Reporter Journal / Chang Jun

Incidents involving Chinese students, tourists need more attention

By Chang Jun (China Daily USA) Updated: 2017-10-10 10:20

A series of sad and tragic incidents involving Chinese students and tourists in the US have raised concerns about the safety of overseas Chinese in the US.

As our two nations hail the continuous growth in the number of Chinese students and tourists traveling to the US and anticipate more people-to-people exchanges, policymakers, educators and industry leaders need to consider the safety and well-being of those moving back and forth between the two countries.

There are around 330,000 Chinese students studying at American colleges and universities.

Approximately 2.97 million Chinese tourists traveled to the US in 2016 and spent a total of $33 billion, according to a US Commerce Department report from August. The US has had 13 consecutive years of growth in arrivals from China, 12 of those in double digits.

Not all those arriving though have happy returns.

International students, especially the younger ones, tend to be prone to loneliness, academic frustrations and culture shock.

Travelers also can be in danger because of self-driving tours and unfamiliarity of local traffic and a language barrier.

Early last week, a post about a missing Chinese woman in the US went viral on social media.

Tang Xiaolin, a PhD candidate in space physics at the University of Utah, hasn't been heard from since Oct 1, shortly after she left for San Francisco.

A graduate of China's Peking University in 2004, Tang went to the US the same year to continue her studies. Now at 30 and in her seventh year of doctoral training, she is said to be under tremendous pressure to complete her academic research and find a job.

On Sept 30, Tang boarded a flight to San Francisco and mentioned several times to one of her acquaintances that "she is so tired and would end her life by jumping from the Golden Gate Bridge".

Tang is still missing.

And in a case that has garnered international media attention, Zhang Yingying, 26, a visiting Chinese scholar at the University of Illinois, has been missing since June and is presumed dead. A former Illinois graduate student, Brendt Christensen, has been charged in her disappearance and awaits trial.

On Oct 5, a Michigan judge issued an order establishing the death of Rong Xin, a 27-year-old doctoral candidate in the School of Information at the University of Michigan, after he disappeared in March.

On March 15, Rong rented a private plane and flew somewhere between Ann Arbor and the north shore of Lake Superior in Ontario, Canada. The plane later crashed into thick woods in Canada.

Authorities did not find Rong's body in the wreckage and believe he may have died after jumping from the plane but declined to elaborate.

Rong, a promising scientist and researcher in the field of human-computer interaction, artificial intelligence and natural language processing, came to the US in 2011 to seek his PhD at Michigan after graduating from Tsinghua University.

He interned for Microsoft in 2016 and for Google in 2013 and 2014, according to his LinkedIn page, and expected to start a career as an assistant professor.

The shadow of depression and illusions seem to follow him closely. In late 2016, he recorded, "I have just recently realized that the ratio of depression among doctoral students might have been significantly underestimated. Academia does not have to be this way. Every single doctoral student should be happy.

"I think this problem has already caused tremendous negative impact on the overall productivity of academia and undermined the well-being of the students and taxpayer dollars."

The travel front also has seen its share of tragedy.

On Oct 5, search-and-rescue teams of the Fresno Country sheriff in California recovered two bodies from a wrecked car in the Kings River near Kings Canyon National Park.

Authorities confirmed the identities the following day of a San Diego couple - Wang Yinan, 31, and his wife, Song Jie, 32 - who were believed to have died in August when their vehicle plunged down a steep canyon into the rapids along highway 180. Family members reported the couple missing on Aug 11 when they failed to return from a road trip to Yosemite and Sequoia national parks.

Self-driving tours have become popular among Chinese tourists. However, driving in the US without ample knowledge of local traffic conditions and surroundings could lead to hazardous situations.

"It's never enough to emphasize how important it is that students and travelers to the US need to be vigilant," said Zha Liyou, deputy consul general at the Chinese Consulate General in San Francisco.

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