Stay or Leave? Chinese Students Consider Their Options

Chinese international students congregate on campus.  photo by Baidu

By Ruoyi Song

While many Chinese students chose to return to China during the epidemic, some chose to stay in the United States because of concerns about completing their studies and the safety of travel.

“Compared to the current expensive plane ticket, I am more worried about not being able to return to the United States to continue my studies,” says Min Chuhan, who is studying for a master’s degree at Northeastern University.

Min stayed in Boston after the coronavirus outbreak in the US, instead of returning to China because she’s afraid she won’t be able to return. Like Min, a large number of Chinese students are still not returning to China after all U.S. schools announced plans to cancel campus classes and start teaching online.

The number of Chinese students in the United States has grown considerably since 2015.
SOURCE: Chinese Ministry of Foreign Affairs

One of the most important reason is the high price of tickets. China’s National Health Commission disclosed at the end of March that 90% of confirmed imported cases from abroad had Chinese passports, and 40 % were overseas students.

For prevention and control purposes, an airline will keep one route in a country for more than a week starting March 29, according to a circular issued by the Civil Aviation Administration of China. The Civil Aviation Authority estimates that the number of people entering the country by air each day will fall from the previous 25,000 to about 4,000. This has led to an increase in air fares. The cost of returning students has risen sharply, and direct flights to China have been reduced. Many students will transfer to Europe or Japan.

According to the 2019 Open Doors Report and data released by the UK, 148,880 Chinese students are studying in US universities for undergraduate and 133,396 for postgraduate studies. However, these figures do not include high school students or younger international students.

The United States has the largest number of infections in the world. The severity of the epidemic there has intensified panic of Chinese parents and their students studying in the United States. Many parents are anxious to have their children return to China. However, for Chinese students studying in America, that’s a complicated issue. They still face the dilemma of facing the threat of the pandemic by themselves in America or return to China without knowing if they will be able to return to their studies overseas.

Another reason is concern about the risk of transmission while traveling. Airports, airplanes and any place with heavy traffic during the pandemic all mean “high risk.”

According to the civil Aviation Authority’s health assessment, even though airports are actively cleaning and regularly disinfecting, there is no way to avoid cross-contamination during flights.

To avoid 14 days of isolation after returning home to China, many Chinese students choose to stay in America. But with cities going through lockdowns, that could mean they may have to quarantine themselves in their apartments without family and friends for support, which is surely the biggest test. Being alone may contribute feelings of isolation and depression.

For some students the interruption of their studies poses the biggest challenge. With the tightening of visa restrictions and the crackdown on Chinese student visas, the US currently does not allow anyone other than US citizens to enter the country. “If I can’t return to school when school starts normally, that means I will delay my graduation or lose my degree” Min says.

Another controversy is related to a Trump administration policy that requires Chinese students turn over their computers and phones before returning home to prevent what the administration believes will be spying or unlawful technology transfer to China.

Presidents at Northeastern and Harvard have spoken out about the policy, both have written letters openly expressing their support for international students and their commitment to a diverse and inclusive campus.

That is certainly a large number for those who remain in the United States. In addition to facing life problems, they also face racial discrimination. “Trump’s tweet calling coronavirus a Chinese virus is undoubtedly racist,” said Sun Ting, who is studying for a master’s degree in the United States.

“As a student in the US, I have always felt the country’s tolerance and friendliness. But this time I was hurt,” says Sun, who has lived in America almost seven years after graduating from high school.

Like Sun, many Chinese students said they felt offended and unjustly singled out by the coronavirus. “I know this is a country that is highly tolerant of different cultures. But this time, I am almost afraid to watch the news because the comments below are full of insults to Chinese people,” Sun said. “We were destroying each other by bullying before the disease knocked us down.” she said.

Until the epidemic was contained, people were busy creating racial tensions and conflicts, which had no positive effect. Anxiety about school, fear of illness and loneliness. For these reasons, Chinese students who choose to stay in the United States have undoubtedly made a difficult decision, and there is no way to predict their future development.

Although returning to China is difficult, choosing to stay in the United States is not an easy decision because of the increasing spread of the coronavirus and the resistance of some Americans to wear face masks or social distance. “Since the school announced the start of the online course on March 8, I hardly went out except to buy food and daily necessities,” says Xu Jia, a doctoral student in chemistry who has been living alone at home for more than three months.

“I also avoid the rush hours when I go to the supermarket. “I’m worried about the current state of the United States because not everyone chooses to wear a mask,” Xu says. “Some protested, while others insisted on parties and outings. In these circumstances, unless a vaccine is produced, it will be very difficult to contain the outbreak.”

The aversion to wearing masks in America has been a difficult issue for foreign students who want to protect themselves but who also want to fit in.

” I remember when the disease first started to spread, the government didn’t encourage everyone to wear masks. They believe that only sick people need to wear masks. When I walked on the street wearing a mask, I felt like an alien,” says Xu, adding that people looked at him strangely as if he were a sick person.

“My American friend told me not to wear a mask unless you are really sick. I told him I was just trying to protect myself,” he says. “Sure enough, soon after, the government ordered everyone to wear face masks because the coronavirus is spread by breathing and saliva. But in my opinion, it’s a bit late.” Xu said.