Navigating COVID-19 has been challenging for us all, and being an international student has come with its own set of challenges. While many Canadian students are far from home during this pandemic, they don’t have to deal with the uncertainty of an international border crossing when deciding whether to return home. I fretted for months about venturing back to the United States to see my loved ones, not only over safety concerns, but also whether I’d eventually be allowed back into Canada.

Additionally, domestic students tend to have more of a support network by virtue of being in their home country. Thankfully, UNBC’s International Student Office has proven responsive and helpful in assisting me with a multitude of matters since the pandemic started. My studies have certainly been impacted by COVID, but fortunately I have been able to stay largely on track. As a graduate student, I only had two classes in spring 2020 that needed to be completed remotely when things shut down in mid-March. With my coursework now complete, my work these days revolves around my thesis research with the Tsay Keh Dene First Nation on conservation planning in their territory.

I can occasionally meet in person with employees of Chu Cho Environmental, the Nation’s consulting firm, which has undoubtedly enhanced my work. However, I had hoped to visit the Tsay Keh community over the summer but have yet to do so out of caution. On a more personal level, I was fortunate to form friendships pre-COVID that have helped see me through a dismal 2020. Rachelle, my first friend in Prince George, was my lone social contact through those first couple months of uncertainty. We would meet up for late afternoon walks around the neighbourhood, tea in hand, to cap off our solitary days with some fresh air and exercise.

As restrictions eased a bit and tourism within the province was encouraged, I explored various corners of northern BC with members of my “safe six”: the Berg Lake Trail at Mount Robson with Ella; Stuart Lake, Mount Pope, and the Fort St. James National Historic Site with Cale; and the Great Northern Circle Route with Megan and Rachelle. While I sometimes feel that COVID-19 has cheated me out of the full grad school experience, I’m able to take pride in trying to make the most out of a terrible situation.

Everything has been so unreal ever since the COVID-19 pandemic started. As someone whose home city is Wuhan, China, I went through an emotional rollercoaster in early February 2020: constantly checking the number of cases, learning from social media how situations were developing, and worrying about families and friends back home.

I continued to attend in-person lectures until UBC announced the transition to online lectures in mid-March. Most students, including myself, were relieved by this change in course delivery because it no longer seemed safe to physically attend a 200-person lecture. My workload did not necessarily become lighter because instructors strived to deliver as much quality content as possible which I was grateful for, despite some technological issues.

Grocery shopping back in April was kind of crazy. Since we were not sure how strict COVID restrictions might become, every time I went shopping, I would hoard up as much stuff as possible. Though I was thankful to be able to purchase the things that I needed, it was a scary time wandering in between half-empty aisles feeling uncertain about where things might lead me. I stopped going to restaurants and switched to preparing meals by myself, and had lots of fun with discovering new recipes and a healthier diet. No longer able to access music rooms, I bought myself a digital piano. I also visited local trails and quiet beaches where there were no other people and I could connect with nature. Summer 2020 was not a summer for travelling, but having a few outdoor places to myself where I could temporarily escape my apartment was a privilege.

I started my third year completely online in September 2020 and, despite having mixed feelings at the start, I soon adapted to the online format and found myself learning at a comfortable pace. While it has been more than a year and a half since I last saw my family, 2020 was a year for me to mature mentally.