Christmas on campus: Some overseas students fear traveling home
Guy Henderson in London


Students who have traveled to the UK this year to experience life abroad at a top university have had to endure a very different time to what they would have expected – and they now may end up celebrating Christmas away from home.

There has been reduced face-to-face teaching with classes moved online, while opportunities to socialize have been limited with parties banned and the leisure sector severely restricted. 

Xiaoyun Zhang, a Chinese maths and economics undergraduate studying at the London School of Economics (LSE), is an example of the many who would now rather stay at the university than take the risk of traveling home due to COVID-19 restrictions.


Home for Xiaoyun is a 10-hour flight and some 4,000 miles away. Some of Xiaoyun's Chinese friends made that journey in the summer and never returned, so Xiaoyun is planning a low-key Christmas in her halls of residence in south London instead.

After all the disruption, she says she's relieved to have some holiday time to catch up in her third and final year. 

"I have January exams so I'd just prefer to stay here and prepare," she said. "Especially at the moment. I'd need to quarantine for quite a long time, so you probably don't really spend a lot of time with your family if you traveled back anyway."

Xiaoyun can still access some of the facilities on the LSE campus – and one advantage to staying is that there is less traffic for her to negotiate as she cycles to the LSE library. Depending on what coronavirus restrictions are in place, Xiaoyun is hoping to spend Christmas Day with an English friend nearby and so she won't be entirely on her own.


Chinese student Xiaoyun Zhang will be staying in London over Christmas. /CGTN

Chinese student Xiaoyun Zhang will be staying in London over Christmas. /CGTN


A couple of weeks before the end of the LSE term, Xiaoyun found a half-deserted campus. Most UK students were advised to head home early and continue their learning online. Many took tests before they left, to ensure they didn't pass coronavirus onto family members and to allow time for 14 days' self-isolation before Christmas itself if necessary.

However, Xiaoyun is by no means alone. More than half of LSE's student population is from abroad. Some of LSE's facilities remain open for those who remain, with the student union providing extra help through the holidays as well. It has set up a "Plan C," said the union's welfare officer Freda Chisambi, which includes virtual and some in-person events where that's possible. 

"We also have care packages," she said, and "we're trying to be that friendly ear because it is a tough time for students."

When Xiaoyun leaves the library, it is already turning dark. She and her friends have worries about how their long-term prospects will be affected by the disruption.

"I think it affects job hunting here as well," she says. "I think a lot of people think it's a harder year for internships and to find graduate jobs."


Video editor: Steve Ager

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