There are nearly half a million international students who have been severely affected by the travel restrictions in China that began about 19 months ago, and Eagle Janolivichiot is among them.
Enrolling at Zhejiang University to pursue a master’s degree in Chinese studies, the Lithuanians did not expect the border closures to last for long.
“Spending hours staring at a screen and studying is very stressful,” she told Study International. Since she lives in a small town, studying online was not the best experience for a 25-year-old.
Her interest in studying in China started when she dated a Chinese student at university Introduced to Chinese culture. Today, however, the scarce details from the authorities regarding China’s travel restrictions have been a major source of frustration. Below we talk to her more about her experience with being denied entry to China:
What sparked your interest in China studies?
I did a course in East Asian countries, but at the time, it felt like it wasn’t right for me, so I changed course and went on to pursue a degree in fashion instead.
My interest in China came about when I dated a Chinese boy from the same university as me – sounds pretty corny, I know. However, he was the one who introduced me to many new things related to the state.
This includes its nature to how each county has different things to offer with science and technology (which is very sophisticated). Therefore, gradually, I gained more and more attention and began to conduct my own research.
With my Bachelor’s degree completed, I started to really think about the course of study that I should follow next. In short, I was introduced to the Master’s Program in China Studies at Zheijiang University.
It delivered exactly what I wanted, units oriented to contemporary Chinese culture, society and business.
How was your experience as a uni student in China so far?
I’ve been in Lithuania most of my life, but did my bachelor’s degree in the UK. I had never been outside of Europe before so I decided to challenge myself.
I thought that studying abroad would be too expensive and that I wouldn’t stand a chance but I found out that China offers many different scholarships. I said to myself, “I have nothing to lose” and just advanced.
China seemed to be the place for me and my family was also very supportive of that. They encouraged me to study Chinese before my interest in the country started – I guess you could call it destiny.
With travel restrictions still in place in China, what are your biggest hurdles?
My mental health. Spending long hours staring at a screen and studying is very stressful. I live in Lithuania where it gets dark early so seasonal depression adds to the whole thing.
To deal with this, I take vitamin D, walk my dog several times a day, and grocery shopping (funnyly) becomes a privileged activity. Feeling tired or depressed would probably be less of a problem 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 that hasn’t helped with the lack of human interaction.
What more should be done in terms of supporting students with travel restrictions in China? Does your unit give you enough support?
Quite frankly? I do not know. Personally, I find that the university is doing what it can because there is not much it can do in these circumstances.
I am grateful for the ease of contacting our teachers via WeChat or email. Usually, if they are not asleep, they respond to questions immediately.
I feel like this seems mean from a western perspective but it’s helpful for students because we don’t get enough sleep because once we have the answers we can finish the work sooner.
Tweet embed And Tweet embed Signing a memorandum of understanding to launch a joint campaign on sustainable environment: https://t.co/Ori9LHkvhk#Z4G #Sustainable development #SDGs pic.twitter.com/S6tQ0ThC6C
– Zhejiang University (ZJU_China) November 22 2021
I have also noticed that our uni is very active on social media and they are creating fun things for international students to do. I recently saw a Student Union page where students are invited to share their cooking on their Instagram Stories.
I also remember that they did a virtual field trip, fitness challenges, among other things.
Do you have a backup plan to study elsewhere?
With China’s travel restrictions not lifted, I’m trying to focus on the present. When I applied to Chinese universities, 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 undergraduate degree and work in China – perhaps open a small business. But who knows?
What advice would you give to foreign students who want to study in China?
It is difficult to give advice because no one knows how long we will have to study remotely. I don’t even know what to advise myself.
Do it, if that’s what you want. Don’t, if it isn’t. I prepared myself knowing I was going to have to stay home for a while and didn’t mind because I had been out for four years.
When the travel restrictions in China are finally lifted, I may not see my family due to study and work, so I see this as an opportunity to spend more time with them. Staying at home and not knowing when you are going to travel again is not the most ideal thing.
So, if you can’t handle the current conditions, maybe it’s better to choose another country.