Norwegian student unable to return to her studies in China due to closed borders 

PHOTO: MORTEN KARLSEN / NRK

Due to the pandemic, Norwegian Signe Johansen has not yet been allowed to travel back to China, where she is studying tourism at the University of Chengdu in China. She is therefore studying online from Trøndelag in Norway which means she has to study at night because China is seven hours ahead. 

NRK writes that Signe Johansen is amongst the around 12.000 Norwegian students currently studying abroad. Chinese students are allowed to travel to Norway, but China has so far closed the border for Norwegian students.

Signe Johansen visited China for the first time when she was there on a class trip with the folk high school she attended at the time. She fell in love with the country and got a job through an au pair company in 2018, but after a language course, she quickly realized that she would rather study.

The goal was to master the language so well that she could take her bachelor’s degree in Chinese, but she realized that it was difficult to manage from Norway. Therefore, she switched to English.

Following the online lessons from China is not without complications however and Signe now lives according to China’s time zone with her first lecture of the day starting 02.30 Norwegian times.

In August, she tried to draw attention to the consequences of not being able to enter her place of study as a student studying abroad. She sent a letter to the Ministry of Education, the Ministry of Foreign Affairs, and the Prime Minister where she, among other things, pointed out the time difference, poorer mental health as a result of a lot of screen use, and that she has lost the opportunity to participate in group work.

She found three other Norwegians studying in China, who were in the same situation as her. “Our situation is miserable and almost unbearable,” she wrote in the letter to the authorities.

Sebastian Hytten, president of the Association of Norwegian Students Abroad (ANSA), says to NRK that it is incredibly difficult for the students who have ended up in a situation where they are not allowed to travel, so they have to follow the lessons online. Especially when there are big-time differences. “There is a minority of Norwegian foreign students in this situation but it is far from ideal”, he says.

In total, there are close to half a million international students in China. The country is scheduled to host the Winter Olympics in 2022, but it is still uncertain whether the students will be allowed to return at this time. According to the Wall Street Journal, the borders will be closed until the second half of 2022.

“The only thing I can do is to continue studying. I just have to be patient and wait until the borders open,” Signe Johansen says. 

“I have had to adjust my dreams and expectations. I am very motivated to get back to China again. “For me, Chengdu is home,” she adds.  

CULTURE FESTIVAL IN CHINA: Signe Johansen is number two from the left in the picture. During this festival in 2019, she got to perform a dance performance.
PHOTO: PRIVATE

About Gregers Møller

Editor-in-Chief • ScandAsia Publishing Co., Ltd. • Bangkok, Thailand

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