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Everything you need to look after international students on campus

02 /Supporting international students in your accommodation

We all know by now the huge effect COVID-19 is having on the world, turning all of our lives upside down and separating us from the family and friends we are so used to seeing on a day to day basis.

But for international students who find themselves still in university accommodation (whether by choice or circumstance), COVID-19 is proving to be a much more disruptive and emotionally draining experience. While the outbreak is a hugely stressful experience for those of us that live in the UK, international students are thousands of miles from home, stuck in a foreign country with a global pandemic taking place. It's likely to be an extremely worrying experience for even the most confident of students.

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If you've got international students living in your accommodation during the coronavirus outbreak, here's how you can help them:

  • International students need to feel that their institution is in control of the experience they are providing

One consistent trend we’ve found from our focus groups with international students was that when things don't go to plan, it's a big deal. While UK students may brush off an error made by the university in timetabling or creating ID cards for example, for international students, it creates a huge dent in the confidence they have in their institution.

International students need to feel that their institution is in control of the experience they are providing. It helps them feel safer and more relaxed while they are here in the UK.

Demonstrate stability, structure and accessibility to international students. Let them know exactly who they can contact if they need anything, what they look like, how they can reach them, where they will be and at what time.

While Facebook may be the best place to do this for most students, remember a lot of Chinese students still prefer to use WeChat - contact us if you want a quick chat on setting up a temporary WeChat group for your accommodation.

  • Be aware of the time differences between countries and what this means for calling home

  • International students who are from the other side of the world often have a limited time slot to contact their friends and family back home due to the time difference. So be aware that some students may be awake in the middle of the night so they can call home.

    It's a good idea to make night staff (whether that's security or reception staff) aware of this fact and for them to be aware that some students may be feeling particularly anxious, upset or just generally low after contacting their parents during these nighttime hours.

    If there's night time staff on duty, promote who they are and how they can be contacted to international students. Just knowing that there's a friendly face around who's available for a chat in the middle of the night can be a huge reassurance.

  • Keep parents regularly informed

  • If anyone's going to be worried about the COVID-19 situation, it's going to be students' Mums and Dads back home. Many countries around the world are being affected by the outbreak and many are taking more draconian measures to contain the virus than the UK. So the focus on whether their children are being looked after and kept safe is going to be particularly acute.

    Create regular updates that are specifically aimed at parents showing what you're doing to keep students safe. This could be hosted on a section of the Accommodation website or if you have their contacts, sent out as an email.

    If you have a Twitter account, consider tweeting something and pinning it to the top of your account like Glasgow are currently doing. This makes it easy to find (apart from in China where Twitter is blocked; then I'd recommend using your website).

  • Their internet connection is their connection to home

The internet is important for everyone to stay in touch, now more than ever before. But if the internet connection goes down for international students, it cuts them off from being able to contact their parents, a hugely stressful and isolating experience particularly if it's a lengthy outage.

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Make a constant internet connection your number #1 priority. If it goes down, let international students know straight away and keep them updated with the progress of getting it back online.

  • Make sure international students are aware of the medical system in the UK

The last thing a student is going to want to experience is getting ill in a foreign country, but the chances of that happening now have increased substantially. International students will not be used to the medical system in the UK and maybe unsure of what to do or where to go.

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Let students know when to call 111 and 999 (if this is the protocol in your accommodation), where their nearest GP surgery is and what to do if they think they may be ill.

Make sure international students, in particular, are aware of the symptoms of the coronavirus and when they should take steps to self isolate (as this may be different from advice in their home country).

  • Make it a team experience

International students are going to have fewer social connections now than during term time. Friends they'll have made are likely to have either gone back home in the UK or abroad, meaning a socially isolating experience is going to be even more isolating.

But it doesn't have to be like that, even if students are in self-quarantine. Do what you can to make everyone in your accommodation part of a shared experience. Set up a hashtag for your accommodation: #Team[name of accommodation block] Share it on social and get the community of your students feeling like they belong together.

International students will be feeling particularly anxious, isolated and scared during this strange time. But by understanding what they need during this time and the importance of clear communication to them and their parents, you have the opportunity to help them feel safe, secure and at home. If you need help with anything that's suggested here or engaging with your students during this difficult time, just get in touch to find out how we can help.