In the wake of the COVID-19 pandemic, international students across the world have been unable to travel overseas to their adoptive cities and start an exciting new chapter in their lives. Xinyi was one such international student, who was preparing to leave for Adelaide, Australia, to start her university degree.
“When I was small, I had a dream to study abroad. I wanted to experience another culture and make new friends to broaden my horizons. Nowadays, on an international stage, I want to be a global citizen and understand another kind of life to enrich my experiences,” she says.
Unfortunately, before she was able to commence her first semester as an international student at the University of South Australia, borders were closed and Xinyi was unable to leave China. However, the ‘new normal’ of studying remotely hasn’t discouraged Xinyi in the slightest. Instead, she has fully immersed herself in Australian university life – even though she hasn’t stepped foot in Australia (yet!).
Xinyi shares her practical step-by-step guide to successfully embracing international student life from overseas.
Step 1: Ask for help
Like many students who are adjusting to studying online from their home country, Xinyi felt a little overwhelmed at first.
“At first, I was very anxious about the online journey because I wasn’t sure what to expect from it,” she says. “I sent a lot of emails asking my course coordinators to consult what I needed to prepare for my course. They responded and said it was just the same as internal students.”
Through reaching out to her university, Xinyi was able to plan for the first semester of her double degree in Accounting and Finance.
“I found that all the resources are online, all the course materials, recordings, and related websites. There is also a lot of support from UniSA with studying, networking, career help and social activities,” she says. “I had appointments with study consultants at my university … and there were a lot of study workshops arranged by my school, for example, in referencing and academic skills. They introduced me to the framework of academic work at university.”
Xinyi encourages her peers to not be afraid to ask questions and to seek help when needed. Lecturers, tutors and other university staff have prepared for this new transition to online learning and are ready to support students, wherever they may be in the world.
Step 2: Get involved
Making new friends is one of the best things about life as an international student, so as an online student, Xinyi had to get creative with her social life.
“The UniSA Student Association has a lot of clubs arranging weekly or monthly events online where you can meet like-minded people,” she says. “I’ve attended the Music Lovers Club and the Student Sustainability Collective.”
Not satisfied with simply attending events, Xinyi is in the middle of starting her own student club – Spiced – which will launch in October.
“Spiced will introduce you to different foods from different cultures,” she says. “I will take all the attendees on a virtual tour of my hometown, Kaifeng, to introduce them to food in our night market.”
Step 3: Level up your LinkedIn
A virtual presence is more important than ever, as people all over the world are studying, working and socialising from home. For Xinyi, LinkedIn has been an important tool. Following a profile refresh, she has quickly built a diverse network of connections.
“When I started my LinkedIn, I only had one or two connections. So, I started sending invitations and introducing myself. After every online event, I would send the panellists or attendees invitations through LinkedIn.”
Which leads Xinyi on to her next important step…
Step 4: Network, network, network!
“The most challenging thing [about not being physically at university] is you can’t network with locals and that’s the main aim for me studying abroad,” says Xinyi. “I want to get involved in the local culture, improve my English and improve my cultural intelligence.”
Xinyi’s solution was to dive into the wide world of online events, not just those run by her university, but through study bodies (for her, this is StudyAdelaide, but she encourages students to reach out to the study bodies in their area), LinkedIn, and even by attending all of the Insider Guides student webinars!
“I have a powerful willingness to explore more,” she says. “I want to get in contact with people.”
Step 5: Take a break
Online learning can really take a toll on students at the moment, both physically and mentally.
“You stay at home all day staring at the computer because all your work has to be done online. Even networking, you have to stay in front of your computer.”
Xinyi has found getting outdoors at least once a day, away from screens, to be a huge help. “I get out of my house to exercise every day – it’s a way to relax myself,” she says.
In addition, students shouldn’t feel confined to purely academic activities when studying online.
“There are a lot of mental health and physical health workshops you can attend,” says Xinyi. “I find they improve my attention, and I think attending these events can inspire you.”
Step 6: Prepare for the future
With the future so uncertain, it is understandably difficult for international students at the moment. Xinyi combats this by keeping herself busy and creative and thinking about what she will be able to experience in Australia when she arrives.
“I’m preparing for the move,” she says. “I’m starting my own club, and I’d like to organise something with like-minded people where we can reflect on the post-COVID era and what we need to be doing in the future.”
In amongst trying a range of unique Aussie dishes when she lands in Adelaide, Xinyi is keen to explore the beautiful Kangaroo Island. To her fellow international students in this same situation, Xinyi shares: “Be resilient, and be positive.”