US kid­nap­ping should be a les­son for all

China Daily (Hong Kong) - - VIEWS -

The dis­ap­pear­ance of Zhang Yingy­ing, a Chi­nese vis­it­ing scholar at the Uni­ver­sity of Illinois, has drawn public at­ten­tion to Chi­nese stu­dents’ safety in the United States. Sub­se­quent analy­ses on WeChat plat­forms are pretty wild, re­in­forc­ing old prej­u­dices and cre­at­ing new ones. One writer warns against drivers of Saturn cars, as the sus­pect was driv­ing a Saturn to pick up Zhang be­fore she dis­ap­peared. This widely read writer ar­gues that some­one with good so­cial sta­tus would not drive a Saturn. Oth­ers, af­ter read­ing about the sus­pect, con­clude that in­tro­verts are a risk to so­ci­ety, them­selves or both.

It is ab­surd to make such gen­er­al­iza­tions based on just one in­ci­dent. Such sen­sa­tion­al­ism also takes at­ten­tion away from the real mea­sures that Chi­nese should take to pro­tect them­selves against crime while work­ing or study­ing abroad.

Over­seas vis­it­ing schol­ars con- sti­tute a fairly vul­ner­a­ble group. Their stay in a for­eign coun­try ranges from a few months to a year. Given the brevity of their stay, more of­ten than not they de­cide not to buy a car or learn to drive, and thus have to de­pend on ei­ther friends or the public trans­porta­tion sys­tem, which can be in­fre­quent, at least com­pared with that in China.

How­ever, de­spite the de­spi­ca­ble crimes, it is not right to pro­file peo­ple based on race, per­son­al­ity, or the cars they drive.

Gen­er­ally speak­ing, we can never go wrong with quick ac­clima­ti­za­tion to lo­cal en­vi­ron­ments. It is es­sen­tial for Chi­nese stu­dents and schol­ars study­ing or con­duct­ing re­search abroad to learn about and adapt to lo­cal con­di­tions and public life. Take trans­porta­tion for in­stance: When liv­ing in a col­lege town where most of the peo­ple do not de­pend on public trans­porta­tion, it’s no use be­ing nos­tal­gic about the con­ve­nience of buses and sub­ways in China. Just get used to tak­ing buses ac­cord­ing to their posted sched­ules. Take a bus sched­ule flyer. Download an app. Public buses in the US do not run as fre­quently as they do in China , but they are fairly punc­tual and re­li­able. Sim­ply learn to ad­just.

Cam­puses with large num­bers of stu­dents also have trans­porta­tion ser­vices that could save lives, es­pe­cially late at night. Some uni- ver­si­ties, such as my alma mater Syra­cuse Uni­ver­sity, of­fer late night shut­tle to trans­port stu­dents when public bus ser­vices are not avail­able. The uni­ver­sity also pro­vides es­corts to help stu­dents to walk safely to bus sta­tions. For most US cam­puses, it is stan­dard prac­tice to in­stall blue light sta­tions with emer­gency call fea­tures to help stu­dents in times of dan­ger. In fact, US cam­puses are fairly safe.

But since such ser­vices are of­ten un­known to new stu­dents and schol­ars, it’s al­ways bet­ter to get in­formed. There is no ex­cuse for a kid­nap­ping, but I hope fu­ture stu­dents and schol­ars can re­ceive prior warn­ing, or learn from Zhang’s case to never get into a stranger’s ve­hi­cle, a hid­den rule of de­fen­sive liv­ing, which for Amer­i­cans has be­come sec­ond na­ture. The best place to learn such things is the cam­pus ori­en­ta­tion ses­sion for new­com­ers. Do not skip these ses­sions, for they of­fer “more im­por­tant” things such as study­ing for “real cour­ses”.

Get­ting ed­u­cated about how a com­mu­nity op­er­ates should be a pri­or­ity for new­com­ers, as it can go a long way in mak­ing their stay safer.

I still re­mem­ber a sim­ple but highly use­ful tip our cam­pus po­lice gave us when I started my stud­ies in the US about 15 years ago: “Carry a whis­tle. Blow it as hard as you can when you are in dan­ger.” These safety ori­en­ta­tion ses­sions are filled with use­ful in­for­ma­tion such as safety routes, dan­ger­ous neigh­bor­hoods, and sit­u­a­tions that may pose dan­ger. I would rec­om­mend all stu­dents to at­tend such ses­sions, and to seek out in­for­ma­tion when they are not sure. Get in­formed. Knowl­edge about lo­cal en­vi­ron­ments is a much bet­ter guar­an­tee of safety than ig­no­rant pro­fil­ing.

The au­thor is a US-based in­struc­tional de­signer, lit­er­ary trans­la­tor and colum­nist writ­ing on cross-cul­tural is­sues.

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