A True Test of Adaptability

The coronavirus emerged in China while M.S. in Global Commerce students were at Lingnan (University) College at Sun Yat-sen University in Guangzhou, China, and the cohort faced the true test of adaptability. Here is how the University of Virginia, Lingnan (University) College, and Esade collaborated to adapt to the situation as the coronavirus continued to spread.

Chinese New Year (CNY) is the most important celebration in China. Every year is represented by one of the 12 horoscope animals; this year is the Year of the Rat. The whole country takes the opportunity, during these 10 official days of holiday, to return to their families and enjoy time with them. The M.S. in Global Commerce cohort was really looking forward to the celebrations, learning more about CNY traditions, and making the most out of the days off to discover the country.

As CNY was approaching, we were all planning our excursions around China, expecting to explore the country as much as possible.  While some wanted to go “up north” to see the Great Wall, the Forbidden City, or Shanghai, others were planning an adventure in the south or the middle, and a group of us even planned a trip to Tibet! News about the novel coronavirus at the time was still low key.

streets of Guangzhou decorated for Chinese New Year

The streets of Guangzhou, China, decorated for Chinese New Year.

A few days before we went on vacation, a Chinese student invited a few of us from the cohort into her home in Guangzhou, not far from where we were taking classes at Lingnan (University) College. There we got the chance to discover a bit about CNY traditions, prepare our own dumplings, and decorate the house with her and her family. It was an amazing experience, and I am really thankful we got the chance to share this experience together.

The holiday officially started Jan. 22, after we had two days of classes learning basic Chinese dialect and calligraphy. After these classes, almost everyone had left to go on their respective trips. Some people waited a few more days before leaving (myself included); I was supposed to arrive in Beijing Jan. 24.

students smiling together

Michele and some of her peers visiting a classmate’s family in Guangzhou, China.

At about this time, plans started to shift. Guangzhou started to close down because of CNY; all the shops around us were closing their doors because shop owners and employees would go back to their hometowns and villages to celebrate with their families. Around us, only food chains like KFC, McDonald’s, or FamilyMart were still open. Shops, stores, and restaurants in the center of the city were still receiving clients, and a lot of activities took place celebrating the holidays; an example was a really nice flower market I had the chance to go to. Then we started to feel that the country was taking increased precautions: Lingnan and advertisements on the streets were promoting better hygiene as the virus was starting to spread.

We had to go through several shops to buy masks during this period of crisis. At the entrance of every metro station, security would take our temperature to make sure we didn’t have a fever before letting us through the gates. Lingnan also suggested we do daily checkups: Every morning, we would all send a short message in our WeChat group, saying where we were and how we felt to track that everyone in the cohort was healthy all the time. As the virus continued to spread, we started receiving news that touristic sites and activities were closing.

As days passed and everything was closing down, we received word on Sunday, Jan. 26, from Lignan saying that every non-resident in China should come back to Guangzhou, with a short note saying they were considering online classes for the remainder of our studies at Lingnan.

On Monday, Jan. 27, while almost everyone was back, we got more details about the situation. UVA, Lingnan, and Esade worked closely together and determined that online distance learning would be implemented for the remainder of our Lingnan coursework. For our own safety, we were all advised to leave China as soon as possible if we were not Chinese citizens. We also had the option to go early to Barcelona and contact Esade for early housing arrangements there.

That same evening, I had my ticket to leave the country. While it was incredibly stressful for the whole cohort, it also brought us closer, as we were all stressed and worried for everyone in the group and the families of our friends who live in China. This experience also gave us the chance to practice and prove one of the main skills we learn in this Program: adaptability.

China has now had to do the same and be adaptable, as the #1 priority is to stop the virus from spreading. Moving across provinces is a lot harder than it was before, and employees are also advised to work from home to protect themselves, but also continue business at the same time, which can be incredibly challenging.

In true global fashion, our cohort is currently dispersed around the world in places like Germany, Lebanon, and Australia. While our cohort is sad that our time in China was cut short, we see this experience as an opportunity to master new skills, especially in a global context, like working with our teams all over the world.

UVA, Lingnan, and Esade have provided constant support in this really stressful period and are still working closely with the cohort. We are grateful for the time we had there and the opportunity to explore China more in-depth. We will be sharing more posts about our time there, so stay tuned!

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