It's January 2020, and Clara is leaving her Chinese apartment for the Chinese New Year vacation, convinced she will be back after a few weeks. In June 2022, she had no news from the Chinese government to open the borders, and all her clothes and personal stuff were still in her Chinese apartments after more than two years.
This is the struggle of many other international students who, just like Clara, are forced to follow classes online with no sign of good news from the government.
Hundreds of thousands of international students all over the world enrolled in universities outside their home country spent the majority of 2020 studying online. However, many countries announced plans to allow international students to return in 2021, including Australia, which had some of the strictest travel restrictions in the world for much of the pandemic. But China is not following these countries' example and is still applying a covid policy to keep cases as close to zero as possible.
In the past months, it imposed a strict lockdown in Shanghai and Beijing, where no one could even exit their apartments. ( Read more about the zero covid policy here https://thesocialtalks.com/latest-news/shanghai-and -the-zero-covid-policy-back-to-2019/ ). Against this backdrop, it hasn't allowed most students back and has offered no clarity about when it will. Now many face a stark choice—keep waiting, or abandon their degrees and start again from zero.
"It is an extremely frustrating situation, following all classes online and not getting any answer on when will we be able to go back." Affirms Sarah, an Indian student now attending the second year of her Master's program at Shanghai International Studies University. "I discussed my thesis online, and it was so sad, as I have been enrolled in a Chinese university for the past two years, without ever stepping inside it." Continues Hana, a Russian student now graduated from Shanghai University.
According to China's Ministry of Education, nearly 500,000 international students were studying in China just before the pandemic, with 60% coming from Asian countries, South Korea being the top source of students in the region; the remaining 16% came from African countries. A slew of online services has sprung up to assist international students in enrolling in graduate degrees or English-language medical programs that accept international students. While some students receive scholarships, most pay their way, frequently relying on family savings or loans.
China is the choice of many international students who every year choose to continue their careers in this country. Before Covid-19, President Xi Jinping's goal of enhancing Chinese soft power and strengthening "people-to-people bonds" through his infrastructure-focused Belt and Road Initiative included positioning China as a center for higher education.
Many students are reluctant to give up, which would mean all their effort and money will have been for naught. And decide thus to leave their studies or focus their careers elsewhere. But unfortunately, this is the choice of more and more international students who cannot deal with online classes, poor internet connection problems, and the frustrating situation of a never-ending story.
How long do international students still have to wait for transparency about the situation?
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