Everyone's experience of the pandemic has been different. For international students in particular, location has been a big factor in how their individual experiences have played out. Those in China returned to face-to-face classes, but at the moment many cannot go to their home countries to visit their families. On the other hand, those abroad have had to adapt to different ways of connecting to people and their classes.
Martina Taddei, a Year Four BA Human Resources student at Xi’an Jiaotong-Liverpool University from Italy, tells us her story—how she’s coped since the pandemic, and how she secured two internships that she says have made a big difference in her life.
The road less travelled
After high school graduation, Taddei came to China while most of her friends stayed in Europe. Accounts of visits to China along with Taddei’s own goals were motivation to take the road less travelled, she says.
“I’ve always been attracted by the country,” Taddei says. “My uncle works in China. When I was little, I remember seeing him travelling back and forth. He told me many stories, and I thought: ‘It must be a great experience to live there.’
“I wanted to learn more about the culture and the language. I think it’s important to develop cross-cultural skills and the ability to work with people from different cultural backgrounds.
“I knew I would miss my family, and there would be difficulties. Still, I wanted to push myself out of my comfort zone. I wanted to put myself in an environment that would force me to think differently and to adopt different perspectives.”
Taddei enjoyed her first semester at XJTLU, she says. She liked her modules, joined students’ clubs and found an international community at the University’s International Business School Suzhou (IBSS). She returned home to Italy for a visit in January 2020. Little did she know that her university life would abruptly change.
Let’s get prepared
“It was frustrating,” Taddei says, recalling the first few months after the initial outbreak. All XJTLU students, whether in or outside of China, faced an emergency switch to online classes and physical isolation from classmates, friends and teachers. Taddei also needed to cope with a seven-hour time difference.
When the virus forced borders closed in 2020, the future seemed bleak, she says.
Since then, however, Taddei has made the most of her time outside China. The online consulting internships she landed have opened doors, she says.
“Life is not gentle to those who do not come prepared. So I told myself: let’s get prepared, do something new, learn new skills,” she wrote on LinkedIn.
Taddei has completed two internships: one at a British AI start-up company, the other one at an international educational organisation, Global Learning Collective.
Both were facilitated by IBSS staff, who worked with business contacts around the world to create remote consultancy internships that international students could apply for.
“I’m always looking for work experience,” Taddei says. “The more experience you get before graduating, the more opportunities you will have, and the more likely you will find a job that you like.”
Taddei says that through working as a consultant she increased her knowledge about organisational structure, employee engagement, company profitability and efficiency.
The internships also allowed her to work with other XJTLU students also assigned to the projects and located in different parts of the world.
“During the weekly meetings, our XJTLU instructor provided project supervision and gave us directions. Then we met with the clients, asking them questions related to the company. Then our team provided solutions accordingly,” she explains.
“I’d also like to say ‘thank you’ to Dr Chiachi Chang who supervised my consultancy project,” Taddei says. “My internship wouldn’t have been successful without his help.”
Preparing for the next chapter
Taddei is now getting ready for the next chapter of her life by preparing for a masters degree.
“I still hope to study abroad and engage in global opportunities,” she says.
Taddei’s words about her pandemic experience demonstrate her resiliency and determination.
“The past two years have not been easy. I experienced anger, sadness, and frustration, but I managed to sublimate them into willingness to take on new projects and collect new experiences,” she says.
“I didn’t sign up for anything life is presenting me with at the moment, but life signed me up to overcome all the challenges I’ll experience through my path. I must stay consistent.”
By Xinmin Han
Edited by Patricia Pieterse and Tamara Kaup
Photos by Martina Taddei