Graduation Trips: A Sign Of Changing Asian Attitudes And Stereotypes?

Over the past year, tons of my Asian friends in Australia, Singapore and Malaysia graduated from university. Along with this, I noticed tons of “graduation trip” photos – photos of my friends striking poses in scenic countrysides, photos of mouth-watering exotic cuisine – popping up on my Facebook news feed. And this actually points towards changing Asian attitudes and culture in society today.

A graduation trip is typically a trip overseas, a reward for studying hard and finally finishing university. A decade ago, graduation trips were not all the rage. For many Asians then, post-uni life meant jumping straight into the workforce or hunkering down and finding a job that pays decently and is well-respected by the Asian parents.

Asian graduates are increasingly making it a point to see the world prior to entering the workforce. Photo: Mabel Kwong

Asian graduates are increasingly making it a point to see the world prior to entering the workforce. Photo: Mabel Kwong

Today, graduation trips are the norm for young university graduates, akin to a rite of passage before entering the workforce. I have never been on one, but judging from the photos my Asian friends post on Facebook, these trips look fun.

All my friends look so smiley in their photos, taking in foreign sights and sounds. The stereotype that Asians are hard-core studious and do not know how to tear themselves away from the books and unwind goes right out the window.

There is much yearning and desire among my Asian friends to go on graduation trips, so much so that they carefully take the time to plan what they want to see and do on these trips right down to every detail. They brag about this and countdown the days until they get on a plane on their Facebook status updates. But this shows just how carefree and driven Asians can be; Asians do desire to brazenly explore new places and see parts of the world they have never seen before, shadowing the stereotype that Asians are timid, passive and live within isolated enclaves amongst their own race.

Asian parents seem to be on the extremely encouraging end towards graduation trips, persistently persuading their kids to go on one. Which is rather ironic given that older generation Asians frequently abide by traditional Asian values and are strict in the sense that they prefer their children to stay home and work hard for money to support their families.

In other words, older generation Asians appear to have a changing mindset. Perhaps they are becoming more relaxed and open-minded towards the way Asian kids live their lives in modern society. Perhaps they are even becoming overly generous, up to the point of funding graduation trips. One particular post on Facebook “confession pageNUS Confessions illustrates this suggestion quite well:

Anonymous university student expressing his/her gratitude to the parents for funding her graduation trip. Source: NUS Confessions

Anonymous university student expressing his/her gratitude to the parents for funding her graduation trip. Source: NUS Confessions

The above example also suggests that Asian “Gen-Y” kids today are pampered and spoilt, with older generation Asians handing them what they want on a silver platter. That many of today’s Asian youths are mooching money off their parents for holidays such as graduation trips. Which is quite believable given a lot of Asian kids today spend most of their time studying and achieving good grades – where do they have the time to work to pocket thousands of dollars on their own to fund overseas getaways.

It is interesting to see a number of my Asian friends choose Europe and the States as the destinations for their graduation trips. I have seen them post countless photos of the Eiffel Tower or some lonely yet majestic-looking Parisian laneway on Facebook post-graduation trips. Photos of authentic fancy English fish-and-chips or paper thin Italian pizza. For some reason, Asian locations do not seem as popular a graduation trip choice.

The reason behind this can be tied to the idea of status, linked to the (traditional) Asian mentality that the developed Western world is comfortably cushy with its modern or long-standing buildings/landmarks and fair-skinned Caucasians are the epitome of beauty. As such, journeying to the West is arguably prestigious and very attractive in the eyes of Asians. Journeying to the developing East, with sunburnt labourers in this continent, is, well, somewhat equated to poor tastes.

Don’t get me wrong. There is nothing wrong with choosing to holiday in Western countries. There is nothing wrong with parents paying for these trips. There is nothing wrong with enjoying the high life, posh dining and shopping in a foreign land, albeit not taking much time to interact with the locals here.

Having lived and vacationed in different parts of Asia, I have come to realise that traveling is always an intriguing experience when one is immersed in a whole new country.

At the end of the day, traveling – from planning to packing to getting lost in an unfamiliar city – tends to be an enjoyable experience. But also an unpredictable experience.

An experience that can bring out many different sides to us whether we realise it or not.

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5 thoughts on “Graduation Trips: A Sign Of Changing Asian Attitudes And Stereotypes?

  1. I wonder what constitutes a graduation trip. When I finished uni many years ago, I went to China to visit my grandparents. Many of my peers did the same. Technically, these were graduation trips, but in my mind, they are different in character to a trip on which one is exclusively for tourism.

    I don’t know Singapore or Malaysia well enough to comment on them, but I suspect that economics has played a key role in this change in Australia. For a start, the high Australian dollar has made overseas travel a lot cheaper than it used to be. Perhaps some costs have also come down because of the ease of price comparison via the internet.

    There’s also a change in the economic wellbeing of the parents of students. In the past, the bulk of Asian students here were from families who arrived in Australia with little wealth and struggled to reach a satisfactory financial position. A graduation trip would have been seen as excessive indulgence. Parents of current local graduates would either have had more time to establish themselves financially in Australia or may have arrived on a more sound economic footing having benefitted from Asia’s rapid economic growth in the last two decades, therefore being more able to afford such trips. There’s also been an influx of international students from Asia in recent years. While not uniformly well off, I would suspect a good proportion of those who can afford overseas education can also afford overseas trips.

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    • Based on what I’ve heard from those graduating recently, a graduation trip is a holiday. A trip where fresh graduates visit and explore a foreign place(s). Sight seeing, shopping and eating are usually on their agenda when they are on these graduation trips today.

      Very interesting that you mention that graduation trips years ago were constituted as visiting relatives. Perhaps as you mentioned the economy has something to do with the popularity of “indulging graduation trips” today, and the fact that travel has become more affordable and marketed.

      It’s sort of a natural feeling…if you can afford it, why not travel the world?

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  2. Hi Mabel,

    Wonderful reflection on graduation trips focusing on Asian students. When I finished my Honours degree, I went with my folks to the 2010 Shanghai World Expo, and to the more unexplored territories of China such as Yunnan, Shangri-La and Guangxi. One of the best trips ever!!! I had more opportunities to learn about the history of the non “Zhong-Yuan” (central plains) parts of China.

    I want to add a further comment to some Asians’ belief that going to Europe is more prestigious and ‘classy’ compared to Asia. To some Asians, they believe by detaching themselves from their Asian heritage and culture, and trying to be ‘western’ is very unfortunate. There is nothing shameful about being Asian, I suspect there’s some elements of inferior complex. Why can’t we be proud of who we are? And sometimes I suspect it’s upbringing from parents who preach to their kids Asian culture is ‘not as good as’ Western culture. Sometimes they don’t bother to teach a bit about their heritage and culture to their kids. Which is a shame.

    Not saying we shouldn’t visit Europe, but we should explore Asia too. The world is a very big place, and all countries have their individual uniqueness so it doesn’t make sense if people compare and say which one is ‘classier’ than another one.

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    • You say it very well Hsin-Yi. I completely agree that some Asians hold strong beliefs that Europe or America is, as you mention, much more prestigious and ‘classy’ than Asia. There hasn’t really been discussion about why this is so. But perhaps these Asians perceive Western nations as having achieved more historically/industrially/development-wise, and are simply quite ignorant of achievements in Asia. It’s a shame sometimes in Asian cultures that there is a strong belief to adhere to certain values and mentalities – so this idea that the West is awesome sticks.

      It sounds like you had a great time exploring little-known parts of China. I’m sure you learnt a lot and saw just how amazing, unique, intriguing and classy Chinese culture can be 🙂

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