One of the most common concerns for Chinese parents and students when applying to study abroad is personal safety. A popular show called The Three Fellows, which looks at studying abroad in America, recently interviewed a number of Chinese students studying at UPenn about their experiences on and off campus. In light of the recent tragic events of the Boston Marathon Bombing, in which a Chinese graduate student – an only child, as common with Chinese families – had passed away, concern for personal safety is particularly high among Chinese parents and students.

Shot mostly in Philadelphia, with one of the highest crime rates in America, the episode shows interviews with several UPenn students who share their experiences and their perceptions of personal safety on and around campus.

Perceptions of Philly
  • One of the highest crime-rates in America
  • High Black population (and stereotypes of the criminal black)
  • Robberies at gun-point common

The students had mixed feelings about safety in Philly, with some reporting feeling perfectly safe while others (especially those who had studied previously in less crime-ridden cities) admit feeling less at ease.

Gun Ownership

Among those interviewed, a number of students point out gun ownership in the US is legal (it is not in China), and discuss how shootings and muggings that result contribute to the overall sense of danger. One student talked of his experience coming home late one night from the library and hearing gunshots minutes away, but most stressed how relatively infrequent incidents of this type were around the university area.

Campus Safety

Despite the stereotypes linking African-Americans to crime, interviewees say that students do not need to feel threatened, especially on campus. Campus police, campus walkers, and late-night shuttles provide students protection from the small crimes for which Philly is infamous.

And overall?

“These are fairly infrequent incidents,” says one student who had gotten mugged. “If it really does happen to you, it’s just that you have bad luck.”

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“I used to live at 40th & Market, where there are a lot of black people,” another student says. “I lived there for a whole year without incident, and I was actually a little disappointed.”

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The $20 Bill that Could Save Your Life

For the study abroad crowd, isolated incidents like the murders of two Chinese USC students last year and the death of Lingzi Lu, the BU student killed in the Boston Marathon Bombing stand out in Chinese media. For families unwilling to risk the life of their single child, such events signal an environment threatening for its unfamiliarity, volatility, and unpredictability.

In China, where guns are illegal and petty theft is more common than muggings and robberies, most people can expect a great degree of personal safety. Safety tips such as ‘don’t walk alone at night’, or carrying mace or pepper spray, may come across as a complete novelty to those newly arriving from China, because the small crimes they’re used to tend not to be violent or confrontational. That is, your iPhone is more likely to be pilfered by light-fingered thieves right out of your pocket (personal experience) than grabbed out of your hand while you lie helpless and/or hurting on the ground. Yet a $20 bill that you can hand over to the would-be mugger is, according to the Three Fellows, something that could potentially save your life.

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