Wednesday, May 25, 2022

Learning from Wuhan on Helping International Students

While western universities have focused on the problems of their own students during the COVID-19 pandemic, it should be remembered that China also has international students. There are some interesting papers emerging from the experience of students, some at the epicenter of the Pandemic.  English, Yang,  Marshall, and Nam (2022) have written about the experience of international about 1,500 students facing Wuhan's 76 day lock-down (out of 8,000 pre-Pandemic). The authors note that the stress from the pandemic is in addition to the stress international student face from studying abroad.

Wuhan was locked down earlier than other locations, when little was know of the virus, which will have increased the stress level for students. Also, as the authors note, those in Wuhan faced the stigmatization and discrimination as being perceived as the source of the disease. However, it should be noted that Melbourne (Australia) experienced six lock-downs, of 262 days in total, more than the rest of the world. It would be interesting to compare the experience of Melbourne's very large international student population to that of other countries. Australian international students were stigmatized by the then Australian Prime Minister, who with a breathtaking lack of compassion, said of the students: "it's time to go home".

The authors report the stress and anxiety students felt, fear, worry, uncertainty, which were made worst by misinformation. Students were homesick and felt  abandoned by those able to leave. However, they were able to continue their education online. In my own studies of the potential for online education in China, I noted that it was not widely accepted (Worthington, 2014). Despite this, as the authors note, Chinese universities were able to switch to online learning, at scale. Another positive point was that international students were helped by the local community, reducing the sense of isolation.

The authors suggest universities could apply the prosocial behavior exhibited at Wuhan in dealing with mental health issues of students generally. In particular, peer support, and practical help for students, with food, and transport. Also social support from outside the international student body will reduce a sense of isolation. 

Wang (2022) makes similar points. However, they also point to the direct role of university medical personnel, and students, in treating patients. This included online support for the psychological effects of the pandemic. The author emphases the sense of "belonging" of China's students, which aided response to the pandemic. This may sound a little odd, to western ears, but Australian universities are similarly attempting to cultivate a sense of care for students. The use of social media, specifically WeChat, is mentioned, but unfortunately not detailed. Australian universities now routinely use social media to get messages out to students, but these can tend to be more in the form of announcements, which do not have the power to engage. 


English, A., Yang, Y., Marshall, R. C., & Nam, B. H. (2022). Social Support for International Students Who Faced Emotional Challenges Midst Wuhan's 76-day lockdown during Early Stage of the COVID-19 Pandemic. International Journal of Intercultural Relations.

Wang, L. (2022). Belonging, being, and becoming: Tertiary students in China in the battle against COVID-19 pandemic. In J. S. McKeown, K. Bista, & R. Y. Chan (Eds.), Global higher education during COVID-19: Policy, society, and technology (pp. 39-56). STAR Scholars.

Worthington, T. (2014, August). Chinese and Australian students learning to work together online proposal to expand the New Colombo Plan to the online environment. In 2014 9th International Conference on Computer Science & Education (pp. 164-168). IEEE.

No comments:

Post a Comment