This Russian student faces a big decision on whether or not to move on from China

study in china
"Because languages rely heavily on culture and how you practice it in real-time, the biggest obstacle is the inability to improve the level of knowledge of the language and cultural immersion," says Victoria Pyatnitskaya. Source: Victoria Pyatnitskaya

With ongoing travel restrictions, those who have chosen to study in China are suffering. Because of the country’s zero-COVID-19 policy, nearly half a million stranded students have not been able to set foot in the country since March 2020.

Victoria Pyatnitskaya, from Russia, is one of them. Prior to the pandemic, the 20-year-old went to study in China for one semester at Heilongjiang University. Today, however, she has to attend her  Chinese Language and Literature programme remotely. It’s taken a massive toll on her.

Below we speak to her about what it’s been like not being able to study in China and how she overcomes the downsides of remote classes:

Where does your interest in your course come from?

My interest comes from many sources such as music, movies and videos. I’m studying Chinese Language and Literature because Asian languages have always been of interest to me. 

They are so different from Russian and other European languages. The peak of interest started five years ago but with South Korea. I loved learning about the culture and language and I began to play traditional Korean drums. 

Then, I wasn’t sure that I was suited for the mentality of Korean people so I chose to study in China instead. 

Why study in China though? Is there something that stood out for you?

Frankly speaking, I love learning new languages as I do it pretty quickly and I also met new friends. I knew since I was 13, I wanted to connect my life with languages. 

I also am interested in a career as a simultaneous interpreter and I wasn’t afraid that my studies at my uni in China would take six years (not counting the one year to study a language in another country). 

In order for a more in-depth study into Chinese, I chose Chinese Language and Literature at Heilongjiang University.

What challenges do you face with your remote studies and the time zone difference in China?

Because languages rely heavily on culture and how you practice it in real-time, the biggest obstacle is the inability to improve the level of knowledge of the language and cultural immersion. 

Chinese is one of the most difficult in the world and online lessons help us to not forget what we learnt but it doesn’t help with increasing our level. Of course, we learn new grammar and words but it doesn’t make sense if we can’t use them. 

So, I try to speak the language by looking for Chinese people on the Internet or in my city. I communicate with my Chinese friends every day and ask them questions about their culture as often as possible.

Is enough being done to help support the stranded students outside of China?

I think the best solution is to open the borders but this is clearly not going to happen soon. So, the organisation of useful online classes has to happen.

This, and sending textbooks and additional materials to students, finding curators who help us and of course the interest of the teachers and faculty to support us.

What about your uni? Are they giving you the support you need?

I think my uni provides sufficient support to foreign students who study in the foreign department but not enough for those who study with the Chinese students.

The local students are in a classroom setting while the teachers don’t really care that foreign students are unable to attend. Being left in the dark is a big problem that isn’t properly controlled by the office and uni authorities. 

What backup plan do you have in case you can’t return to China?

With each passing day, I’m thinking about taking academic leave or going to study in another country. The only problem is that I won’t be able to study Chinese at the level that I can in China. 

What’s your advice for those who want to study in China?

I think the best advice is to hold off on your admission to unis in China until the borders are open. If you haven’t started learning the language yet, it makes no sense to learn it online and it would be a waste of time, effort and money.