, racism and xenophobia in destination countries) regarding Chinese international students are not new. Instead, these are issues that have had a deep root in practices of international education for a long time. She reckoned that this COVID 19 pandemic could be a juncture when such issues could be addressed.

As to how these issues can be addressed, Xuemeng confessed that this needs much broader consideration and concerted efforts. However, on an individual level, as an international student or a would-be international student, it is perhaps worthwhile considering whether one is necessarily suitable for studying abroad. She specifically highlighted, based on her research experience, how it is critical for would-be international students to realise that studying abroad also entails ‘living’ abroad, which can pose a host of challenges that they may not be aware of or may not be cut out for.

Xuemeng reflected that this COVID 19 has brought her new insights into her future research directions. For instance, over the past month, she has been exploring the experience sharing of Chinese international students on various social media platforms. However, such experience had sometimes led to negative emotional experiences on her part as a researcher. This makes her ponder over the ethical dimension of protecting the wellbeing of researchers in such contexts where the researcher is also an insider who can have strong emotional resonance with the researched.

We are grateful for Xuemeng’s sharing and we wish her all the best in her upcoming PhD viva and her new position.

Guest Bio

Xuemeng Cao is a PhD researcher at the Centre for Education Studies, the University of Warwick. She is also an early career fellow at the Institute of Advanced Study, the University of Warwick. Her PhD research focuses on the employability management of Chinese international students, adopting the capabilities approach and diary-interview methodology. Xuemeng is also a co-convenor and the blog editor for Academic Mobilities and Immobilities Network (AMIN) at Warwick. She is co-editor of the book Exploring Diary Methods in Higher Education Research: Opportunities, Choices and Challenges (London; New York, NY: Routledge). Her research interests include higher education, graduate employability, academic (im)mobilities, sino-foreign cooperation in education, internationalization/cross-cultural studies in education.

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