There are nearly half a million international students who have been severely impacted by China’s travel restrictions which started some 19 months ago, and Egle Januleviciute is one of them.
Enrolled at Zhejiang University to pursue a Master’s of China Studies degree, the Lithuanian did not expect the border closure to last this long.
“Spending many hours staring at a screen and studying gets very draining,” she tells Study International. As she lives in a small town, studying online has not been the best experience for the 25-year-old.
Her interest to study in China began when she dated a Chinese student in university who introduced her to the Chinese culture. Today, however, the scarce details from the authorities regarding China’s travel restrictions have been a major source of frustration. Below we speak to her more about her experience being locked out of China:
What sparked your interest in China studies?
I did a course on East Asian countries but, at the time, I felt like it wasn’t suitable for me so I changed path and pursued a fashion degree instead.
My interest in China came when I dated a Chinese boy from the same uni as me — sounds very cliché, I know. However, he was the one who introduced me to many new things related to the country.
This includes its nature to how every province has different things to offer with science and technology (which is highly developed). So, gradually, I gained more and more interest and started doing my own research.
As my bachelor’s degree studies came to an end, I began to really think about what study path I should follow next. Long story short, I came across the Master’s of China Studies programme at Zheijiang University.
It offered exactly what I wanted, modules oriented to contemporary Chinese culture, society and business.
How has your experience as a uni student in China been so far?
I’ve been in Lithuania for the majority of my life, but I did my bachelor’s degree in the UK. I had never been outside of Europe before so I decided to challenge myself.
I thought studying abroad would be expensive and that I wouldn’t stand a chance but I found out China offers many different scholarships. I thought to myself, “I have nothing to lose” and just applied.
China seemed to be the right place for me and my family was also very supportive of that. They encouraged me to study Chinese way before my interest in the country began — I guess you could call it destiny.
With China’s travel restrictions still in place, what are your biggest obstacles?
My mental health. Spending many hours staring at a screen and studying is very draining. I live in Lithuania where it gets dark early so that seasonal depression just adds on to the whole thing.
To deal with this, I take vitamin D, walk my dog a few times a day, and (funnily enough) grocery shopping has become a highlight activity. Perhaps me feeling tired or depressed would be less of an issue if I lived in a bigger city where I could go out and spend more time with friends.
Right now, I live in a small town which hasn’t helped the lack of human interaction.
What more should be done in regards to supporting students with China’s travel restrictions? Is your uni giving you enough support?
Honestly? I don’t know. Personally, I find the uni is doing what they can as there’s not much they can do in these circumstances.
I feel grateful that our tutors are easily contactable via WeChat or email. Usually, if they aren’t sleeping, they respond to questions right away.
I feel like this sounds mean from a Western perspective but it’s useful for students as we don’t get enough sleep because as soon as we get the answers, we can finish the work sooner.
— Zhejiang University (@ZJU_China) November 22, 2021
Also, I noticed our uni is very active on social media and they do come up with fun things for international students to do. Recently, I saw the students union page where students are invited to share their cooking on their Instagram stories.
I also remember they conducted a virtual field trip, fitness challenges, among others.
Do you have a backup plan to study elsewhere?
With China’s travel restrictions not lifting, I am trying to focus on the present. When I applied to Chinese unis, I had no backup plans.
Nothing was certain and all I wanted was to travel there under my scholarship and not be a burden to my parents. Ideally, I would like to finish my degree and work in China — perhaps open a little business. But, who knows?
What advice would you give foreign students who want to study in China?
It’s hard to give advice because nobody knows how long we will have to study remotely. I don’t even know what I would advise myself.
Do it, if that’s what you want. Don’t, if it’s not. I prepared myself knowing I would have to stay at home for some time and I didn’t mind because I was abroad for four years.
When the China travel restrictions finally do lift, I might not see my family due to studies and work so I see this is as an opportunity to spend more time with them. Staying at home and not knowing when you’ll travel again is not the most ideal thing.
So, if you can’t handle the current circumstances, maybe it’s best to choose another country.