Press release

Protests and pandemic fail to derail Wilson’s globetrotting dream

Published on 21 June 2022

Like many graduating students, Wilson Xu wants to use his degree as a platform to explore the world. When he does so, he hopes for better luck than he encountered when attempting to broaden his horizons as a University of Dundee student.

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Like many graduating students, Wilson Xu wants to use his degree as a platform to explore the world. When he does so, he hopes for better luck than he encountered when attempting to broaden his horizons as a University of Dundee student.

Wilson, who will graduate with a First-Class Honours degree in Economics and International Relations on Thursday 23 June, decided to combine his studies with his passion for travel by signing up for Dundee’s Go Abroad scheme.

The initiative enables students to spend part of their course studying at partner universities across the world, and Wilson accepted the opportunity to spend a year in Hong Kong. The protests that saw the island thrown into the international spotlight had already begun when he flew out in July 2019 but their escalation, and the subsequent government crackdown, meant Wilson had a very different experience to the one he had anticipated.

The University kept in close contact with Wilson and other Dundee students in Hong Kong throughout, but when the protests spread to the campuses of their host universities, a decision was made to formally recall them for their own safety.

The Go Abroad team managed to find the students alternative destinations for Semester 2 exchange. Wilson took up a place at a university in the Australian capital of Canberra just in time for the Covid-19 pandemic to throw the world into turmoil and for the resulting restrictions to again mean his experience fell some way short of his expectations.

Despite the challenges he was facing, the 21-year-old from Stirling stayed in Australia to the end of the semester and is more convinced than ever about the benefits of travel and cultural exchange.

“It was incredibly unlucky to be in those places at the wrong times, but these were still experiences that have taught me a lot, both academically and personally,” he said.

“My mum is from Hong Kong, and I still have a lot of family on the island, so I jumped at the chance to go there. I was in Hong Kong at the height of the protests. My parents took the situation a lot worse than I did. They kept asking me to come home, but I didn’t want to.

“The atmosphere was very tense, but it was also something you just adapted to experience life there. Then things escalated with the protests that took place on China’s National Day on 1 October. It was then that the demonstrations spread to my campus, and it was shut down. That’s when things became untenable. We were recalled and were home within two weeks.

“After that, I was offered a last-minute chance to go to Canberra and was once again delighted to do it. No one then could have imagined what would happen next. It was a real culture shock as the student life in Australia is very different to what it is here, but I was settling in and had been there two months when Covid hit.

“I could have come home to Scotland, but I felt safer in Australia as there were far fewer cases there. The travel bans were tough and meant we weren’t allowed to travel outside Canberra. During lockdown we were confined to our dorms. That only lasted 2/3 weeks but the travel ban remained, which meant I didn’t get to see much of Australia.”

Wilson will undertake a Masters degree in Global Security at the University of Glasgow after his Dundee graduation. His experiences led to him volunteering as a Go Abroad Ambassador to support other students with their exchange plans, and intends to continue to travel the world upon conclusion of his postgraduate studies.

He continued, “The Go Abroad team's dedication to student wellbeing enabled me to confidently explore Hong Kong and Canberra – not once during the exchanges had I felt isolated or wanted to leave. I resolutely support the idea that studying abroad can improve academic performance, and the University exchange programmes offer fantastic opportunities for students.”

The University’s Graduation ceremonies take place at Caird Hall from 22-24 June. Thousands of 2020 and 2021 graduates will also return to Dundee from 28 June-1 July for special ceremonies in lieu of their original graduations, which were unable to be held in person due to Covid-19 restrictions.

Enquiries

Grant Hill

Press Officer

+44 (0)1382 384768

G.Hill@dundee.ac.uk
Story category Graduation