TAIYUAN/GUANGZHOU — When Alansi Mohammed saw the stretching terrain of the Loess Plateau through the porthole again, he was so excited that his heart almost "jumped out."
"It has been three years. I finally made it back to my second hometown," said the Yemeni.
Peking University offered visa agency services during the winter vacation, including visa procedure application acceptance, collecting passports with visas already issued, consulting and answering questions, to name a few.
Alansi is an international student majoring in electronic commerce at Shanxi University in Taiyuan City, capital of north China's Shanxi Province. He returned home for winter vacation in January 2020.
China downgraded its management of COVID-19 and facilitated the smooth and orderly cross-border travel of Chinese and foreign nationals in early January 2023. As the new semester approaches, many international students like Alansi are flocking back to China to restart campus life with excitement and hope.
Data from China's Ministry of Education showed that nearly 500,000 foreign students from 196 countries and regions studied in China in 2018. For the past three years, those who had returned to their home countries had to take classes online to continue their studies.
Restart campus life
"After I was informed that I could come back, the school provided meticulous assistance, while the entry procedures were easy, and so the whole trip was very smooth," said Alansi, who believed China's adjustment of entry-exit policies could greatly promote the resumption of global personnel exchanges, adding that he was one of the beneficiaries.
Although Tran Mai Huong is set to graduate from the International Business School of Zhejiang University in east China's Zhejiang Province in June, the Vietnamese student has never been to China. She plans to visit China to prepare for her graduation, and also to learn as much as possible about Chinese customs and culture.
To welcome the large number of returning international students, many universities have started to provide relevant services.
Peking University offered visa agency services during the winter vacation, including visa procedure application acceptance, collecting passports with visas already issued, consulting and answering questions, to name a few. In addition, the university has announced the enrollment prospectus for the Chinese Language Summer School this year, which is to offer a variety of offline courses.
Indonesian student Joshua Timothy Solomon (1st right, back) poses for a group photo with other Indonesian students in Guangzhou, south China's Guangdong Province, Jan 15, 2023. ( PHOTO / XINHUA)
Despite the impact of the epidemic, China's economy still shows significant resilience. In 2022, China's GDP exceeded 120 trillion yuan (about 17.25 trillion U.S. dollars) for the first time, an increase of more than 20 trillion yuan compared to three years ago. Returning to China, international students have learned about the changes taking place in China in a direct way.
Indonesian student Joshua Timothy Solomon came to China to study at Sun Yat-sen University in 2017. He returned to Indonesia before the outbreak of the epidemic in early 2020. During the past three years, Joshua had to take online classes.
He was eager to return to campus for offline medical courses. "Clinical medicine is a very practical major. In addition to theoretical knowledge, practice is of great importance," Joshua said, adding that the new semester is also a good opportunity to meet new friends.
At the same time, he also looks forward to various activities arranged by the university and face-to-face communication with fellow students and teachers, which is incomparable with online courses.
After a long separation, he said the campus had become more beautiful upon arriving at Sun Yat-sen University in Guangzhou, capital of south China's Guangdong Province.
"When I left in early 2020, everywhere was being renovated and it was like a large construction site. Most of the renovation work has been completed now, and it looks very clean and tidy."
Besides the campus, the city of Guangzhou has kept developing despite COVID-19. "What impresses me most is that there are now more subway lines in Guangzhou," the Indonesian student said.
Data shows that the mileage of Guangzhou Metro has increased by more than 100 km in the past three years, and the total mileage is expected to exceed 650 km by the end of 2023.
Dania Zaman, who studied clinical medicine at Shanxi Medical University in Shanxi Province, shared the same feeling about the changes in China. On the afternoon of the Lantern Festival, after a trip to China that lasted two days, Dania could not wait to put down her luggage and rush to downtown Taiyuan to experience the Lantern Festival.
"It was the first time I had participated in the celebration of the festival. The lantern riddle solving, lantern shows and other activities made me feel the great importance attached to traditional culture by the Chinese people," she said.
It has been just three years, but the changes in Taiyuan surprised the Pakistani student. Zhonglou Street, where the Lantern Festival was celebrated, was an ordinary commercial street three years ago. But now, it has been renovated and has become a popular area in the city, with a daily passenger flow of more than 200,000 people at the peak time.
In addition, Dania also noticed that transportation is now more convenient and more friendly to the environment. There are more shuttle buses from campus to downtown, the first subway in Taiyuan has opened, and more new energy vehicles can be seen on the streets of the city.
"Just as I expected, China is still full of vitality and bustle. It seems like I never left," Dania said.
Dania Zaman visits downtown Taiyuan in north China's Shanxi Province to experience the Lantern Festival on Feb 5, 2023. (PHOTO / XINHUA)
Sharing development opportunities
China has made breakthroughs in the fields of 5G communication, new energy, artificial intelligence and other scientific and technological areas over the years. This has been among the key factors behind the country's appeal for foreign students.
"From my perspective, China is at the forefront of computer science development on a global scale. China is the most digitalized country I have ever visited. The sheer scale of its digital infrastructure is astonishing -- from the world's largest 5G network to the widespread use of artificial intelligence in top Chinese companies," said Paula Rodriguez De Viguri Azor, a Spanish student at South China University of Technology in Guangzhou.
According to data from the National Bureau of Statistics, China's research and development expenditure had exceeded 3 trillion yuan in 2022. The Global Innovation Index (GII) 2021, released by the World Intellectual Property Organization (WIPO), also said that China's global innovation index ranking had risen steadily for the 9th consecutive year, demonstrating strong upward momentum.
Speaking of her future plans after graduation, Paula said that she is determined to work for either a Chinese company or an international corporation with connections to China.
As a major contributor to the global economy, China has great potential for international collaboration and business opportunities with companies from all around the world, Paula said, adding that by promoting international exchanges and mutual understanding among different countries, more international friends will fall in love with China as much as she has.
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For Alansi, who is about to graduate, his primary goal at present is to complete his thesis. More importantly, he hopes to better understand China's e-commerce industry and apply the experience to his future career.
Alansi said that he set up an e-commerce store in Yemen last year to sell Chinese cosmetics. Although the start was difficult, continuous adjustment of the business model and the support of friends and relatives, had enabled the small store to achieve a profit after seven months of operation.
However, Alansi is in no hurry to expand the store's sales at this stage. He believes that the most important thing right now is to learn more about the successful model of Chinese e-commerce and to secure a good reputation for his store.
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