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SFU French grad completes degree while on international exchange at outset of COVID-19 pandemic

October 23, 2020
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By Christine Lyons

SFU French student Victoria Chua was completing her final BA degree requirements in Strasbourg, France, when the COVID-19 pandemic began, spreading rapidly around the globe in March.

As the pandemic escalated and Strasbourg stores sold out of hand sanitizer and face masks, Chua was inundated with pandemic-related information and developments from family and friends, the media, and the governments of both France and Canada. Chua’s mother in Malaysia was in touch with her daily to see how the situation was unfolding, and her siblings in Vancouver checked in periodically, wondering if and when Chua would be able to board a plane back to Canada.

“It was a blur but I somehow just focused on getting through the day,” she says.

Resolving not to panic, Chua stayed calm and made informed decisions based on information from the World Health Organization and Centres for Disease Control in France and Canada. She continued attending classes and completing assignments, but when her classes moved online toward the end of March, Chua decided to fly home.

“It was tough call,” she says. “At that point, no one really knew how long this was all going to last. It might slow down in a few weeks, or a few months, or—as some were starting to speculate—a year or more. I wanted to make the most of my time in France, but borders were starting to close. I was starting to think about how I would care for myself or help my loved ones if I was stuck in France. I knew I had good medical coverage here in B.C., as well as family and that we could support each other if one of us got sick.”

Chua found it strange being back; there was an eerie lull when she first came home. She had already decided against returning to work at her retail position and unfortunately, many of the usual volunteer positions she had hoped to take up (after-school programs and summer camps, for example) were cancelled. After her 14-day period of self-isolation at home, Chua committed to finding opportunities to apply her French language skills. She landed a position working with pre-school aged children at a francophone community centre and also took on a position working with the non-profit Frontier College to improve literacy in B.C. communities.

She’s happy to be applying the skills she gained while completing her French degree and has her sights set on becoming a French Immersion elementary school teacher. However, Chua wasn’t always so confident in her ability to communicate in French. English is her first language, and she also studied Malay and French at an international school in Malaysia before coming to SFU in 2015. Initially, she says she was a bit intimidated by university-level French courses, even though they were electives, but she fell back in love with the language and persisted. One highlight during her first semesters at SFU was a 200-level drama course with French professor, professor Catherine Black.

“Black’s class really got me to push myself and build confidence,” Chua says. “I was so shy to speak in front of my peers but her style was firmly encouraging. You had no choice but to keep going. She got me out of my comfort zone which helped me improve so much.”   

This, she says, is one of the most valuable things she learned during her time at SFU, to “be bold and don’t be afraid to make mistakes.”

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