UNESCO estimates that over 1.5 billion students in 165 countries are out of school due to COVID-19. The pandemic has forced the global academic community to explore new ways of teaching and learning, including distance and online education. This has proven challenging for both students and educators, who have to deal with the emotional, physical and economic difficulties posed by the illness while doing their part to help curb the spread of the virus.  The future is uncertain for everyone, particularly for millions of students scheduled to graduate this year who will face a world crippled economically by the pandemic. 

In the COVID-19 and higher education series, United Nations Academic Impact (UNAI) talks to students, educators and researchers in different parts of the world to find out how COVID-19 has affected them and how they are coping with the changes. The series also highlights lessons learned and potential positive outcomes of the global lockdown for higher education.

In this interview we talk to Bowen Xu, a student of Chinese-English Language Translation at the Graduate Institute of Interpretation and Translation, Shanghai International Studies University.

Bowen is in his final year of graduate school, scheduled to graduate in summer 2020. He moved from China to New York for at internship at United Nations Headquarters in January; weeks after that, the COVID-19 outbreak disrupted the celebration of the 2020 Spring Festival in all parts of China. As Bowen approached the end of his internship, the situation in China had improved, but his return flight was cancelled and it became extremely difficult to book a flight, as New York rapidly became the epicenter of the pandemic.

Listen to our interview with Bowen, in which he shares his story of not being able return home, and the different ways in which COVID-19 has impacted his life. He also talks about the overwhelming sense of loss that all graduates are experiencing, unable to have a traditional celebration for their graduation or say goodbye to their friends and professors, and the feeling of uncertainty about their professional aspirations as they graduate into an economic recession. Despite all the difficulties, Bowen remains positive and has used the time to develop new skills and do things he normally didn’t have enough time to do.  

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