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Overseas study enrich experiences, may challenge family relationships

(China Daily)    08:42, January 02, 2019

Li Yanqiu (left), 42, finishes her studies at UCL in the UK in November. CHINA DAILY

For many middle-aged people, the decision to take sabbatical leave for further education overseas cannot be made without considering the maintenance of family relationships.

"Family is a challenging enterprise in today's hectic urban life," said Li Yanqiu, 42, who studied for her master's in ethnographic and documentary film at University College London in the United Kingdom.

Challenges that come with international separation-such as time differences, alternative life and work routines and anxiety derived from being absent from each other's life-make it even harder, despite the myriad ways technology can aid communication and the growing convenience of international travel to China.

This is partly reflected by a reported surge in the number of relationship crises when mothers accompany their children abroad for education.

Weiqing Group, one of the leading relationship counseling agencies based in Shanghai, said that, in 2018 alone, they had received over 70 cases-or nearly one third of their total-where the wife stayed in a foreign country together with the child who studied overseas, while the husband remained in China for work.

"You have to make a plan before you go to study abroad, and it should be a family plan, as you'll always need your family's support," said Li.

"We decided that during my gap year, my husband would take the full responsibility of our son who is studying at a boarding school in Shanghai, while I focused on my studies."

The family talked over the phone and conducted scheduled video chats every week, Li said, but above all, trust is what really matters.

"I could not be too attached to my family in China while I was studying overseas, because of the time difference, which made it inconvenient to call home whenever you want," Li said. "So I trusted that my husband would handle everything, with adequate care and tolerance."

Xu Jian, whose wife and son went to the UK with him as he spent one year studying for his master's between 2014 and 2015, said understanding and cooperation between couples is also vital for those who are taking the whole family, or only the children, abroad.

While he and his son took on new challenges at school, his wife resumed the full responsibility of a housewife in a foreign land which is very different to their hometown in Chengdu, Sichuan province, especially in cuisine, a new experience that the family had to adjust to.

"When the relationship goes well, it is delightful to find that the experience is unique to each of us, picking up foreign languages, culture and communication skills in a new environment and through diverse activities," he added.

Xue Yali, an associate professor at the Family Study Center of Shanghai Academy of Social Sciences, agreed. "For those who handle a long-distance relationship well, such experience can be rewarding," Xue said. "The couple can avail themselves of the resources and opportunities in different spaces and environments for self-development and empower their marriage with fresh energy and vitality," she said.

(For the latest China news, Please follow People's Daily on Twitter and Facebook)(Web editor: Liang Jun, Bianji)

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