On the afternoon of February 10, a foreign young man wearing a face mask entered a police station in Nanjing. He put a red gift box on the reception counter, saying “thank you for your hard work”, and soon left. After unwrapping the box, the policemen on the site found some snacks, 1,000 RMB cash and a letter which reads: “I am Ladin, a PhD candidate from Syria. At this time of crisis, I would like to say to Chinese people: you are not alone and we will stay with you forever.”
The COVID-19 pandemic serves as a reminder that in case of disease, there are no borders and we all face the same dangers. International students in China have received rigorous care from their universities since the outbreak, and many in return have volunteered to join the fight against the virus, trying their best to support the local communities where they study and live.
Building a line of defense against COVID-19 for international students
Although the COVID-19 outbreak in China coincided with the Spring Festival, many international students remained on campuses. Under the MOE instructions, higher education institutions across the country extended the coverage of their prevention and control mechanism to foreign students, with measures such as communicating local anti-virus efforts and developments, accommodation disinfection, distribution of masks, temperature checks, exit and entry registration, and provision of timely healthcare service. Administrative staff and teachers have monitored proactively the health and living status of these students, relieved their anxiety, and enhanced their faith in the victory over the epidemic.
Huazhong University of Science and Technology has taken strict measures such as restricting access and carrying out temperature checks to ensure the health of its 1,046 foreign students in Wuhan. Tianjin Foreign Studies University established a professional translation team which translated over 50 COVID-related documents. North-China Electric Power University mobilized a range of resources for foreign students, including face masks, thermometers and alcohol hand sanitizers.
Apart from protective supplies, people also need “mental masks” for consolation when facing a life-threatening outbreak, especially foreign students who linger alone in a country far away from home. “During this winter vacation, over 200 international students stayed on our campus, and so our major task is to ensure their safety and health”, said Liu Yanqing, Head of the Institute of International Education at the Beijing Jiaotong University. His institute has, among other efforts, set up a “listening room” which offers online psychological counseling to international students.
Saiid, a Yemeni student studying at the China University of Geosciences (located in Wuhan) managed to work through a crisis thanks to frequent communication with his teachers. He fell ill during the outbreak and thought he had fallen victim to the virus. In the end, the university clinic gave him the all clear and confirmed he had ordinary tonsillitis, however, the experience left him very shaken. “The care and support and reassurance I got from my teachers helped me get through this difficult time”, said Saiid.
Other universities such as Nankai University, Wuhan Textile University, Taiyuan University of Technology and Renmin University of China have also taken effective measures to maintain the mental health of their foreign students, including circulating virus prevention knowledge, campus policies and immigration measures, regular delivery of daily necessities, and online conversation and counseling.
Contributing to China’s combat against the COVID-19
Some foreign people who graduated from Chinese universities still care about their alma mater and the country where they once studied. They have warmed many Chinese hearts by mobilizing much needed medical supplies from around the world.
Raz Galor, an Israeli alumnus of Peking University, shared on Weibo his experience of collecting and shipping one ton of medical supplies from Israel within 24 hours. “Sending 100,000 masks to China will be the most wonderful thing I’ve done in my entire life”, said Galor, “In the past, China offered help to Jews many times. This time, you got my back.” After many twists and turns, these masks finally arrived in Huanggang, Hubei on February 9 through Tel Aviv, Moscow and Guangzhou.
Huang Zhaowei and Huang Zhaorun, two Malaysian brothers who graduated from Zhongshan Medical College of Sun Yat-sen University tapped their personal connections, pharmacies, factories all around Malaysia during the Spring Festival and managed to collect 1,100 protective suits which reached China on February 7. Mansu Alam, a Pakistan alumnus of Xi’an Jiaotong University who now live in Shanghai became a volunteer in the local community to help with virus prevention and control.
On empty campuses, foreign students who chose to stay also took action to support the COVID-19 prevention and control efforts. Since January 29, many foreign students who remained on the campus of the Sanxia University have become an important force of campus security who posted the epidemic prevention materials, distributed supplies and offered logistic support.
International students also shared their stories about their study and life in China on social media, to display a real China to the international community during a time when voices stigmatizing China and Chinese culture were heard from different sources.
“I believe China will soon beat the virus. I’m sure that the Chinese government has that capability, and I won’t leave Wuhan”, said Abe, an Iraqi who have lived in Wuhan for 14 years and now teaches at the Wuhan University. “The staff at my university helped me a lot during my quarantine. China is a great country with powerful and effective system that can protect the people living on this land”, said Anton, a Nigerian postgraduate who study at the Northeast Normal University. Li Shixiang, a Vietnamese student at the Central South University depicted a beautiful picture when looking into the future: “The epidemic will soon be defeated by the heroic Chinese people. When that day comes, tourists will flock again into the Wuhan University to enjoy splendid cherry blossom, and climb onto the top of the Yellow Crane Tower to get a sweeping view of the Yangtze River. China, you are not alone, and we cheer up for you from around the world! When spring comes, let’s meet again in China.”