Overseas study tour turns into a vanity fair

Ying Tianyi
Ying Tianyi
Parents post photos of their children at overseas locations in WeChat, in a way to flaunt their wealth, to avoid becoming the target of subtle or not-so-subtle contempt.

Ying Tianyi
Ying Tianyi

The Qianjiang Evening News reported in early August that a mother from Hangzhou, capital of Zhejiang Province, was devastated by the knowledge that everyone in her son’s class — except the boy himself — has traveled abroad.

This prompted her to spend 30,000 yuan (US$4,377) — equal to her three months’ pay — to send the sixth-grader on a study tour to the United Kingdom this summer. This tale is reminiscent of a social media post that went viral last year, in which the author whined that “a monthly salary of 30,000 yuan could not pay for my child’s summer vacation.”

The author said that she paid 35,000 yuan for her daughter’s summertime “education,” which included a 20,000-yuan bill for a 10-day “study trip” to the United States.

Overseas study began as a fad limited to well-off families in China’s first-tier cities around 2007, but over the last decade it has grown rapidly to captivate even the average urban family.

New Oriental, one of China’s biggest education companies, said in an online official statement in July that overseas study tours are usually expensive and their costs vary from destination to destination.

A study trip to the hottest destinations, namely English-speaking countries such as the US, is normally priced at 40,000 yuan to 60,000 yuan. This often includes air tickets, accommodation, tuition fees and so on. Journeys to less popular Asian destinations usually carry an asking price from 10,000 yuan to 30,000 yuan.

According to the Shanghai Municipal Human Resources and Social Security Bureau, Shanghai residents on average made 7,132 yuan a month in 2017. This means many parents have to save for months to afford their children’s summertime tour.

Regarded as equals

However, an increasing number of parents still spend big just to make sure that their children can be regarded as equals in classroom discussions.

Overseas study has also become a status symbol. Parents post photos of their children at overseas locations in WeChat, in a way to flaunt their wealth, distinguish themselves from low-paid families, and perhaps, more importantly, to avoid becoming the target of subtle or not-so-subtle contempt.

Children, who are susceptible to their parents’ impulses to show off, also have engaged in a game of one-upmanship in what has become a vanity fair.

I remember being dumbfounded by the antics of a rowdy band of young fellow passengers during a flight from London to Shanghai in the summer of 2017. They bantered and guffawed to the great annoyance of those around them.

A boy bragged that he had been to 40 countries and proudly displayed the visa stamps on his passport; another boy was nonchalant, claiming that the watch he left in his hotel room was worth a mere 6,000 yuan, so he did not even bother to have it sent back to China.

Was that all they learnt from their tours of Cambridge and Oxford?

To the disappointment of many big-spending parents, their children often hem and haw when asked what they have learned from tours meant to broaden their horizons.

In 2014, a mother told Legal Daily that she was duped by the misleading advertisement of a tour that allegedly featured a meet-up with a famed professor from a well-known university.

However, instead of being joined by famous professors, her daughter said they stayed at a run-of-the-mill school for two days and had a brief talk with a foreign teacher. The school was not even ranked among the top 100 in the US.

In an even more ridiculous incident, another study tour to the US, as reported by Xinhuanet in 2017, took children to Las Vegas, the gambling capital of the world.

Some parents and study tour organizers concede that a two-week program holds out little hope of improving proficiency in English. And a tight itinerary including amusement parks and shopping malls tends to be the norm.

Driven by peer pressure, many parents are still busy signing their children up for these tours. They delude themselves into thinking that they and their offspring are elevated to a higher class through an overseas trip; their children, who take cues from parents, often fail to appreciate what really makes the elite schools they visit so special and outstanding.

The mania for overseas study is also fanned by the popular tendency to grovel before everything Western. One cannot but wonder, is a trip to domestic scenic spots inadequate in inculcating a sense of history in our children? Of course not.

May I kindly suggest that our parents, instead of blindly sending their children abroad, stop and reflect on the true purpose of such trips, which is to educate, inspire and illuminate young minds, rather than to flatter their vanity?

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