A face-to-face learning program is helping Sydney's international students cope with the challenges of remote study.
After more than a year studying online, hundreds of Chinese international students will get a taste of campus life during a nine-week face-to-face learning program starting in August at the University of Sydney Centre in China.
The Peer Study Program, which first ran in Semester 1 this year, gives students the opportunity to learn and socialise with their peers at the Centre in Suzhou, tackling the sense of isolation many feel while studying at home during the pandemic.
“The thing our students in China are really missing is the ability to make friends as university students and form those critical social connections we make at university,” said Michael Milne, executive director of the Centre in China. “We wanted to give them the chance to build networks and have some sort of social life.”
During the last program, 552 students from all University faculties arrived at the Centre from across China, with participants coming from regions as distant as Inner Mongolia in the north to Xinjiang in the west.
Participating students have access to the Centre’s study and collaboration spaces, and take part in a program of events that includes social activities, professional development opportunities and seminars delivered both in person and remotely by lecturers in Sydney.
New friendships are being formed. The students are so keen to share their experiences.
To ensure student safety, participant numbers are capped at 50-70 students each week, with strict social distancing requirements in place.
The Semester 2 program began on 16 August, but the first two weeks of activity moved online after an outbreak of the Delta variant in China. Milne said the safety of students was the Centre’s first priority.
“We’ll continue to monitor the situation very carefully and adapt as necessary,” he said. “We have a COVID-management plan in place in line with local government regulations and will continue to follow the health advice of local authorities.”
From August 30, students will be able to attend more live events, from learning about Australian culture to boosting their job-hunting and employability skills. There will be lectures about Sydney and sessions designed to improve English-speaking and presentation skills.
“For many of the students, English-language exposure is a key element of what they’ve been missing while studying remotely from China,” said Milne.
There will also be sessions about university life, including tips for remote study and lessons on navigating the library. Some sessions will be tailored to particular faculties, with lecturers and professional staff based in Sydney delivering lectures remotely.
The Centre has an established internship program, partnering with companies including Bosch, Siemens, Tencent and TikTok to offer placements for students. During the Peer Study Program, postgraduate students and final-year undergraduates will have the opportunity to prepare for their internship applications with sessions covering interview skills, as well as writing resumes and cover letters.
The Peer Study Program was a hit with students in Semester 1. Due to strong demand for Semester 2, the Centre is offering virtual tickets for some events, so those who cannot participate in person can take part in the events online.
For many who began their studies during the pandemic, the program is an opportunity to meet their fellow students for the first time.
“It has been inspiring to see their enthusiasm for studying and connecting with each other,” says Milne. “New friendships are being formed. The students are so keen to share their experiences.”
For second year Bachelor of Economics student, Yuan Ren, last Semester’s program was a valuable opportunity to connect with the University and her classmates.
“I haven’t been to the University of Sydney, but I still enjoy the resources the University brings to us,” she said. “We need to look at our peers … to learn from them and share our opinions with them.”