Chinese students study 'abroad' in China this fall
Chinese students study ‘abroad’ in China this fall semester
Published: Sep 17, 2020 05:47 PM

photo: Yang Hui/GT

When Lily Huang received an offer from Connell university, the 18-year-old from Shanghai thought she was about to begin a new life as a freshman studying a fiber science major at her dream school. 

However, when classes started in September, she didn't travel to the US but instead registered as an exchange student at the International Campus, Zhejiang University (ZJU) together with more than 300 students who've already enrolled at US colleges but were either unable or unwilling to travel to the US amid rising numbers of confirmed COVID-19 cases and visa restrictions. 

The US has now surpassed 6.62 million confirmed cases of COVID-19 with 196,000 deaths as of Thursday.

The International Campus, Zhejiang University in Haining, East China's Zhejiang Province has an ongoing collaboration program with other world-class universities and is one of the universities in China that will accommodate thousands of local students looking to continue their studies at home.

So far, more than 320 undergraduate and graduate students from the University of Illinois at Urbana-Champaign Campus (UIUC) as well as more than 30 freshmen undergraduates from Cornell University have started taking courses at the International Campus, Zhejiang University as exchange students. 

Over 120 kilometers away from Haining, in Kunshan, East China's Jiangsu Province, 120 Duke students — roughly 50 undergraduates and 70 graduate students — have been enrolled at Duke Kunshan this fall where they will participate in at least one in-person class, with the option of attending remote courses offered at Duke.

Other universities, including NYU, Pennsylvania State University (Penn State), Syracuse University and the University of Pittsburgh have reportedly set up similar programs for Chinese students.

As one of the measures employed to deal with the difficulty of studying abroad during the pandemic, the Ministry of Education announced on Wednesday that it would allow Chinese-foreign cooperative education institutions to enroll students who have been admitted to foreign universities but blocked from studying abroad due to the coronavirus pandemic as well as restrictions on entry, visas and flights.

Most of the students said they were unable to travel to the US due to delayed visa processing. Huang said she had applied for her student visa at the Consulate General of the United States in Shenyang, Northeast China's Liaoning Province in July but the application was canceled without giving specific reasons.

"It is difficult for us to obtain visas. There is no way for us [Chinese students] to go to the US to study," Huang said.

Huang was not alone.

The latest statistics from US authorities showed that only 145 US student visas (F-1) were issued to Chinese mainland residents in July this year. In contrast, it approved more than 20,000 visas for mainland students last July.

Photo: courtesy of ZJU International Campus

Making the best of the current situation

For Huang, it's disappointing to not have the chance to visit another country for study due to the US visa restrictions, but she's still grateful she has somewhere to continue learning.

"Although I'm happy with the current arrangements, I'm a little sad that I can't go to the US. I'm still looking forward to experiencing the local campus life," Huang said.

Most of her courses are still based on the online courses of US universities in addition to the option of attending in-person courses offered by the International Campus, Zhejiang University. Her earliest online class begins at 8 pm Beijing Time and latest class finishes at 2:30 in the morning.

"I think this experience will help develop our "self-management" skills. Due to some 'jet lag-like' feelings, my work-life balance will need some adjustment," she said.

Eric Yang, Vice Chancellor for Academic Affairs at Wenzhou-Kean University, a Chinese-American jointly established higher education institution in Wenzhou, Zhejiang Province told the Global Times that they have received hundreds of applications from Chinese students who were unable to travel to the US to resume their study at Wenzhou-Kean University.

"It's a good option for those who wanted to study abroad. They can complete their study in China a similar 'western curriculum' and international environment," Yang said.

Many young Chinese students feel the same way. They have commented that they are lucky that they could still enjoy a normal campus life rather than studying alone at home or from a socially-distanced dorm room on the other side of the world.

Li Feiyang completed his computer science undergraduate study at UIUC and is about to resume graduate study at the International Campus, Zhejiang University.

"With everyone in the same boat and unable to live a 'normal life' as before, I'm very satisfied with this option," Li said.

As the coronavirus began spreading across the US in March, his college announced that it would conduct all its classes online. One of his scheduled internship programs has also been cancelled after most companies began working remotely rather than in their offices.

At the end of May, Li took a flight to China seeking an internship and learned about the ongoing local education option in July.

"After all, in-person classes and online classes are completely different. If I stayed in the US, I would have to stay in my dormitory every day and wouldn't be able to go outside and meet new friends," Li said.

Uncertain outlook 

China is the largest source of international students in the world. Over 369,000 Chinese students studied in the US in the 2018-19 academic year, accounting for 33.7 percent of all international students, according to the Institute of International Education. 

But the disruptions brought by the COVID-19 pandemic as well as the US' constant shift in policies have caused many Chinese students to reassess their future study plans in the country.

In early September, more than 1,000 Chinese students and visiting scholars in the US had their visas suddenly revoked by the US State of Department under a presidential measure by the Trump administration. 

For most of these students intending to continue their study in the US, their future in the country began to look uncertain given rising China-US tensions.

"I will adjust my plans depending on the US' attitude toward Chinese students. It depends on if they remove their visa restrictions or if the pandemic subsides," Huang said.

Other students claimed that they will start looking for "backup options" as they begin to choose the destination of their overseas studies.

Tu Leiming, a senior student majoring in marketing at Wenzhou-Kean University, told the Global Times that although most students still want to study abroad, their first choice may no longer be the US.

"The current environment in the US is not so welcoming for international students as any presidential policy may be a blow to the international student community," Tu said. 

Chen Xingyu, an English major from Wenzhou-Kean University, told the Global Times that although she still plans to apply for a master's degree in the US, she is also applying for universities in the UK as a backup option.