Asiana crash stirs reflection on overseas summer camps

A supporter of Wang Linjia holds up a photo of her with her name during a talent show at a school in Jiangshan city in eastern China's Zhejiang province on July 8, 2013. Chinese state media and Asiana Airlines have identified the two victims of the Asiana Airlines crash at San Francisco International Airport as Ye Mengyuan and Wang Linjia, students in Zhejiang, an affluent coastal province in eastern China. Photo: AP

The death of two Chinese teenage girls on July 6 in an Asiana Airlines crash at San Francisco International Airport is raising public skepticism over Chinese students' excessive overseas school trips.

The two young girls were among 141 Chinese passengers aboard the flight, of whom 70 were students and teachers bound for US summer camps.

The tragedy coincided with the timing of the Chinese students' summer holiday in July when they are scheduled to attend overseas summer camps under the arrangement of their xenocentric parents.

According to a Wall Street Journal article, the Johns Hopkins University's summer educational program targeting high-IQ teenagers has gained the most popularity among Chinese parents and students. With 24 enrollment outlets scattered around the US and Hong Kong, the summer camp organized by the American university has lured 9,500 international students this year, with 537 and 319 coming from Hong Kong and Chinese mainland respectively.

A China-based foreign language training institution revealed that its overseas winter and summer camps, which are jointly organized with its foreign partners, have covered 22 countries and regions, including the US, the UK, Australia, Japan and Singapore, and are characterized by diverse educational themes and purposes.

This year, the institution has partnered with Ivy League, NASA and many other eminent US universities to organize dozens of summer camps, which are themed English language learning, leadership skills cultivation, outdoor exploration and so on.

Despite costly tuitions, US summer camps remain attractive to Chinese students, who plan to study in the US after getting accustomed to Western-style learning environment by experiencing such overseas educational activities.

"My experience of participating in a US summer camp last year gave me an opportunity to feel what life was like in an American private high school," Yan Ziyu, a Chinese student who is studying in a US high school, wrote in an article.

US media reported that 23,000 Chinese students are studying in American private high schools, with 27 percent of the students registered in 284 member schools of the Association of Boarding Schools between 2010 and 2011 coming from China.

Statistics from the Institute of International Education show that Chinese students contribute more than $4.4 billion to the US economy every year, accounting for 22 percent of the total revenues gained from all foreign students.

The Chinese craze for US summer camps is fuelled by the organizers' propaganda that a US summer camp is synonymous with getting a ticket to a famous American university.

The overseas study spree is also promoted by Chinese parents, who see attending US summer camps as an approach to broaden their children's horizon and an opportunity to let them have a taste of Western culture. Most importantly, it will likely pave the way for potential study in the US.

Although overseas summer camps provide Chinese students with an "immersive experience" of Western-style education, the inconsistency of the education quality of the overseas summer camps has always been criticized.

Some Chinese parents grumble that a number of overseas summer camps attended by their children turned out to be a disappointment as they just offered a "campus sightseeing", a far cry from what the organizers had promised. Worse still, some intermediary agencies were exposed to have no qualification to operate overseas summer camps.

"Recalling the days I spent in the US, I start to ask myself: What did I gain during those days? Did I enhance my English level? Did I know more about American people? Or did I deepen my understanding about American art? The answer is no!" a Chinese middle school student, who has just finished a US summer camp, said on the Internet.

(The article is translated and edited by Ding Yi)

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