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Students Under Coronavirus

International students in Paris await end of confinement whenever that may be

Cité Internationale Universitaire de Paris

Laurence Marion, the Cité Universitaire's recently-appointed director says that clear communication and continuing psychological support have been crucial in containing the virus within campus.
Cité Internationale Universitaire de Paris Laurence Marion, the Cité Universitaire's recently-appointed director says that clear communication and continuing psychological support have been crucial in containing the virus within campus. © Cité Universitaire
Text by: Arnab Béranger
5 min

Far from home, thousands of international students in France have been under confinement inside a plush green university campus in Paris.

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In Southern Paris, the Cité Internationale Universitaire de Paris (CIUP) is a sprawling student campus housing nearly 7000 students and scholars from more than 140 countries. However, since March 17th, thousands of residents are stuck on campus, making the Cité Universitaire one of Paris' largest private residences under confinement.

Clear communication and psychological support

Laurence Marion, the Cité Universitaire's recently appointed director, told RFI that the institution had anticipated a lockdown well in advance.

"We have a large Chinese community at the Cité U. Right from January, they alerted us about the situation in Wuhan, so we were expecting restrictive measures to be put into place", Marion said.

Her main worry was that the Cité Universitaire becomes a virus cluster in Paris.

But thankfully, that did not happen.

"It's important that people understand why they are being confined." she said. "The rules cannot be arbitrary - they should be clear and easy to apply".

Continuing psychological support was another key element.

"The majority of the students are international and many do not have a firm grasp of French. There may be growing anxiety from being far from one's family".

The Cité Universitaire has a social worker and a psychologist to cater to the residents' needs.

Three weeks into April, the Cité Universitaire counted around 40 students with flu-like symptoms out of nearly 7000 residents. Isolated in individual studios, they are being constantly monitored, with food trays or grocery baskets being dropped off at their doors.

"We are in a privileged position, with a very comprehensive population of university students", Marion told RFI.

The Cité Universitaire's main lawn remains closed during lockdown, though the rest of the campus is open for students to exercise. The entire campus has been closed to the public.
The Cité Universitaire's main lawn remains closed during lockdown, though the rest of the campus is open for students to exercise. The entire campus has been closed to the public. © RFI/Arnab Béranger

Summer activities cancelled

All the Cité Universitaire's cultural and sporting activities have been cancelled. Inside each of the 40-odd houses, community life has taken its toll, with restrictions being imposed on using common kitchens and bathrooms.

With only 44 rooms, the Swedish House is the smallest student residence at the Cité Universitaire.

RFI met house director Pierre Tolcini, along with residents Cecilia Crotto from Argentina and Jeanne Roland from France.

Students Cecilia Crotto (R) and Jeanne Roland (L) inside a shared kitchen at the Cité Universitaire's Swedish residence
Students Cecilia Crotto (R) and Jeanne Roland (L) inside a shared kitchen at the Cité Universitaire's Swedish residence © Maison des étudiants suédois

"We haven't had any cases so far," a relieved Tolcini told RFI. "But we have two fully-equipped studios in case that happens."

He explained the specific measures put into place at the residence.

"Cleaning staff do not do individual rooms anymore, just the common areas. Visitors from other residences are not allowed, and no more than two to three people can use the kitchens at the same time."

Cecilia and Jeanne, respectively students of Translation and Agricultural Engineering, were both assigned to the residence at the beginning of the academic year.

Until the lockdown, their life had been a Swedish-themed international student fraternity, with regular festivities over kanelbullar and glögg.

What the pandemic changed

"All our summer plans were cancelled." Jeanne sighs. " We were looking forward to end-of-the-year parties on our floor and the Cité Universitaire summer festival. We had become a family, and we weren't expecting it to end this way."

"That said, we're lucky to be in a place like this," Cecilia from Argentina says. "We'll probably never again live in a place as beautiful. When you come from elsewhere, confinement in these conditions becomes easier".

Hope within confinement - American students connect with nature

At the Fondation des Etats-Unis (American residence), some students have made the best of the situation and have taken up gardening. An area overgrown with shrubs and weeds has been converted into a finely cured fruit and vegetable garden.

RFI spoke to Hope Curran, an art student from California who is part of the gardening project.

"We're connecting to the simplicity of Earth and consuming less. I wouldn't have time to take care of this garden unless the confinement had happened.", she says. 

America travel bans

Hope remembers the beginning of the confinement, when US President Donald Trump announced American travel bans.

"A tornado went through the house. Many people just packed up their suitcase and left, some within a few hours' notice."

At the Cité Universitaire's American residence, some students have cleared overgrown land to create a neat garden. Art student Hope Curran poses with the garden's scarecrow, named Covid-19
At the Cité Universitaire's American residence, some students have cleared overgrown land to create a neat garden. Art student Hope Curran poses with the garden's scarecrow, named Covid-19 © RFI/Arnab Béranger

Hope, however, decided to stay on at the Cité Universitaire in Paris.

"Whenever there's change, there's a threshold of creativity", she says.

"I see the whole world within a cocoon of change. You can never go back to what was before and a lot of people are at a loss at this time because of that."

According to Hope, the US "is getting a taste of reality in a globalised world."

"They're  getting a taste of their own medicine", she concludes. "Consumer culture turning it's face on them. But the pioneer and the independent spirit of the American will always be there."

As France awaits May 11 for an easing of lockdown restrictions, the positive attitude of many international students at the Cité Universitaire provides a glimmer of hope during these troubled times.

 

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