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Scattered Bruins: International students from China explore new art forms while in isolation

Third-year Spanish, community and culture student Xinyi Hu, who has returned to her home to China, faces challenges many international students share, including time zone differences and barriers to online learning. She said it also poses difficulties for maintaining relationships with friends. (Courtesy of Lydia Oh)

By Kennedy Hill

April 9, 2020 8:57 p.m.

COVID-19 has caused a global pandemic, discouraging people from engaging in mass gatherings or physical contact. Schools across the globe have shut their doors, fragmenting communities into singular pieces here, there and everywhere. Columnist Kennedy Hill tracks student artists across the globe, recounting the ways each person maintains artistic inspiration while adhering to the new normal.

COVID-19 has rendered both China and Westwood unrecognizable, straining students’ connection to community and art in the process.

Maggie Hu, a third-year sociology and art student, said the timeline between normal life in Westwood and quarantine felt instantaneous. Even though her parents in Hangzhou, China, had already been self-isolating for three weeks, Westwood was still very relaxed. But after UCLA enacted preventative measures, she said her friends rapidly dispersed and she returned to Hangzhou to be with family.

“It definitely hit very hard and quick,” Hu said. “One minute everyone was still getting together (to) go hang out, and the next minute everyone kind of just left within the week.”

[Related: Illustrations provide medium for graduating students to commemorate college]

Like Maggie Hu, third-year Spanish, community and culture student Xinyi Hu arrived in China just days before California instituted shelter-in-place order amid the rise of COVID-19 cases. Xinyi Hu said she worries about her friends’ safety since the United States is experiencing mass infection just as China is retreating from it. While there has been international speculation on the accuracy of China’s reported numbers, Xinyi Hu said her city seems to be improving. For instance, Hangzhou has reopened dine-in restaurants and shops, and dropped mask requirements, Maggie Hu said.

Yet even though Chinese life has gotten back on track, both Maggie Hu and Xinyi Hu still find themselves thousands of miles from their friends and Bruin community. Xinyi Hu said the 15-hour time difference between China and California makes it difficult to socialize with schoolmates since Zoom parties are scheduled in the middle of the night for her. However, she is able to arrange one-on-one chats with friends to check in on everyone stateside.

“I’m worried about my friends in the U.S. right now,” Xinyi Hu said. “I know they’re all going to be okay, but it’s getting worse over there.”

The time difference also poses a complication for online learning, as all UCLA classes are scheduled in PST. Maggie Hu said most of her classes allow her to watch recorded lectures, but one class requires her to wake up at 3 a.m. for discussion. Maggie Hu said she also finds it difficult to pin down due dates and assignment materials

[Related: Transition to online class poses unique challenges for TFT students, instructors]

But when her laptop is closed, Maggie Hu spends her time painting, sculpting or learning to knit. COVID-19 has given her the opportunity to explore other art forms, as she still spends most of her time indoors, despite China’s pandemic progress. Because of their collaborative and outdoor components, Maggie Hu has halted her practice of film and photography, but she said isolation has also given her more time to pick up new hobbies like cross-stitching.

“It has given me more time, (but) less inspiration,” Maggie Hu said. “I get most of my inspiration from interacting with people, but right now I feel like I’m trying to come up with something instead of (it) hitting me.”

While isolation has hindered Maggie Hu’s inspiration, second-year dance student Tanya Xu said isolation encouraged her to explore forms of digital dance and practice fundamentals. Despite the concern of her parents, who were quarantined in Shenzhen, China, Xu decided to stay in Westwood. Without the temptation to compare her body or abilities to those of other dancers, Xu said online learning made her pay more attention to her own technique.

Even though Maggie Hu may not share Xu’s enthusiasm for art in isolation, she said she continues the effort to participate in her artistic clubs. Maggie Hu, as an executive member of The Film and Photography Society, helped create photo prompts and video challenges for club members in quarantine. Xinyi Hu also remains connected in her extracurriculars, subscribing to club newsletters for updates on how she can actively participate while abroad, she said. While abroad, it takes effort to stay involved, but Xinyi Hu said the maintenance of community is worth the trouble.

“I’m still hearing back from a lot of clubs (and departments) on campus,” Xinyi Hu said. “It felt good like I’m still connected.”

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