Adjusting to the times: Hang Sheng's time in Australia to studying remotely because of COVID-19

Course: Bachelor of Information Technology
Institution: University of Technology Sydney
Location: Sydney, New South Wales

HangShengHave you wondered what it’s like to be a UTS international student unable to return to Sydney during the COVID-19 pandemic? Given the choice, would you opt for an on-campus experience at a local university or choose to continue your studies from the comfort of home?

Meet Leslie (Hang) Sheng. Leslie is in his last year of his Bachelor of Science in Information Technology degree at UTS. He had not long started his studies at UTS in Sydney when the pandemic forced border closures and he found himself stranded in China.

The introduction of the UTS Offshore Learning Centres (OLC) offered students like Leslie the opportunity to continue their studies in an on-campus environment alongside their UTS peers. Leslie was amongst the first students to snap up the chance and was placed at Nanjing University of Aeronautics and Astronautics (NUAA).   

We had a chat with him recently about why he chose to continue his UTS studies at NUAA OLC, how he adjusted to his new way of studying in China, and what he enjoyed about this unique experience. Read on to discover his story.

I was pleased to move to the Offshore Learning Centres where I could once again be in a studious atmosphere. I met many of my UTS peers and we studied and lived together in the same dormitory. It was good for us to be together because we motivated each other to study.

Why did you choose to study at UTS?

UTS is a prestigious university with a global reputation, especially in the IT field. That's why I chose UTS.

Why did you decide to join the UTS Offshore Learning Centres (OLC) at NUAA?

Some of my subjects require group work assignments, and I heard that the OLCs offered the chance to meet other UTS students in person. That is why I chose to join the OLC, to be able to meet and communicate with other UTS students and finish our group work together.


What has been your favourite experience at NUAA?

Although I studied at the OLC with my UTS peers, I also made friends with the local students studying at NUAA. One time I was playing badminton and became friendly with two students in the group. They asked me what classes I did and were confused when I told them (because most of the courses at NUAA are exclusively aeronautical). They were amazed when I told them that I wasn't a local student and was in fact a UTS student placed at the OLC. They were surprised and very happy to meet me. Now we play badminton together and like to compare our study experiences in China and Australia. We have a lot of fun with each other.


Hang Sheng is presenting to classmates at the UTS  NUAA campus.

What does your average day look like at NUAA?

I usually get up at 8am and will have online learning classes in either the morning or afternoon. When I'm not in classes I use the classroom facilities to study independently. I like to preview the content for the upcoming classes in preparation for the rest of the week.

After classes finish for the day, I'll have dinner and exercise. I enjoy running and playing badminton in the university gym to relax.

What do you like about the NUAA campus?

I like the different learning facilities that are offered to students. There are functional spaces including classrooms, meeting rooms for group work and quiet study rooms for independent study.

The library is a useful place to get resources to help with subjects. I found a test book on linear algebra which really helped me to get a better understanding of the subject. All the facilities that are available to the local NUAA students are also available to UTS students, which I think is very reasonable.

The food at NUAA is delicious! I thought I would lose weight, but I haven’t because they have a great variety of food that I couldn’t enjoy at home or in Sydney. The canteens are impressive. You take your food to the cashier and they have this really high-tech checkout machine. It calculates the price of your food automatically.

Do you feel connected to your UTS professors in Sydney?

Yes, my teachers offered a lot of assistance during this difficult period. We’re encouraged to email them any time we have questions. During the online lab class, they often pause to check if we have any questions and are happy to explain. In general, the UTS staff have provided us more support.

Do you feel safe and supported at NUAA?

Yes. The Chinese government took very effective measures to control the pandemic. I always felt very safe at the OLC because they closed the campus to prevent the spread of COVID-19. We can still leave the campus if we want to, but we need to get permission from tutors and the senior officers and we need to return by curfew.

Have you used any of the UTS support services while studying at NUAA?

I joined Conversations@UTS to make friends and improve my English speaking skills. They offer online sessions where we have casual conversations in a group setting. I also joined the HELPS Buddy program, which will help to improve my English on a one-to-one basis.

It was important to me to join these services so that I could continue to practise speaking in English. I didn't want to return to Australia and struggle with the language because I wasn't in an English-speaking environment. 

What are the staff like at NUAA?

All of them are very friendly. They treat us just like their own students. They told us that we should not think of ourselves as strangers, we are family.

The tutors also impressed me. The NUAA tutors helped me with any questions I had, whether they were course-specific or I needed assignment support. They were also available to chat with online, which was very convenient. I could ask them for help at any time. 

UTS set up WeChat groups for the Offshore Learning Centres students where important information and updates are shared. Do you think the groups were helpful?

I think it's been very helpful, especially for the commencing students, to have access to conversation groups and important information about health programs.

How did you adjust from on-campus to online study? 

I struggled to get used to studying online from home. Being on-campus in Sydney, I had the studious atmosphere, physical classes and if I had any questions, I could ask the tutor or my classmates around me. 

Being at home, without my classmates and a studious environment, I lacked self-discipline. This was especially difficult for me when we needed to work together on group assignments. 

Another challenge was remote teaching. Classes were run through Zoom and students had to mute themselves while the tutor was teaching. In some ways, this new learning style restricted students from expressing themselves during class as they were less likely to ask questions. It took some time, but I adjusted to the online learning experience and now I quite like it.

I was pleased to move to the Offshore Learning Centres where I could once again be in a studious atmosphere. I met many of my UTS peers and we studied and lived together in the same dormitory. It was good for us to be together because we motivated each other to study.

You mentioned group assignments. How are group assignments structured at the Offshore Learning Centres?

I had group assignments with UTS students at the OLC as well as with students based in Sydney. It could be challenging at times when our group couldn't meet to talk about the case studies as we were all in different time zones.

Overall, how are you enjoying your experience at an Offshore Learning Centres? How does it compare to Sydney?

I think the Offshore Learning Centres offers a very comprehensive learning environment. It allows us to experience the learning style at a Chinese domestic university.

One advantage is that it’s been nice to be around other Chinese international students. In Sydney, it can be more difficult to meet other Chinese students. On the other hand, a disadvantage of being off-campus is that I have fewer opportunities to meet Australian local students and other international students from around the world.

Given the choice, would you rather continue your studies at the UTS Offshore Learning Centres at NUAA or return to Sydney when the borders open once again?

I think even if the borders opened again and I could return to Sydney, I would choose to continue my studies at NUAA where I can finish my capstone subject alongside my peers. We can do it together.

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