Experiencing the coronavirus outbreak as an international student in China

The coronavirus outbreak has halted studying, travelling and socialising for all students in China, writes international student Sushant Shrestha

Sushant Shrestha 's avatar

Sushant Shrestha

February 6 2020
Experiencing the coronavirus outbreak as an international student in China


In January 2020 the news started spreading: “the coronavirus is a global health emergency, more and more cases reported every day.” 

This came just a few days before the Chinese Lunar New Year. Consequently, the degree of fear started growing among international students like me, wondering if we would really be safe.

We had heard news like “a new mysterious virus behind the pneumonia in Wuhan” in early January, but still we had never anticipated that within 10 to 15 days this would turn into a global health emergency.

As an international student at Tongji University in Shanghai, it has been a strange experience to go through. These are just some of the ways in which my university life has changed since the coronavirus outbreak. 

1. The Spring Semester has been delayed

Here at Tongji University, as well as at other universities in Shanghai, the administration has decided to postpone the enrolment until further notice. This is a proactive measure taken in response to the growing number of virus cases.

Most Chinese students are still at home as the outbreak coincided with the winter vacation. 

The teachers have advised the students not to hurry back, and until further notice the universities have been closed until 17 February.

With regards to academics, as most of the students here in the international dorm are the Chinese language students, we are being constantly briefed in our class WeChat groups.

The class teachers have been providing us with materials for self-study, while for certain classes, online classes are being conducted on WeChat.

The utmost effort is being carried out by the teachers to make sure that we are not stressed or worried about learning. 

2. The university is taking out strict measures

Since the outbreak, outsiders have not been allowed into the university and from February the authorities have become even more vigilant. To ensure that the 708 students in the campus are safe from the virus, anyone entering the university is now required to take a temperature test.

Additionally, we have also been requested to fill out an online form daily confirming our location, our body temperature and our health status.

The following measures have been applied at the university:

  1. Surgical masks have been distributed to every student and they have been requested not to leave the dorm unless it is absolutely necessary.
  2. The school canteen is open and there is a good supply of food and water at the university.
  3. Anyone that lived away from the dorm from 21-30 January is said to have been kept in quarantine.

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3. Counselling and other help                                                

The Chinese government has set up an online platform where we can contact doctors in case of psychological distress or if we think we are experiencing any coronavirus symptoms. 

Embassies from a number of countries have created WeChat groups to brief people about evacuations and other necessary help. 

Places like Walmart and metro stations have been equipped with thermal scanners to take people’s body temperature. 

4. The university environment                       

Honestly speaking, the university looks like a deserted zone right now. Although we have no restrictions while inside the university grounds, everyone is scared and no one dares to leave their rooms.  

Everyone just stays inside their rooms either chatting with their friends, playing music, cooking or watching movies.

I personally have kept myself busy seeing friends, playing games and writing a bit.

5. How international students feel                

This varies a lot depending upon the country, the individual and most importantly the location. Based on anecdotes from friends, it seemed that before February students were unsure as to whether to go home or not.

Many of us are also not happy with the reports calling it the “China virus”, and #WestandwithChina and #StopRacism are what most students are standing by. 

Also, some of the students are enjoying living alone, while others say it’s like a “jail”.

In short, the university authorities are doing their best to help us while we are mostly confined in the university. Everything outside looks deserted, from the metros to the streets. 

I am hoping that China soon overcomes this tough time and wish to thank all those selfless heroes working in this hour of need. 

Read more: Best universities in China

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