Sharing Pandemic Experiences

CONNECTED shares the news that the University of Reading is working with international students to help shape support messages based on their pandemic experiences.

The University is seeking to support students through the multitude of challenges the COVID-19 pandemic has thrust upon them. One way in which the University is doing this is through a research project seeking to improve engagement with international students.

The project – which has been granted £10,000 of British Academy funding – sees researchers at the University of Reading and the University of Birmingham working with Chinese students to highlight how they have been left in the dark due to language or cultural barriers, or discriminated against during the pandemic.

Chinese students comprise the UK’s largest proportion of international students, so the project will be important in maintaining positive attitudes globally towards studying in the UK, as well as learning how to better support other multicultural communities in the UK.

International barriers

Linguistics researchers are seeking to gather real experiences of communication issues and stigma faced by Chinese students forced to make sense of the lockdown and virus advice while living in the UK.

Professor Rodney Jones, a sociolinguistics expert at the University of Reading and co-leader of the project, said: “The COVID-19 pandemic has been an incredibly challenging time for everyone, plunging us into lockdown and requiring us to take in endless guidelines and information about the virus and how we can stop it spreading.

“When language and cultural barriers, and the stress of being in an unfamiliar place, are added to this it becomes immensely tough.”

Dr Sylvia Jaworska, an associate professor in language and professional communication, and co-leader of the project, said: “Many Chinese students found themselves effectively trapped in the UK this year, forced to navigate a global crisis alone while essential information they needed to do so was difficult to obtain.

“The fact the virus is thought to have originated in China also meant some Chinese nationals may have experienced some unfair negative comments or actions as the virus became more prevalent, adding to feelings of exclusion.”

Personal experiences

The team will study real testimonies from Chinese students in the UK, including interviews, diaries and observations, to shed light on how international students access and evaluate information and challenges resulting from intercultural differences.

They will then apply principles from research in intercultural communication, health communication and media literacies, to find out how they have coped and what could increase their resilience.

Professor Jones said: “We are working closely with Chinese students to hear first-hand how they are dealing with the pandemic in an unfamiliar place and what has made it difficult for them to access much-needed information. This work will help us better understand the problems faced by people living in other cultures, and how they can be supported more effectively during hard times.”

Wang Yi, one of the University of Reading students involved in the research, said: “It’s really great to be working on this project with internationally recognised scholars and Chinese students studying in the UK during the COVID-19 pandemic.

“This project offers us a unique opportunity to interview our classmates, friends, and colleagues to develop a better understanding of their feelings, thoughts, and communication challenges they encounter while residing in a foreign country under the global pandemic.

“This project empowers us to tell our own stories and express our common concerns to relevant parties. We can also share our ideas and let our voice be heard by hosting workshops and webinars. This will help us and international students in general, strengthen mutual support and build resilience.”

Dr Jaworska concluded:

“The problem is clear, but how to solve it is less so. By hearing from those affected, we hope to provide some widely-applicable solutions to ensure no one is excluded from vital communications.”

Read more inspirational stories from our students, staff and services, that show how despite uncertainty and the difficulties we all face, Reading continues its mission to change lives through education, engagement and research.