Proud parents fly to US for graduation galas

Updated: 2012-05-24 10:40

By Chen Jia in New York (China Daily)

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Proud parents fly to US for graduation galas

Zhang Jianlin displayed pride in two things on his first trip to the United States - as a father preparing for his daughter's graduation from separate universities, and as master of the bench press at the gym of the Massachusetts Institute of Technology sport center.

"I invited my father to share the joy at my graduation ceremony; in return, a two-month tour around the States is my gift to him," Zhang Huanhuan told China Daily.

"My father used to be a weightlifter in China, so he enjoys the lifestyle of Americans who love jogging and working out," explained Huanhuan, who will receive two master's degrees - in public administration from Harvard University's Kennedy School of Government, and in business from the Sloan School of Management at the MIT.

With commencement season here, many Chinese parents such as Zhang have booked travel to the US to watch daughters and sons begin their transition from academic study, while immersing themselves in American culture.

"Many students' travel and shopping plans are arranged for commencement season from April to June for their parents," Zhu Chuanfei, a Beijinger who works in Los Angeles, said in an interview.

"When I was a student at Southern Polytechnic State University [in Georgia] in 2006, only a few Chinese parents paid for an expensive trip to attend their children's commencement ceremonies," she said. "Now it's common for [US-bound] travelers to have a Chinese mother or father sit next to them on the plane during graduation season."

Under the Jobs Diplomacy initiative of US President Barack Obama, the State Department has been streamlining visa processing because travelers from abroad are an important driver of the US economy. US officials recently announced a 46-percent increase in visas processed for Chinese citizens during the current fiscal year's first half (October-March) than in the first six months of fiscal 2011.

Zhang's father, who is 60, had been urged to rehearse likely questions and answers in preparation for his visa interview with a US consulate official. In the end, the interview and application process were easier and less bureaucratic than he had expected.

"Everyone understands it is an important trip for a Chinese family, and also I had gotten special vacation approval from my boss," said Zhang Jianlin, who still works at the same middle school where his daughter was a pupil. He's something of a celebrity among his colleagues for having raised a girl to become a success in American academia.

Leading up to Harvard's commencement on May 24, father and daughter will have spent a month visiting New York City, Washington and Boston. The morning after the gown ceremony, they'll fly west and tour the Grand Canyon, Yellowstone National Park, Las Vegas, Los Angeles and San Francisco.

"Then we will come back to Boston for my MIT commencement," Zhang Huanghuan said.

Hong Shan, whose job at a State-owned Chinese company involves international trade, flew to New York to see her daughter graduate from Columbia University - her second trip to the US this year.

"The round-trip ticket is less than 10,000 yuan [about $1,600], and that's a small piece of cake for us," she said. "Most Chinese families have only one child now, so we try our best to support our child in studying in America. Of course, we also want to share the honor at their commencement.

"My budget for the tour is about 80,000 yuan, and I might fly to the US again at the end of this year when the discount season arrives," Hong added.

Earlier this year, Obama called for a national strategy to create more jobs for Americans by increasing inbound travel from other countries as well as domestic trips. In 2011 the US received 62 million international tourists who spent a record $153 billion, providing a crucial boost to local economies and the 7.6 million jobs in US travel and tourism.

The goal is to attract 100 million foreign visitors by 2021, who are projected to pump $250 billion a year into the US economy, while encouraging more travel within the country by US residents.

Chinese from the mainland made 70 million trips to other countries, as well as to Hong Kong, Macao and Taiwan, in 2011, up 22 percent from 2010, the National Tourism Administration and the China Tourism Academy recently reported.