Ahead of International Women's Day on 8 March 2021, we reached out to our exchange students to ask what it is like to be an exchange student here at Essex, especially during a global pandemic.

Sara Starace

Sara from Italy

Sara completed an exchange term at Essex Autumn 2020.

“Hi! I am Sara Starace, a Master student in Economics and Finance from Italy. The past term I had the opportunity to study a semester abroad at the University of Essex and it has been such an amazing adventure. A wonderful group of friends, many activities, interesting courses, impressive landscapes and so much more that I can’t even put into words. Most of all, what made this experience so unforgettable were the people and flatmates I spent my time with.

“Amazing and supportive women with different cultural backgrounds and inspiring stories. Our friendship was true, we lived moments of sincerity and fun, always there to help each other. This is what I call women's empowerment. Trustworthy and loyal people, kind and caring, open-minded friends to talk to about anything. We shared our difficulties and our happiness, no matter what. In this special day for all women, I wish you to live in a positive environment like mine, where you can always be yourself and everyone is equal regardless of the gender, sexual orientation, or race.”

Wanning Liu

Wanning from China

Wanning is currently completing an exchange year abroad here at Essex.

“Hi, I’m Wanning from China. The first day when I took an online class, one of my classmates was surprised at my name as she never heard such name, an Asian-sounding name before. It suddenly came to me that perhaps I should communicate with my foreign counterparts in a different way in order to be a member of their group. Therefore, in later social events, I chose several topics including what others thought of my country.  However, I only got one simple answer: very remote and ancient. This time I realized that it is not a lack of understanding of a person, but a nation. It is very common because we may never have travelled to each other’s country before.

“Despite different cultural backgrounds, I live a normal life like all of you. We Chinese people are not shy. If sometimes we keep silent for a while, that’s because we have a famous saying: “silence is gold”.

“My photo shows two ancient Chinese items: Hanfu and Guqin. Hanfu is the umbrella term for Chinese ancient clothes while Guqin is a traditional Chinese instrument with a history more than 3000 years.

“During the pandemic, I learned how to live a life alone and thus develop my resilience. To be honest, insomnia accompanied me for quite a few nights because of jet lag and academic pressure. The active responses from my classmates in zoom meeting impressed me deeply, so I started expressing my ideas on the chat or in breakout rooms, which stood as a milestone of my journey at Essex.

“Like you, I enjoy the freedom as an independent female and always fight for gender equality. Asian group perhaps is a little bit mysterious in your eyes, but I can guarantee that we all enjoy the same benefits and rights and should be united for the bright future for each woman. These golden qualities including persistence, independence, and firmness.  We should take what we learnt from this pandemic and chart a course for us to seek further freedom and equality. I strongly plea everyone from all nations and races to celebrate this unique day!”