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Chinese Students Return Home As China Opens Borders After Three Years

Mark Li couldn’t wait to get home. Like around 6000 UBC Chinese students, he wasn't able to return to his home country in the past three years during the pandemic.  

“I’ve lost 10 pounds due to homesickness,” said Li.

He wanted to return to China, a country with the zero-Covid policy and prohibitive travel rules during the pandemic. Unlike most countries, the Chinese government has just opened its borders. Flights to China began resuming on Jan. 8, 2023.

Mark Li

It was a Nightmare

Li is a Ph.D. student in Bioinformatics at UBC. The separation from his family has taken a significant toll on his physical and mental well-being.

He said he has been burnt out in the last three years, with the stress of his Ph.D. workload, concern about the health of his family members, and severe homesickness. “It’s a nightmare”, said Li. He is expected to graduate from his Ph.D. program next year, but a lot has changed during the course of his studies. His grandpa stayed in the hospital due to heart disease and his grandma has increased memory loss and confusion. 

“I should’ve been with them. I want to make up for my absence”, said Li. 

As of Jan. 21, Li is reunited with his family in Shanghai, enjoying New Year’s dinner to celebrate the grandest festival in China.

Mark's New Year's Eve Dinner

Yolanda Feng, a Ph.D. student in the Department of Pathology and Laboratory Medicine at UBC, took a 20-day annual leave and flew back home on Feb. 8, 2023.

“COVID-19 separated me from my family for three years, now it seems that everything has started to become better. I am the happiest person in the world now," she said while packing her suitcase, excited about the once-in-three-year return.

Yolanda Feng

Airfares go up

The weekly number of flights between Vancouver and China during the Lunar New Year goes up to 34. However, the cost of the trip poses another concern.

Round-trip flights from Canada to China are currently more than $2000, three times the prices before the pandemic, which were only $728 on average, according to data collected by Hopper Inc. Although ticket prices soared, the estimated average daily number of Chinese border crossings would jump to 600,000 during the Lunar New Year holiday, a 200 percent increase over the same period last year, according to the National Immigration Administration of China.

Jade Wang, working on her PH.D. in Pathology at UBC, is among the first returning to China after the border opening. China opened its borders on Jan. 8 and she returned on Jan. 9. As soon as the restrictions were lifted, she booked her ticket although this cost her $1000 for a single trip.

“It (price) hardly matters in these times. Being free from COVID-19 restrictions makes me happy. That’s the best thing”, said Wang. 

During her three years in Canada, Wang spent hours calling her family every week to cope with her homesickness. Wang said she shed tears when she met her loved ones at the airport, but “those were happy tears for sure”.


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Tags: #China #COVID-19 #International Students


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