Stranded from China, this Russian student has given up hope

studying in China
More than half a million students enrolled in classes there have not had the chance to return to campus in China since the pandemic peaked in March 2020. Source: Hector Retamal/AFP

Unheard voices, desperate students, futile campaigns. International students have had to abandon the thought of studying in China because of the country’s zero-COVID-19 policy. This means more than half a million students enrolled in classes there have not had the chance to return to campus since the pandemic peaked in March 2020. 

In protest, students have taken to social media platforms like Twitter, flooding hashtags like #TakeStudentsBacktoChina and #TakeUsBacktoChina to voice their concerns.

For 22 year-old Nastya (name changed upon request) from Russia, studying in China has proven to be just a myriad of false hopes. She tells us more about her nightmare of a journey below.

Walk us through your bachelor’s of international politics at your Chinese uni. Where did this interest come from?

I started learning Chinese when I was 16 and I enjoyed it a lot. I also went to China as an exchange student for one semester and it was a great experience. After I graduated, I got into a Russian uni to study Chinese linguistics. 

I soon realised that studying this major wasn’t beneficial for me because I’ve been learning Chinese since my teen years and not improving my skills in Russia. Thus, I decided to apply for the Chinese Government Scholarship so I could end up studying in China as a bachelor student.

Besides, I was also extremely interested in international relations, politics and history and so I chose to study international politics. 

What about your journey studying in China? Walk us through what you’ve been through.

I received the scholarship and started my classes at uni in China back in 2018. Although it was extremely difficult to study and compete with my Chinese classmates, I really enjoyed studying in China.

Tell us what it’s like for you as a student that hasn’t been allowed back? What were the most challenging things you had to overcome?

In the beginning, when everyone (including my Chinese classmates) were studying online, everything seemed okay. Although I had to wake up at 3 a.m. to attend classes, I was motivated enough to study — all the streaming services worked well and all was fine.

However, in August 2020, my Chinese classmates headed back to campus to take their final exams and things started getting worse. Some teachers decided that it was too time-consuming to take set separate online exams for the international students. 

We were then forced to drop some classes even though they were compulsory. The teachers told us not to worry and that we would be able to take these classes again next semester once we were back but we didn’t come back — and haven’t since then.

Once the next semester began, things went from bad to worse. While all my Chinese students were studying offline, unis simply kept “forgetting” that they had foreign students at all and we never got news on how to maintain our studies. 

I started emailing and explaining my situation to the teachers. It turned out that most of the teachers didn’t even know that students weren’t allowed to come back and they had no idea how to arrange classes for me. 

Funny thing now, even after more than a year, some teachers still have no clue on how to manage classes for foreign students. After two weeks of struggling, some of them managed to stream online classes. 

The quality was pretty bad, we couldn’t hear the teacher properly and we never had a chance to participate in class discussions.

Is your uni doing enough to support you? What more do you think should be done for stranded students?

My uni is doing nothing to support me. I would have really liked them to send the official notice to teachers that to care for their foreign students. 

Right now, I’m a final year student but I don’t have many classes. However, my bachelor thesis supervisor is super nice. 

I still have to struggle with many problems though. We don’t get notice of the process of writing and defending a thesis for international students this year. We have to ask our Chinese friends to print and sign documents for us — always the last to know necessary information.

How long do you predict this ban for international students studying in China will continue?

To be honest, I’m tired of making predictions and getting false hopes. I’m already at peace with not studying in China or going back before graduating.

Do you have a backup plan? What advice would you give other stranded students?

My plan is to graduate this year and take my master’s in another country. The situation is different for everyone. For some, it’s impossible to graduate online and move on so I would prefer not to give advice.

However, I would advise new students to not apply to Chinese universities before China actually opens its borders.