Despite the worldwide coverage of the pandemic, issues faced by international students were rarely reported. School almost felt optional last year (thanks to the challenges of Zoom), and some had to make a difficult decision of whether to stay at their university or travel home to their families. Even worse, some report their mental health to be at the lowest it’s ever been, with access to wellbeing services simultaneously difficult.
Whilst the pandemic has undoubtedly taken its toll on most of the society, some have been able to focus on the positives of this quieter time. As much as we have been reminded of our fragile and tiny existence, there is an emergence of a new paradigm around change, highlighting our ability to adapt and strength to seize opportunities for personal and organizational transformation in a crisis.
As this most disrupted of school years draws to a close, it is time to take stock of the impact of the pandemic on student learning and well-being. Vietcetera has invited international students across continents to discuss how they’ve been dealing with the COVID-19 pandemic, lessons they’ve learned — and what they are looking forward to in 2022.
Adapting to major life disruptions
Dinh Dieu Linh (18, Wellesley College, Massachusetts, United States): Two of the biggest challenges posed by the pandemic were both mental — from the constant uncertainty of when (and if) things will get better so that I can get on a flight home, as well as the fear of getting and spreading COVID to someone with a weaker immune system. I guess at times things did feel a little lacklustre, but I did what I could which was hold on to help.
Jennifer Nguyen (20, Ryerson University, Toronto, Canada): The majority of my degree has been delivered virtually because of the pandemic, so I do feel like I've been missing out somewhat as my program was supposed to be very hands-on with live reporting, in-person interviews, engaging with studio equipment.
Magda Nguyen (21, The American University of Paris, Paris, France): College became drooling after months of online classes. Listening to online classes is like listening to boring podcasts. I guess it was nice to not have to wake up one hour before classes start at 9am, but I definitely became quickly unmotivated to finish any assignment given.
Phan Thien Nhan (21, George Mason University, Virginia, United States): Studying online with a 12-hour difference was really a huge challenge at first, especially when there are classes that require to be attended at 3 am in the morning or late at night. This required me to adjust my daily schedule and habits to fit with the timetable.
Another challenge that I see from taking online classes and working from home was to have a clear sense of the space and environment. Having to study at home limits the space that I have and sometimes it decreases my level of productivity.
Due to the pandemic, I haven’t been able to see friends from the US since March 2020, my best friends and some family for almost 3 years. Undeniably, this would affect the bond between me and them, some of them I almost lose contact with.
Pham Dam Minh Trang (19, Monash University, Melbourne, Australia): At the beginning of the lockdown, I thought everything would be back to normal soon, so I refused to adapt to online studying. From a high achiever, I was constantly stressed out about my results and struggled a lot with class tests and assignments.
I barely made any new friends, it was tough to expand my network during lockdown. It also obstructed me from participating in workshops and webinars that were meant to meet new colleagues that would benefit me as a graduate student.
Truong Moc Hoang An (20, Simon Fraser University, Vancouver, Canada): Even though the online method has helped me maintain my education progress, it has averted the ability to personally interact with other students and encounter Canadian's social life and culture.
Seeing the silver linings
Jennifer Nguyen: It's not fun when all your plans are cancelled and you're stuck waiting for the next flight out, always on edge about what the news would be tomorrow, but I'm grateful that everything worked out for me in the end. I got to enjoy Toronto in a new light on its quieter days, Hanoi in the comfort of my childhood home and a taste of bustling Saigon during my time at Vietcetera!
Truong Moc Hoang An: Doing internship online has created considerable opportunities, including flexible workload, comfortable "workplace ergonomics," and ZERO commuting costs.
Madga Nguyen: A little bit before the second lockdown in October 2020, I was balancing online classes and 40 hours per week of work. I found myself a job at a Poke restaurant, not too far away from my house and I really enjoyed working there. I learned so much about the restaurant industry by getting hands-on experience. Time passed quickly and a whole year flew by before I knew it, and I was like “Okay, what's next?” So I quit my job in June 2021, and took the opportunity to travel a bit. I told myself I would never work in a restaurant again, but here I am working for 3 different Corsican restaurants in Paris. I am working hard because I don't want to put any more pressure on my parents, knowing that they are already paying college tuition for me and my brothers. Whatever I can do to help my parents to worry less about money, I'll do it.
Even though I was so busy, I always found the time to work on my hobbies and passions. So any free time I had, I would whip out my guitar and play for hours. When Paris opened up again, I started singing at open mics on Sundays at 9pm, which really shows that those hours playing guitar and singing until my neighbors tell me to "fermer votre gueule" (shut up), were worth it.
Putting one foot in front of the other
Jennifer Nguyen: If there's one thing I've learned from COVID-19, it's that you can never really know what's next — so I'm not expecting too much for myself except to be prepared to figure things out as I go. I hope that we can see an end to the pandemic soon and that 2022 is going to be a year of prosperity for the world regardless of the situation!
Dinh Dieu Linh: Given that I personally have been vaccinated and a lot of those around us have too, I'm really looking forward to easing into normalcy and socialising in person once again. Another big change that I'm looking forward to is the fact that I will be attending college in August!
Magda Nguyen: Positive COVID cases are still lingering in Paris so I feel like COVID won't be going away any time soon and. I'm just gonna continue on with life like I have been with positivity and hard work and get my bachelors degree.
Truong Moc Hoang An: The year 2022 is coming, and all I hope for is to return to Canada, resume my education non-remotely, and gain as much knowledge and experience as possible to strengthen my future and devote more to my dream and society.
Although the COVID-19 pandemic has substantially changed my life and goals, I would consider this as leverage to improve my adaptability and prepare for the significant upcoming changes in the world's economy and functionality.
Phan Thien Nhan: Although the pandemic has brought up many issues and challenges, I believe that it has taught us the lesson of appreciation, toward our health, belongings and the people around us. Personally, I would be attending actual class this semester, where it feels like starting university all over again since I have to get used to the on-campus student life and schedule, something that I haven’t done for almost 2 years. However, it’s exciting to be back on-campus, seeing my friends and making new connections.