Perspective Being a Student From China in the Time of COVID-19 | Brown School at Washington University in St. Louis
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Perspective: Being a Student From China in the Time of COVID-19

Social Work; Public Health; Students; COVID-19

We asked a few students from China to explain what it has been like to live through this global pandemic while so far from home, and so worried about their own family and home country.

Reflections from Zizi Xu, MSW

Since the COVID-19 broke out in China, I have followed the associated news closely as I have seen many people in my country were suffering. This massive outbreak has now happened in other places, and more countries, communities, and those people are adversely struck by this virus as well.

I have felt deeply concerned about this pandemic, because of its fast contagion and many uncertainties, and I felt powerless because I cannot go back home and help due to the travel restrictions. In late January, as one of the co-chairs of the International Student Association (ISA) at Brown School, I helped run a workshop to try to raise awareness of this new virus. We realized the importance of sanitation to prevent the spread of COVID-19, and we provided the masks and sanitizers for the participants, but it was hard to get those products at that time almost everywhere.

As an increasing number of COVID-19 cases have been confirmed in the U.S., I feel obligated to do my best to serve the local community because I feel heartbroken to see more people and their families are suffering from this disease, even losing their lives.

When the COVID-19 outbreak was contained in March in China, many essential medical resources were available. I noticed that many families or friends mailed essential Personal Protective Equipment (PPE), such as masks, to Chinese communities in other countries. Along with my experiences working for International Alumni Development Programs and running ISA, I thought it would a good idea to connect these essential resources to people in need. I tried to connect my family and friends in China who could provide masks with some of my friends working or serving in hospitals, schools and churches. Because of the customs, lack of funding and different standards for imported medical supplies, etc., it was difficult to make it happen, but I didn't want to quit. I reached out to Linyun Fu, manager of the Global Program at Brown School, and Assistant Professor Ruopeng An, and we worked together to develop the ongoing Brown School Community Mask Program. (Read the full story about this program.)

My Jefferson City practicum was ended, and I started working on a COVID-19 response project. From a legislative perspective, we have done the research to try to build a tracking system for how each state has responded to the crisis according to various factors, such as the majority party of the House and Senate, governors' genders, COVID-19 associated bills, etc. We have also built a tracking system to see the associations between those factors and COVID-19 health outcomes, such as confirmed cases, testing cases, fatality rate, and so on. We hope this project would bring some insights and perhaps influence future decisions of administrators and legislators.

From this pandemic, I have learned to be more socially responsible and ethical as a member of our global community. Additionally, I realize how significant and essential it is to strengthen our solidarity and cooperation to overcome this global challenge together, regardless of different ideologies, nationalities. There are many uncertainties out of my control, and possibly, there are misconceptions, hatred and even discrimination due to this unprecedented pandemic, but there are always positive things that we can do to make positive change as individuals and to benefit communities in profound ways.

I have never expected that my last year at the Brown School would be ending this way, but I cherish this incredible journey that allows me to learn not just from class, but also from the realities of life.


Reflections from Grace Ruqing Cao, MSW/MPH

Back in January, when the COVID-19 pandemic broke out in China, I was really anxious about my family back in China because many of them are in the high-risk population. I tried to send some face masks back because it was really hard to get masks in China back then. I contacted them everyday and become hypervigilant of my phone notifications. Even during class, I would open the notifications as soon as possible, because I was so afraid that there would be some bad news.

Now it is my parents' turn to worry about me because the situation in the U.S. is worse. For a while, I was not able to get any masks in St. Louis, and they sent me back some masks they had left. The masks my mom sent me were far more than what I expected. She said she wanted to share these masks with my classmates who were in need. So I donated them to the Brown School Community Mask Program. (Read the full story about this program.) Not only does my family worry about the virus itself, but they are also frightened by all the news of hate crimes and racism towards Asian people. I check in with them everyday to let them know I am still safe and healthy.

Reflecting back to the past four months, as a Chinese international student, I feel I am continuously living in fear and anxiety about the well-being of my family, friends, peers and myself. At the same time, I am still very lucky because I am able to share resources with my loved ones both here in St. Louis and across the sea. I am also able to receive love and care from both communities.

If there were only one thing I learned from this pandemic, it would be that hatred, division, and blaming each other will never save people's lives. Instead, they only put underprivileged people under risk. As social workers, it is our responsibility to fight for social equity, which is already threatened by broken systems that are exacerbated under the current situation. To make it through this hard time, we need to hold each other accountable, diminish our distance while social distancing, and help each other as much as possible when we can.