Social Distancing: An Interview

Two international students with two geographical locations share how social distancing affects them.

Social Distancing: An Interview

As the coronavirus has decided to pay us an extra long visit, we have been forced to distance ourselves socially for a long period of time. We already know that online studying is not everybody’s favorite mode of learning, so  I wanted to dig deeper into the social distancing aspect of it. During the online studying period, a lot of students went back home but unfortunately were not able to return back to Russia, even when the university was opening up its doors again. Even some foreign staff and newly enrolled students were forced to stay in their own countries, missing out on the Russian experience.

However, some students did not have the chance to visit their homes at all this year. Therefore, I want to bring in the perspectives of two international students, one still Russia, the other back in her home country to see how their respective lives were affected by this crisis. This interview is done with two HSE students, Shao Juan (Juliana) and Anastasia St. Dennis.

Juliana is a full time international student from China, currently staying in St. Petersburg and studying Political Science and World Politics, year 3. 

Anastasia is also a full-time international student currently staying in Moldova and studying Analytics and Governance, year 2. 

Hey! Today we are going to discuss things related to the current virus crisis and social distancing. My first question to you both is how did the covid crisis affect the mode of your life?

Juliana (in St. Petersburg): In addition to the restrictions on travel, the most obvious impact of the pandemic on my life is its impact on my spiritual and mental life. I remember that before the pandemic had started in Russia, when I entered a classroom there were no students restricted to stay 2 meters away from me. When I look back now, I realize how much life has changed in general and that we might never be at total ease around each other anymore. This crisis has restricted the travel range on life and has also put many students into social isolation, especially foreign students. 

Anastasia (in Moldova): Going online, having to quarantine has been very tuff because you don’t get to see people, you don’t get to go out. It certainly took a mental toll on me, especially in the beginning when I was still i St. Petersburg.  I started feeling depressed and wanted to go home. I also gained a lot of weight which only fueled my depressive mood. Taking studies online really stressed me out and I ended up having hormonal problems because of the sudden high levels of stress I got. In the present day, I am feeling much better because I got used to it so much that I enjoy sitting at home now. 

I am sorry that both of you had a tuff experience, but I am glad that you are feeling better now. Tell me, how are you able to to balance your personal life with the new academic life?

Juliana: Mostly through hobbies. I personally like photography and travel very much. I obviously can not travel now, but that means that I get to practice my other hobbies more. In addition to studying and living, I invested a lot of my extra money and time into photography durting this pandemic since I saved  time on not having to be physically present at the university each day.. I think it has greatly enriched my personal life. 

Anastasia: Well you know, I am in a long distance relationship so I try to get my university work done as soon as possible. For example i try to finish my deadlines 3 days minimum prior to the due date. Then I thave time doing personal things and hanging out with my friends or talking to my fiancée. And when I have no energy to to those things, I just relax and take care of myself since i believe that self care is essential to keep a positive image of yourself alive during these hard times. I have been a very busy person my whole life, so it is quite easy for me to balance everything since I am used to scheduling my time. 

Okay, you actually both convinced me that this pandemic could actually be a blessing when it comes to investing time in ourselves and having the time to so. Now, I want to know, how do you have such a positive outlook and maintain your mental health?

Juliana: To be quite frank, ever since the beginning of the pandemic, I have been receiving psychological counselling provided by the university. The counseling lasted intermittently for about year. I am very grateful that the university provides such service for its students as it has indeed helped me a lot. At other times, I enlightened myself by reading a lot of psychology books. This pandemic provided an opportunity for me to have the time to start to understand myself and think about many things in life in a new way. In China, there is a proverb that goes like “Let you die and you live”. It means that whrn a person encounters the worst situation, this person will find new opportunities from this predicament and get better self development. 

Anastasia: I try to destress as much as I possibly can which has been harder to do since pandemic started. But what can help me do so is staying organised with my studies and work. I balance out leisure with workload and I take a break as soon as I feel that I just can not continue. To be honest, I have missed deadlines before because of how overwhelmed I felt, and I just tried to explain the situation to my teacher and hope for understanding. When I am in some of my depressive modes, i usually talk to my besfriend and call the people that I miss. Something that works for me is actually taking a warm bath to relax. Recently, I tried to adapt to yoga, although it has not been working great for me, it might benefit somebody else. 

Thank you for the really useful tips! As you know, I am currently staying in Sweden and I know that not being present on campus has personally changed my experience as a student. You two are in different locations so I want to ask you: How did your geographical location change your experience during the online studying learning mode?

Juliana: Because of the ongoing pandemic, I have not had the chance to travel home and see my family in about a year. This experience is not all negative. Obviously, this is a very lonely experience, but at the dsame time it gave me an opportunity to learn to be independent and face the difficulties in life. I still remember that moment in 2020 when I was under a lot of academic pressure. I wanted to buy a plane ticket and fly home immediately, but then I relaized ut was impossible. So, I had to face the reality that I am on my won now and have no chance to rely on anyone. This was a very big leap for my personal growth process. Facing the thought to spend New Year’s eve alone was a very stressful thing for me. But I am thankful that I got the chance to spend it with a few classmates from the university. I felt like I finally belonged somewhere and i relized that us international students need to feel a sense of belonging to be truly happy somewhere outside our own culture. Belonging and making friends is the thing that makes us feel more than tourists and passerby’s. So my advice is, even if you feel that you do not want to step outside of your comfort zone, do it. You cannot reduce the geographical distance between you and your real family and friends overseas, so try to make new ones where you currently are. 

Anastasia: My geographical location has actually been much easier on me because I went home as soon as I could, when the pandemic started. Now that I am in Moldova, I live with my parents and it has been easier to concentrate on my studies because my meals are cooked, my laundy is done and I have the full support in general. It has been bumpy at first because my classes were not all online in the beginning of the year but ever since everything transitioned to being online, it has been quite nice. 

Interesting that you have two different perspectives depending on where you are. My final question to each of you is: What tips do you have to students going through similar a situation, whether they can not visit their home or can not travel to Russia?

Juliana: The online learning method has brought me a pleasant experience. First of all, the university has a very clear system, and students can easily find the materials needed for learning. My tip is not to freak out if you feel that you are “stuck” in Russia. It’s a temporary situation and it will hopefully be over soon. It’s important to focus on the studies and don’t hesitate to ask for her when you need to. Both the teachers and your classmates will probably help you.. Also, while you have the opportunity, discover as much of the city as possible. 

Anastasia: Due to not being on campus, I don’t have the opportunity to visit the library. I know we have an electronic one but I actually prefer being present much more. Some tips I can someone in a similar situation is to stay calm and destress. I also recommend contacting your professors if you have any worries or questions. I am sure they will help. 

Thank you both for your answers and I hope to see you on campus very soon!

Text by
Yasmina Kouweik