As COVID-19 spread across the globe, international student Yexin Cao chose to stay in Australia to continue her studies at ACU. She’s glad she did.
Second-year nursing student Yexin Cao was studying at ACU’s Brisbane campus when the COVID-19 shutdowns started. Campuses closed and face-to-face teaching was paused. Students were asked to stay home as learning moved quickly online.
It was a series of big – and sudden – changes, but they’re changes that Yexin says haven’t changed her uni experience all that much. Large group lectures are pre-recorded, while small-group tutorials of up to 20 students are conducted on Zoom; teaching staff send instructions for accessing the classes. During Zoom sessions, students can interact with the tutors or post questions in the live chat feature.
“They’re trying to do exactly what they do in the face-to-face. It’s almost the same,” she says.
Labs – classes where student practice clinical and other hands-on skills – have been paused for now, but teaching staff are busy planning catch-up sessions to ensure students still acquire essential learning once they’re back on campus. And, when they’re not in class, students can contact their teachers and course conveners via email or the ACU online learning system.
Keeping students safe during professional placements
But Yexin’s course isn’t all about on-campus learning. As a nursing student, she’s expected to complete a series of hospital-based placements as part of her degree. When the shutdowns started, she was about to start a mental health placement at Royal Brisbane Women’s Hospital.
While some placements in regional areas were delayed, Yexin’s was given the okay to go ahead. She was initially a bit nervous about working in a hospital setting, but she says her placement coordinator was in regular contact, sending information about COVID-19. The placement facilitator at the hospital, as well as the nursing staff at the hospital, also helped her feel confident.
“The school sent regular emails with information about the virus – how to protect yourself, like how to wash your hands; and what will happen if you feel sick before or during the placement,” she says.
The placement itself, which is ongoing, gives Yexin the chance to work with patients, putting the clinical knowledge she’d gained at ACU into practice.
“It’s my first hospital placement in mental health. It’s very good. I’m happy and feel supported during this time,” she says.
Supporting international students in their home away from home
Providing support services for international students has been key to ACU’s approach during the challenges of COVID-19. It’s not just academic programs that have rapidly made their way online – ACU’s international student advisors are checking in with students via email and phone, while other student services, including health and counselling, career development, health and counselling, and the Campus Ministry, are also available remotely. For students who are struggling financially as a result of COVID-19, there are a range of grant and loan schemes available.
And, as the virus has progressed, Australia has acted to manage the pandemic, with lockdown restrictions slowly being eased across the country. All in all, Yexin says, it’s a good place to be.
“So many of my friends, they feel nervous and they worry about a breakout for the virus in Australia, so went back home for the gap year,” she says.
“I’m happy I stayed in Australia.”