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International students voice concerns amid COVID-19 pandemic

Difficult decisions: International students are having to decide between staying in Cardiff and returning home. Source: Tomos Evans

by Tomos Evans

In light of the COVID-19 pandemic many students have decided to return home. But it is not always as easy for students to make that decision. 

Some international students, in particular, have experienced difficulties due to flight suspensions and lock-downs in their home countries.

Gair Rhydd spoke to some international students studying at Cardiff University about their plans in light of the COVID-19 outbreak.

“More concrete answers”

Luisa De La Concha Montes, a final year student in Journalism, Media and English Literature, has decided not to return home to Mexico for the time being.  

Luisa told Gair Rhydd that most people she knows are returning to their home countries but that that’s not an option for her due to the price of tickets, not knowing when she will be able to return to Cardiff and the six hour time difference between Mexico and the UK which, Luisa argues, “would put me at a disadvantage when trying to take part in ‘live’ academic discussion”. 

Staying put: Luisa De La Concha Montes has decided to stay in Cardiff for the time being. Source: Charlie Troulan

Luisa admits that her family have suggested for her to consider returning home.  However, she says “I am still paying rent in my current accommodation so it makes no sense to keep on paying and not make use of the house in Cardiff.  I am lucky enough to have some ‘homely’ place to stay once everyone leaves (my boyfriend’s house), however I am aware that that is not an option for all international students”.  

Whilst Luisa applauds Cardiff University “for reacting so swiftly” to the pandemic, she suggests that “the University should be able to give more concrete answers on specific concerns such as time-difference issues, buying plane tickets, travelling home safely during the current situation, or what to do if borders close”.  

Next year, Luisa hopes to study for a Masters’ degree in the UK.  “However, because of this situation, I haven’t been able to get the reference letter I need for my application – additionally I don’t want to push my lecturer because I know he is also dealing with a lot right now.  I should be fine in terms of deadlines, however, in the case that our final results come out later than expected, that could delay my application for a new visa”.  

A second Cardiff University student, who preferred to remain anonymous, told Gair Rhydd, “With my home country on lockdown having banned any international flights and with travel restrictions, it is a shame that nothing much can be done other than just having to wait until any good news comes to your doorstep.  Checking flights and the news continuously with no plans on what might happen tomorrow, all we can do is wait until this crisis is over”.  

“We all have no idea what’s coming”

However, other international students have been successful in their attempts to return home.  Shubhangi Dua, a second year JOMEC student returned to India earlier this week.  

Shubhangi told Gair Rhydd “It literally took me 24 hours to reach here and I am isolating myself from my family as a precaution.  It has been very hard to fly back in a rush as my home country, India, was closing borders for all foreign nationals coming from COVID-19 affected regions by 18 March”.  

Home safely: Subhangi Dua has returned home to India and is currently self-isolating as a precaution. Source: Shubhangi Dua

Shubhangi expressed her worry about “the bulk of assignments I have to finish with limited resources as I couldn’t grab books from the library and relevant books are not easily available here”.  

Cardiff University has contacted Shubhangi regarding the remote learning initiatives it has introduced but she admits “it’s tough due to the time difference.  The internet connection can be problematic sometimes as well because I don’t live in the city”.  

Shubhangi also says that she’s concerned about her plans for next year.  “Unfortunately, all the plans have been disturbed due to this and my family is afraid that I can’t even make it back and what is going to happen with the last year of my degree.  Everything is frustrating and unpredictable at the moment. We all have no idea what’s coming”.  

“We will give you as much information as we can”

On Friday, Cardiff University’s Vice-Chancellor, Colin Riordan, sent an email to international students.  

In the email, Riordan wrote, “As a student who may be away from home, we know that you may be thinking about whether you remain in the UK at present. Your decision will need to be taken based on your own personal circumstances and we will give you as much information as we can”.  

The University is urging international students to make them aware of their plans.  The Vice-Chancellor said, “If you stay in Cardiff we hope to be in touch with you by phone in the next week to check how you’re getting on”. 

“Changing how you will be assessed”: Vice-Chancellor, Colin Riordan, has outlined the steps Cardiff University is taking in an email to international students.  Source: Tomos Evans

In terms of new ways of delivering teaching and learning content, the Vice-Chancellor stated, “Colleagues in Academic Schools are working hard to ensure  we offer  remote learning opportunities through  Learning Central,  lecture capture  and, where appropriate, subject specific online applications”.  

He continued, “We are changing how you will be assessed to ensure that you have the opportunity to demonstrate achievement of the programme learning outcomes”.  

For any students currently living in University halls accommodation, Riordan said, “If you are living in our Halls of Residences they remain open.  It is vital that you keep up to date with the latest health advice especially if you need to self-isolate”.  

Additionally, details of student well-being services provided by Cardiff University during the COVID-19 outbreak can be found here.

For all the latest information and advice on the COVID-19 pandemic in Wales, visit Public Health Wales, or the Welsh Government’s website.  

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