Whether from kindergarten, high school, or university, the day of one’s graduation is always remembered because of the glad tidings that precede it; so are other occasions such as birthdays, exchanging of vows(wedding), etc. Sadly, for this year’s graduates across most parts of China and the world, an elaborate graduation ceremony isn’t in sight.
As we’ve constantly been told, the best, safest, and easiest attainable option right now to keep healthy and alive is simply to stay indoors. Although in recent days only a few scattered cases of COVID-19 have been reported across China, mandatory lockdowns are still in place in most universities across the nation requiring all international students who live in dorms to stay indoors.
China, a country known for its numerous tourist sights and locations dubbed “Cities of Light”, now feels like a gloomy place to be for international students who have been stuck on campus since the virus first broke out. And even though the virus has largely been contained, most are still not allowed to leave campus due to fears of exposure, with students who live off-campus prohibited from returning to campus. For the international students living on campus in one of Wuhan’s many dormitories in Wuhan, myself amongst them, June marks almost six months of compound confinement.
During the latter part of December 2019, very few cases of the flu-like virus were reported in Wuhan, China infecting small numbers of people. However, in early January 2020, increasing numbers of people began to fall ill, infected by the virus which was later identified by health professionals as COVID-19. All this led to a state of emergency being declared by the Hubei local government on the 11th of January instructing every resident of Wuhan, including international students living in the dorms to stay indoors.
“The Government of the People’s Republic of China prioritises the well-being of its international friends, thus will do anything in its powers to protect them”, a source working at a prominent Wuhan university told me earlier this week. The intentions of university administrations is to keep students safe and limit their chances of exposure to the virus. This is in response to the handful of new cases that have sprouted up in some parts of China rather than, as some have felt, an intentional ploy to keep them pent up on campus. Recognising the challenge faced by many of these students, my source adds that, of course, there is a lot of work being done to ease the mental tension of international students living in the dormitories.
Meanwhile, a feeling of uneasiness has engulfed many of the estimated 4,600 African international students who still reside in China as they enter the last lap in the race to bag their degrees from various universities across China.
Many graduating through this period have lamented the situation caused by the epidemic but nonetheless are excited about obtaining their degrees, beating the odds and returning home. This optimism comes despite facing the realisation that their return home is likely to be made difficult due to the international travel ban set in place by the Chinese government which has limited the number of international flights in and out of China, sending flight prices soaring into the thousands.
Below are some of the experiences of just a handful of the young Africans in Wuhan and beyond who have written and defended their theses in these trying times. They share their hopes for their future and their thoughts as young Africans soon to earn their degrees during this epidemic.
Onwubuya Gift is a Nigerian national and one of the few African international students who will be obtaining her masters in Chinese International Education. She explains to us how important it is to cherish this life that we live, how her thesis writing and defense were affected by the epidemic, and how she intends to impact Africa and her country mostly.
“From the day the virus broke out in this city we have moved from full lockdown to semi lockdown. Looking through my eyes, it seems the world has come to an end being in Wuhan right in the midst of the dilemma. It has touched all aspects of my life, I would say no part has been left unaffected, having to live with the influences brought about by the pandemic for half a year now. This has become “the new normal”. Looking closer to home at her native Nigeria, Gift believes that “The pandemic has taught us so many things: as a country, it has thought us how important every sector is especially the health sector. As a society, it has taught us how close and crucial our circles are no matter the boundaries, and as a family how to value our life for the other person to live.”
Gift continued: “Writing my final research paper during the pandemic was a great challenge. From the onset, when all of the news headlines, television stations, news sites, and online platforms were filled with virus updates and headlines of confirmed deaths, news of little or no hope… [it] affects the psychological mind. It took strength to concentrate to keep working. I’m so grateful to the Chinese government and Wuhan university for taking classes online. Corrections and work review were done remotely through emails, QQ, WeChat phone calls, etc; Our final defence took place using Tencent Meeting. Above all, it remains a great experience and a story to be told in many years to come.”
“Finally”, she adds, “I’m so grateful to the creator for keeping us, no matter what the situation the work was completed. In the near sight of victory, I plan to further research and study to bring a change for the better world of today and tomorrow.”
Ann Korto Mulbah is a Liberian currently residing in China. She’ll be obtaining a Master’s degree in International Business Administration from the University of International Business and Economics (UIBE) in Beijing.
“First and foremost, I’m grateful to God for the gift of life. The initial stage of this epidemic was not easy for me, and fear took control of my life. I lost my appetite so much so that I even lost weight. After February, I took it to the Lord in prayer and he took away the spirit of fear and gave me peace of mind. But honestly speaking, the prevailing situation (epidemic) slowed or stopped a lot of things.
When it comes to my thesis, I started writing from October 2019 right up to April 2020. It was difficult collecting the necessary information and data from the respondents. Despite all the challenges I pulled through to defence hall. On the day of defence, it wasn’t easy; I had four panellists of which one came from another university. Questions came from all of them as if they came prepared for me. In all the ups and downs it ended well with a congratulatory statement”, Ann added excitedly.
“I am anticipating being able to implement whatever I have learned in China in my country and society at large”, she concluded.
Lala Soa Valencia from Madagascar will be obtaining her Master’s degree this year in Information and Communication Engineering from the Huazhong University of Science and Technology in Wuhan, China.
“The situation (COVID-19) was sudden, we never had anything like that before, it was all fast…we had to fix things according to our health and for the wellbeing of everyone. [Because] it escalated quickly and it had a big impact on my daily life as well as on my study. During the lockdown, I had to be strong mentally, physically, and emotionally because knowing that Wuhan was the epicentre of the COVID-19 was a big challenge. Emotions were shaken. Being inside all the time watching the news brought more and more fear, and living with the suspicion that everyone can be infected was the hardest thing to bear in a moment like this.”
Lala continued, “Writing my research paper during this lockdown was difficult because I had to work on it by myself without the opportunity to work in the lab or get more inspiration and information from elsewhere. So I had to learn how to manage what I had according to the situation. Defending my thesis online was a new experience for me and beyond my expectation but it was not as difficult as the writing part.
“After my graduation, I’m expecting to go back to my country and apply what I’ve learned in my field of work”.
KOYE JEAN-DAVID ALEXANDRE is an Ivorian who, upon completing his thesis defence, will be graduating with a master’s degree in Information and Communication Engineering from the Huazhong University of Science and Technology in Wuhan, China.
Koye had this to say about his time on lockdown – “I can say that I had mixed emotions. I first felt really sad and wanted to leave but after 4 months things started getting better, I felt happier and proud. Even though it was very challenging, I am a survivor and I am grateful to God. I initially had a problem with my laptop, which stopped me from working on my thesis for like a month. I decided to get a new laptop and continue with my work. I took my defence as an interview, which I am happy to say went smoothly. I hope to continue my studies further to specialize more. I have decided to study for another Master’s in another country.”
Bobwillie K Sulonteh, Jr. will be acquiring a bachelor’s degree in Electronic Information Engineering from the Jiangxi University of Engineering. As a Liberian who experienced the deadly Ebola Virus back home, he says he went through the COVID-19 phase like a pro, without it impacting his mental wellbeing.
“The outbreak of the Corona pandemic was devastating. The situation not only negatively affected my academic life but to a large extent caused a financial decline too. As a resident student of the PRC, Corona has left me with the fear of lack of food due to no or low finances, lack of freedom of movement, lack of an opportunity to freely attend practical classes. There weren’t a lot of psychological implications as I once resided in a region which overcame the onslaught of the deadly Ebola outbreak.”
Bobby stated that he is open to any opportunity that might come his way post-graduation, “ as we all learn to implement and achieve. If I get an opportunity…I am going to work and get some experience in the job. My field of study requires more practical knowledge and skills; in the future, I would like to further my study if the opportunity is given”, Bobby concluded.
COVID-19 has thrown today’s world into a period of uncertainty – who knows exactly what the future might hold? The lives of the students interviewed for this piece are no different. Yet, many choose to face it with optimism. As for these graduates, they’re looking forward to ‘better days’ ahead to implement into the real world what they’ve learned over the years.
From myself and the entire team, congratulations to all graduates across China and the world.
Patience Handful Dalieh is from Liberia. She is acquiring her Master's degree in Communication and Journalism from Wuhan University, School of International Education.