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February 17, 2020

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Ukrainian student dispels virus misconceptions

Sofiia Semyholovska, a 20-year-old Ukrainian student at Shanghai International Studies University, posts about the coronavirus and her life in Shanghai on social media to calm her family and friends back home.

She came up with the idea when friends sent her weird messages like “Can I order something from AliExpress? I won’t be infected?” or “When I see Chinese people on the street I’m trying to avoid them, who knows, maybe they are infected.” Her first virus-related post addressed such questions. Her friends thanked her and some forwarded her posts.

“I have many friends who started to see misleading news stories, sharing them with others and asking me a lot of questions, many of them quite ignorant. So I decided to write something to calm them down. I’m delighted they read them,” Semyholovska said.

Her parents initially worried about her, but after telling them the situation in Shanghai is not apocalyptic like it’s portrayed by some media outlets, they were happy for her to stay.

“I told them the whole situation and there’s a lot of erroneous news, and they should trust me,” she said. “I believe if you wear a mask, wash your hands and try to avoid public places, everything will be fine. So they trust me.”

Her university has taken measures to protect students, including 60 foreigners who live in dorms. Campus is closed to outsiders as are most public spaces. Both faculty and students are required to wear masks. A WeChat account delivers official information in both Chinese and English., such as infection numbers in the city and school arrangements.

Xu Bojun is the manager of the SISU Hotel, one of the international-student dorms where 24 foreign students live. He and his colleagues check on students’ health every day.

They post bilingual notices about virus prevention and supply elevators with tissues to use when pressing buttons. Students must have their temperatures checked whenever they enter the dorm.

“We suggest they not leave for more than two hours each time,” said Xu.

“The university supplies us with masks and cleans the dorm very properly,” said Semyholovska.

This year is the first time she stayed in Shanghai for the Spring Festival holiday. She planned to visit Thailand and Beijing but canceled when the virus broke out. In her room, she draws, studies and calls her family.

“They are much happier to hear my voice than usual,” she said.

Beth Lim Rillera, a doctoral student from the Philippines who shares a room with Semyholovska, has also kept in close contact with her family.

“At first they were quite worried about me, because there was misleading news back in the Philippines and they called me every day, which is unusual because my mom doesn’t normally call me often,” said Rillera.

“But right now, she calls like twice a day. It’s driving me crazy. It’s pretty safe here in Shanghai since the government has done a lot of things and my school also helps us.”

She said the virus hasn’t changed her life much.

“It’s quite good for me because I’m kind of an indoors person. I like watching movies, reading novels and writing papers,” she said.

Kpedeti Bedel Gilles Faccio Kpogbozan, a student from Benin in West Africa, makes the best of the situation as well.

“For me, it’s just seeing less of my friends, but I can read and have more time to sleep,” he said. “Everything will be fine. It’s just a matter of time.”


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