No Man is an Island: International PhD Students' Engagement during the Pandemic
The unforeseen global pandemic transformed the way people live and work since the beginning of 2020, and is likely to continue for the coming academic year. In Higher Education (HE) settings, it radically shifted how students learn, interact and engage with their universities. Although UK universities reacted effectively by converting teaching and learning online, the online educational experiences posed somewhat overwhelming challenges and even threats to student engagement. Yet, little is known about how students tackle these challenges, maintain and even increase their engagement. Such an understanding is particularly crucial for the large number of international students who stayed in the UK during the lockdown. Their already complex international journeys seem to have become even more physically and psychologically challenging following the forced transition to ‘Work From Home’ while being thousands of miles away from their home countries during this crisis.
Based on our personal experience of completing PhD study in the UK during the pandemic, this co-written piece of student voice intends to share our first-hand experiences through the lens of student engagement. By reflecting on the changes that we experienced, our engagement and developmental pathways and how we ‘safeguard' our wellbeing, this paper firstly demonstrates the multifaceted challenges we confronted which strongly impacted our study and life at this extraordinary time. Through capturing several dimensions of engagement, i.e. interaction, community building, partnership and peer learning, we then present how we strive to proactively engage with our academic and social activities and cope with psychological stress despite the pragmatic challenges posed by the lockdown. Finally, we reflect on what different stakeholders, i.e., international students, supervisors and universities could learn from such a reflection and might consider facilitating student engagement and development in similar challenging circumstances.
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