Stay or return, Chinese parents divided on children studying in the US
Published: Mar 15, 2020 11:57 AM

A student wears a face mask to protect against COVID-19 as he leaves the campus of the UCLA college in Westwood, California on Friday. Photo: AFP

Chinese parents whose children are now studying in the United States refer to themselves as "ants on the hot wok" as the novel coronavirus situation in the US gets worse and more tense. Some claim that they don't want to act as helicopter parents to arrange everything for their children as the young choose to stay on campus while others say that under the special circumstance, they have taken quick response to save their children from the "chaotic" US. 

Xiu Wen from Shanghai has never been so worried about her son, a freshman at the University of California, Irvine (UCI) when the first novel coronavirus cases were reported in the US. She described her fears in the last few days like "riding a roller coaster" as cases have spiked dramatically in the US mainland. 

"I couldn't get to sleep all night on March 10 when I knew that there was a suspected novel coronavirus case on campus. I burst into laughter when I received the email from UCI informing parents that the test results of that suspected case was negative,"Xiu told the Global Times.

Xiu is just one of the hundreds of thousands of Chinese parents whose children are studying at US colleges and universities.

According to the Open Doors report 2019, a total of 369,548 students from the Chinese mainland are studying in the US, accounting for 33.74 percent of the total 1.096 million international students.

Xiu took precautious measures for her son without even letting him know that "I  booked an air ticket from Los Angeles to Shanghai on March 29, the first date I found air tickets were available for the route."

"In case the epidemic was out of control, I would ask my son to fly back immediately without considering other consequences," Xiu told the Global Times.

But not all parents think the same way as Xiu, the majority hold a wait-and-see attitude as issued visas and entry dates into the US have to be taken into account. 

Hangzhou-based Qi Qi, whose son is studying at Pennsylvania State University, told the Global Times that she won't fret before the overall situation is out of control. 

"It's too early to take actions as booking flights or making a Plan B. I would rather observe what the US government can do to prevent and control the epidemic," she said. "I'm sure they should have crisis management measures in place before things get too bad, although the administration as of right now has been  unsatisfactory as far as COVID-19 related measures are concerned."

Qi has kept an eye on all news concerning COVID-19 in the US. "But my biggest concern is whether the university will shut down the campus completely after the spring break. We don't have property in the US, accommodation is a necessity if people are advised to stay at home, based on China's experience."

Still there are Chinese parents taking resolute measures without little hesitation. 

"My daughter is back in Beijing from Los Angeles, my wife is now meeting her at the airport," a father surnamed Chen on Friday told a WeChat group consisting of 500 Chinese parents whose children are currently studying at the University of Southern California (USC). 

Chen updated information as "we previously enquired with our neighborhood committee and told them we are planning to separate one floor of our villa so my daughter can take self-isolation measures at home. But now it seems the entire family must undergo quarantine, which is troublesome as three generations of our family live together, I'm still waiting for detailed responses from authorities."

Other parents in Chen's USC WeChat group told the Global Times that the over-abundance of information severely affects their decisions, even influencing their moods at times. "But I have no (other) choice but to look at any updates in the group as that's the only place I can get first-hand information related to my son at USC," a Shenzhen-based mother told the Global Times. She insists that all decisions be made by her son, rather than herself.

"He is an adult now. We can't be helicopter parents forever. Learning in times of crisis is the only way he will gain sufficient life experience."

Another Shanghai mother in the same USC group told the Global Times on Monday that she felt so relaxed that her daughter got a business cabin seat the last minute before boarding the flight from Los Angeles to Shanghai when USC just reported one confirmed COVID-19 case as a student returned to the US after an overseas trip. "The $1,300 upgrade fee is so worthy. She is much safer with more space and less contact with others."