Students Return Home After Delay

Students Return Home After Delay

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SALT LAKE CITY (AP) -- Two foreign students and researchers at the University of Utah are back in Utah eight months after making an emergency trip to China and then having their return blocked by U.S. authorities.

Xiaomei Jiang and her husband, Jian Zhang, are physics Ph.D. students and respected researchers, and their daughter, Ailin Zhang, has attended Salt Lake schools. They arrived back in Salt Lake City on Friday.

In September, they rushed back to their native city in southwestern China because Jiang's parents had been in an auto accident. Her mother died at the scene and her father died about 10 days after the family arrived in Chong Qing.

They applied on Sept. 26 for new student visas so they could resume their research and education in Salt Lake City.

To their distress, the U.S. consulate in Chengdu did not issue approval for their return until May.

For months, they would check on their visa applications and the consulate would tell them nothing.

"Once I was told (by a consulate staff member) ... 'You guys are very annoying. You're annoying us. And the consulate is very angry with you guys,' " Jiang said.

They became afraid they would never receive their visas.

"Actually, I feel like it was like a shock," said Zhang. They had not done anything to annoy them, he said.

Later, they learned their applications were going through security checks.

Meanwhile, Ailin couldn't attend Chinese school. She had not learned to read Chinese characters. Her mom taught her at home, helping her to keep up with English and other subjects.

Meanwhile, they couldn't find work in China. They had left in such a rush that their Chinese identification and other papers were still in their apartment in University Village, and potential employers were not willing to risk losing them if their visas came through.

Other members of the family in the United States, including Jiang's sister, Yuhong (about to begin teaching at Harvard), contacted the State Department and other potential sources of help.

As time dragged on and they did not receive any good news, they felt like they were hanging in the middle of the air, Jiang said.

Ailin described what it was like.

"Staying at my auntie's place -- the next morning after, the next morning, I was always wondering the same question. When will I come back?" she said.

Her third-grade classmates sent her cards and a package. "I felt like I was about to faint" when that happened, she was so overjoyed. Eventually, she was able to communicate with them by e-mail and that helped, too.

The call finally came that they were cleared and probably would be returning soon.

By then, there was another fear -- SARS. They worried that it might somehow prevent their return, but they were in a region that was free of the disease.

When they received permission to return, they decided to go home by way of Nanjing instead of Beijing, the capital, to avoid the outbreak.

Now that they are back in Utah, the parents will return to their research laboratories and Ailin will return to school, catching the last of the school year. She feels confident she can perform at grade level.

While they were away, friends moved their belongings out of their apartment and kept them for the family. They are temporarily staying at an inexpensive motel,but expect to be bak at University Village within a week.

"Everything will go back to normal," Ailin said.

"Hopefully," her mother said.

(Copyright 2003 by The Associated Press. All Rights Reserved.)

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