Student burns midnight oil

Support: Kurnai College’s international student coordinator Linda Harkess, student Jiaheng Zhung and EAL teacher Kirrilee Enders. photographs alyssa fritzlaff

Alyssa Fritzlaff

KURNAI College student Jiaheng Zhung spent the last year starting his school day at midnight.

Jiaheng is completing Year 12 at Kurnai College’s University Campus.

When COVID struck, many people were unable to return to their homes or schools, and
Jiaheng was one of them.

The international student, originally from China, found himself stuck in Madagascar
during most of the pandemic, returning home last month.

Victoria is eight hours ahead of Madagascar, and for Jiaheng that meant his first class
started at 12am or 1am in the morning.

“The border of Australia was closed… I thought it would be only a short time,” he said.

“I had to wake up at 12am or 1am, but once you get used to it, it’s fine.”

His teachers at Kurnai were amazed by his commitment to learning as he continually logged onto Microsoft teams each and every night.

“Our classes were usually 2am to 3am for him,” Jiaheng’s English as Another Language (EAL) teacher Kirrilee Enders said.

Ms Enders was very impressed by Jiaheng’s commitment to her class.

“Jiaheng actually won our top student for EAL last year, all the way from Madagascar,” she said.

“He attended the award ceremony on my laptop. I put him in front of the speaker, and then when his name was announced I held the laptop up to the rest of the school.

“The whole school just applauded.”

Despite doing so well online, Jiaheng is excited to be in actual class again.

“You feel a little bit lonely, it’s different from being in class,” he said.

“I like to talk to people face-to-face, not online.”

With his sleep schedule all messed up, Jiaheng spent a lot of his spare time sleeping.

“In this school you’ve got lots of study periods, but in my study periods when I was online I would just sleep,” he explained.

When he was not in class – and was not sleeping either – Jiaheng spent his time studying.

“The most important thing is that you listen carefully in class, you need to be more
concentrated than you would be in real life. You need to spend some of your own time to catch up later,” he explained.

“People won’t stop and wait for you, you need to catch up by yourself.”

Currently, Kurnai College has a few students left overseas, unable to return due to different

Some students still remain in China.

“China’s lockdowns, are different in cities and different provinces, so that’s why they can’t
come back,” Kurnai’s international student coordinator Linda Harkess said.

Ms Harkess commended her fellow Kurnai teacher’s commitment to their students during
the pandemic.

“Our teachers are fantastic, they put in a lot of extra work and a lot of extra effort in,” she said.

“They really do work very hard.”

Last year, two of Kurnai College’s international students received over 90 ATARs. Ms Enders said her department is proud of the EAL students’ achievement over the last two years.

“We are really proud of our EAL students, I think they’ve been amazing
and they’ve been affected by our border restrictions and learning online, and not being able to see their families,” she said.

“We are hoping that things will start getting back on track

“Our students have English as a second language, so learning online for them is
amazingly difficult… but they do so well, they