Studying Overseas: Stolen Experiences During COVID-19 |

international student
Photo by Monstera from Pexels

by Lindsay Wong

There are many benefits to studying overseas – being immersed in a different culture, gaining independence while living alone, exploring new places and activities, and more. However, the onset of the COVID-19 pandemic in 2020 made it physically impossible for international students to reap the full benefits of studying overseas. 

One by one, university campuses around the world shut down and initiated online learning. While there are some benefits to online learning, many international students – especially those in their first year – are missing out on unforgettable university experiences that they should have. 

Should I stay or should I go?

Being overseas when the pandemic hit involves a lot of panicking and worrying, since international students were essentially left stranded in the foreign country they were studying in. 

With borders closing and fewer flights available, many international students had to make difficult decisions on whether to return home to their families or continue living alone. Returning home guaranteed them safety as they would be with their family, but they would not be able to go back to university overseas for an undetermined amount of time. 

A very personal experience

The pandemic hit in the final year of my bachelor’s degree. Although most of my friends returned home, I decided to stay in Australia and enjoy my last year with my roommates. I didn’t want to do online learning at home where I could easily be distracted by my family, especially if I had to conduct presentations for class. And frankly, I wasn’t ready to say goodbye to Australia yet.

Around March 2020, everyone started panicking about the pandemic and the “new normal.” For the first time in more than 2 years, I was scared to go out on the streets; I opted for doing my groceries online and using food delivery apps. 

For around three months, my roommates and I enjoyed weekly UberEATS and movie nights as a way to de-stress and relax from a busy semester. We also started exercising at home regularly and going out for walks or coffee runs together. 

Although I missed a lot of my friends who had returned to their home countries, I appreciated having loved ones around. I did miss home – my family and I worried about each other, but kept each other updated regularly. Being independent during the pandemic was different, especially amidst all the panic-buying and paranoia, but I felt like I had matured a lot during such a crisis without my family. 

An international student’s woe

All students were in a similar situation when educational institutions started to adopt online learning to comply with new lockdown measures and restrictions. My classes had quite a few international students, so a lot of them tuned in from their home countries. 

They had to calculate the time differences before every class and adjust their timetables to accommodate the new online classes. This involved waking up much earlier to make it to their 9am lectures and/or tutorials and taking into account time differences when it came to online assessments, which were only open for a certain amount of time. Luckily, because I chose to stay in Australia, I didn’t have to worry about this.

Every international student in 2020 definitely missed out on a holistic university experience because of the pandemic. It’s much harder to make friends in university when physical meetings are not possible – virtual events are still somewhat awkward because it’s so easy to hide behind the camera. People are more hesitant to speak up, so it’s harder to interact with other people. 

While I was sad about the fact that I couldn’t experience an in-person graduation ceremony wearing the regalia, I’m thankful I still had two years of in-person university. If international students are willing to put themselves out there virtually, they could also have a worthwhile university experience despite being in the unusual circumstances we’re in right now.

With borders to many more countries opening up these days – like Australia, UK and the US – it’s hoped that we can slowly move towards a “normal” university experience.