It is hard to gauge where the story of Wenyue Ruan fits among the pantheon of Covid stories. We tend to allow ourselves to get lost so much in the large scale tragedies, the life and death of it all and the heartbreaking stuff we hear about sons not being able to say goodbye to their fathers or beloved members of communities having to have limited funerals due to yet another lockdown.
Our tragedy radar has been set so inevitably high in the last 12 months that it is easy to miss the small things or minimize the complaints of those who have to scale down a wedding, postpone an orientation, or whose parents can’t fly in to see their child graduate and start a new life in a new country.
Wenyue graduated last year and immediately found a full-time job here at Nexus where she had also done her internship. She was more fortunate than some others because she had a December Graduation and it wasn’t cancelled outright. And although her story is one that is personal to her it is also becoming far less rare. Western countries I was interested in and what life looked like here. And I came to further my studies here.
NEXUS Why did you decide to move to New Zealand?
I still remember 6 years ago when my parents were convinced that I could go study abroad, I sat at the table with them with a world map and they asked me where do you want to go – which country do you want to visit? I looked at the map and instinctively said New Zealand. I had always heard praises about New Zealand’s beauty from sources such as Lonely Planet, certain social media websites and movies. Since I absolutely enjoy traveling, I chose this beautiful country as my study abroad destination, and kept the horizons open to see where life would take me from here.
NEXUS What was it like adjusting to life here?
Well, people always talked about culture shock., and I got to experience it first hand. One of the earlier instances that I recall is from my first year of Bachelor’s degree, my tutor asked us to prepare 3-4 sketches. At the time I was not as familiar with English let alone Kiwi accent. I misunderstood, ‘Oh we need to submit 34 sketches, that’s a lot!’ I asked that and they laughed because they all knew that it’s actually 3-4 sketches. Now I’ve gotten used to the accent.
Working in New Zealand is way different than working in my home country. The boss is the boss, the manager is the manager, it seems very levelled. The boss would barely talk to the staff. Here, in most workplaces, we have a flat-structure and that reflects in the work culture. Colleagues are a lot friendlier and it’s more like a community if not an extended family. I’m quite fond of this sort of culture.
NEXUS What are some of the biggest things you miss from home?
Without a doubt, I miss my parents and friends the most. Since the time I moved to New Zealand, that is nearly 5 years now, I’ve only visited China for less than two months, so nothing more than my home and family.
NEXUS How did you spend the lockdown?
I kept myself busy, I understand that if people stay in their rooms for a prolonged period, they feel anxious and depressed, so I ensured I was occupied. Last year I was in my final year so I was quite busy with studies. At the same time, I was working 3-4 different jobs. An internship, a part-time job… I was a teaching assistant for uni for two different papers, so that took most of my time during lockdown.
The situation in China wasn’t the best, so I felt anxious thinking about my family and friends and also my life. I didn’t know what the future looked like.
NEXUS Your parents had planned to fly out to your graduation ceremony from China but couldn’t because of the closed borders. How did you feel when you had to tell them that?
It was quite painful. I felt very sad knowing how much it meant to my parents. Since I came to New Zealand my father would say ‘I will definitely come to your graduation ceremony, that is the biggest thing in my life.’ But also it wasn’t too bad because they came and visited me in my second year. They already knew what my life in New Zealand was like. They knew what the country looks like and the University so they have a sense of life and culture here.
Facebook is banned in China, so my parents could not even be present virtually. But I asked my friend to record, so they got to see the entire graduation ceremony, and I also shared lots of pictures.
Having said that, I have a family at work. My Manager and two other colleagues joined, and when I saw them in the crowd it felt like my family was present.It was so exciting and emotional because they cheered my name when I walked on the stage, and it felt like my parents called my name.
NEXUS Did you consider moving back home during the pandemic?
Yes, I actually did a few times. I’m the only child of my parents. They worry about my life and I worry about theirs. I considered deferring my studies and moving back to China, to make them feel secure and comfortable. We would talk at least twice a day if not more as I felt very anxious at the beginning of the pandemic.
NEXUS With your family in China near the epicentre of the virus are you worried about their safety?
Definitely, I was worried about their safety a lot. I would feel very helpless, and even developed sleep issues because I was so stressed on a daily.
NEXUS What is your home life like now? Do you find yourself socially isolated or do you have a lot of friends that you spend time with?
My landlady and people here take care of me. It was during the spring festival in China at the beginning of 2020 that most of my friends went back to celebrate with their families. But as soon as Covid hit, New Zealand closed its borders, so they could not return. I feel lonely sometimes because my friends are stuck there with no signs of return. Now I have expanded my network here by joining lots of different uni clubs, like the tramping club and the snowsports club because I like hiking and skiing. I am trying to be more social and make my life busier. It’s a win-win because I can get to know more about the student culture here which inturn helps my work because my audience is university students.
NEXUS How has Covid 19 changed people’s perception of you as an Asian woman in New Zealand, are you experiencing more racism because of the virus?
For me, the people I know here haven’t been racist towards me. My classmates were concerned for my family and my friends back home. Even my colleagues showed a lot of concern. I’ve been blessed to be surrounded by very caring people.
NEXUS Are your parents still planning to come and visit?
Yes, definitely as they hold a five-year visa. They can travel here multiple times when the borders finally open. They enjoy the life and landscapes here. I took them around New Zealand when they visited last time and my father had a great time down South as he loves the outdoors, and my mother couldn’t be happier to be able to spend time with me.