The Struggle of Chinese International Students: Stay or Leave?

The COVID-19 epidemic has so far affected 209 countries and territories around the world. According to data provided by The New York Times, as of April 5th, the virus has infected more than 1.2 million people worldwide, and 68,841 people have died.

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The number of confirmed cases in the United States is growing extremely quickly. By April 5th, there were more than 300,000 people who tested positive and 9,655 patients who died. In Europe, the situation is not optimistic either. More than 130,000 people are confirmed to be infected in Spain. In Italy, at least 128,000 people tested positive. Sadly, the virus is still spreading at an alarming rate all over the world.

The spread of the coronavirus is disrupting all aspects of our daily lives. Schools have suspended all in-person classes and transitioned to online education. Most businesses are closed temporarily. Public or private gatherings have been banned to slow down the spread of the virus.

However, China, where the coronavirus first appeared, seems to be taking control of the situation. The actions taken by the Chinese government have helped the country make tremendous progress within the past two months. Chinese people’s lives have started to return to normal.

Meanwhile, Chinese international students are all facing a dilemma. Should they return to China or stay in foreign countries? Outside of China, international students have classes or careers that might require them to stay. At the same time, China seems to be a safer place currently and families of many students are asking them to return home as soon as possible.

“I’m concerned about those travel restrictions between countries,” said Zhu, a junior student at UCLA. “There are too many uncertainties. I could be locked down at home if I go back to China and would not be able to return to school anymore.”

Zhu also shared that his family asked him to go back to China many times. Yet, he thinks the chance that he could get infected on the way to the airport and on his flight back to China is too high, so he doesn’t want to take the risk.

Most international students are also concerned about their student visas and immigration statuses. Housing and work plans are also a major pain in the neck.

Yang is a senior student majoring in economics at UC Berkeley. The spring 2020 semester is his last semester of college. He chose to stay in the United States and waits for the coronavirus quarantine to end. “My lease ends at the end of this year. It’s hard to sublease my apartment to someone at this moment and it’s too expensive to end the lease for me,” He said.

Yang added that he received a job offer for which he would need to move to San Francisco in June. It took him months of preparation to attain this position. “The benefits and salary are great,” He said. He doesn’t want to give up this opportunity to advance his career.

Not all international students have chosen to stay overseas for school. Rui, a 22-year-old student who attended university in Italy, flew back to China 14 days ago. Before the plane took off, she posted a selfie of herself in which she looks fully prepared: masks, gloves, and a pair of goggles. She has arrived in China successfully and is currently in a 14-day self-quarantine.

She said, “The health system of Italy is weak. Some issues such as a lack of doctors and protective equipment worry me.” She added that she had to take high risks to go out in order to purchase house supplies.

The risk Rui mentioned does not only refer to being infected by the virus but also to being discriminated against. Some extremists took out their frustration on Asian international students, harassing them verbally with violent threats and racial slurs.

“Being safe is more valuable than anything else,” Rui said.