Each Summer Thousands of Chinese Students Head to Camp in the US

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This story is based on a radio interview. Listen to the full interview.

Audio Transcript:

Marco Werman: I'm Marco Werman, and this is The World, a co-production of the BBC World Service, PRI and WGBH Boston. They were just teenagers and on their way to summer camp halfway around the world. Wang Linjiaand Ye Mengyuan. They were on the Asiana plane that crashed in the San Francisco airport last weekend. They were the two passengers who died. For any parent who's anxiously dropped kids off at camp, it's gut wrenching. Wang Linjiaand Ye Mengyuanwere just two of thousands of Chinese students headed on brought each year to go to summer camps here in the U.S. Steve Haines directs Horizons, USA, and immersion summer camp for foreign students, it's just outside of Philadelphia. Steve, what went on through your mind when you heard about the airline crash this weekend and the deaths of these two Chinese students?

Steve Haines: I was thinking most of the families in China with the one child policy, I immediately thought that somebody had lost their only child, and I'm a father of four girls and a son, and my heart sank really in grief for those families, knowing what they're being faced with.

Werman: Those two girls were headed to a summer camp in California, which I guess speaks to how far and wide these campers go in the US: apparently upwards of about 60,000 Chinese students come to summer camps in the U.S. each year. That seems big, is it?

Haines : It is that big, and over the last 10 years, that number has consistently grown, almost exponentially. China has a growing middle class, and they're also one of the fastest growing portions of china due to their booming economy, you also have the upper class. But we also have Chinese parents who… you have 2 sets of grandparents, you have a set of parents who are really directing their resources towards that one child, and so there are a lot of hardworking people who are again, pulling these resources to provide opportunities like this for their kids, and it's not just the lure of them going to America. They are looking for opportunities to give their kids the greatest advantage with American culture, with American language, and for academic future.

Werman: I was going to say, is the American summer camp for Chinese kids the first stop on the tour of Harvard, Princeton and Yale?

Haines : It's funny that you mention that, because there is a lot of pressure for the Chinese kids to score very well: to be among the best in their class, because many, not all, but many Chinese parents want that for their kids: they want them to go to Yale, to Harvard, to Princeton, or any number of the good schools, and they have that pressure at a very young age.

Werman: There's been a lot of buzz on the internet in China about Wang Linjia and Ye Mengyuan, especially regarding their wealth, so is it upsetting, probably for the vast majority of Chinese who can't afford to send one or more kids to camp in the US?

Haines : I know I have Chinese parents who are extremely wealthy and are making this possible, but I also have plenty who are hardworking, who are making sacrifices to provide this opportunity.

Werman: So, what happens at your camp… Horizons USA, what's the program at that camp? What do you do there?

Haines : Our programs provide an opportunity for kids to really strengthen their conversational language skills, and I believe that immersion is the best way to do it in any language: not just English. Programs like ours have the most kind of it for international kids.

Werman: So, you're not tying knots there. You're prepping them for college. Tell me, please, that you guys eat smores at least once during the camp session.

Haines : I got to tell you a funny story: so, a number of years ago I had a boy here and it was his birthday, and so we celebrated. I took him to our house, we had a campfire, we made smores. He had never eaten a smore before. And, talked him out to roast the marshmallow, put it on, etc. He was from shanghai. So, a year later, I went to visit his family, and his mom said, "I have to tell you that for Justin's 12th birthday, he wanted to make smores." He lived in an apartment building, not a single home, so it's a 19 story apartment building. They went down to the first floor, they got a little fire pit and built a fire, with permission, and they roasted marshmallows for his birthday, because that's what he did here, and he wanted to relive what he did here in the state. I feel good that I talked Justin and his family how to roast marshmallows and roast a smore, and they took that back to China.

Werman: That's a great story. Steve Haines directs Horizons, USA, an immersion summer camp for foreign students. Steve, I wished it could have been a joyous occasion to talk about this, but thank you all the same.

Haines : I agree, and my heart goes out to the families, and the rest of the kids in that group. It wasn't just those two kids. There are other kids right now that have lost friends and lost ???, So my heart definitely goes out to them, as I'm sure everybody's heart does.

Werman: Alright, thank you so much.