The summer overseas study tours where little is learned

Many Chinese parents are disgruntled to discover that the pricey foreign trips arranged as learning experiences for their children are nothing more than tourist excursions.
The summer overseas study tours where little is learned

Chinese students visit Standford University campus in California as part of an "educational" summer trip.

Summer holidays can burn a hole in parents’ pockets if the break involves overseas study tours – especially when the trips are often more “tour” than “study.”

Frances He spent 36,800 yuan (US$5,500) for a two-week study tour in the United States for her 10-year-old son. The trip was recommended by the boy’s elementary school and organized by a travel agency. 

The itinerary of the tour was typical of US travel ─ visits to attractions on the east and west coasts, like the Universal Studio in Los Angeles, the Statue of Liberty in New York and the White House in Washington.

The “study” portion of the tour included a visit to Stanford University and West Point Military Academy, as well as a few exchange activities with American students. The cost was nearly a third higher than common group tour packages to the US.

“I knew it would be much cheaper if I just took him to the US by myself,” says He. “But I wanted him to go with other students at the school so that he wouldn’t feel left out when classes here resume.”

Her son enjoyed the trip, she says, but she’s not sure how much he actually learned.

“I asked what impressed him most, and he said, ‘US students really like sports and they play them well’,” she says. “And that’s it. But at least it has inspired him to do more outdoor activities, so I guess it had its benefits.”

However, He admits that she had trepidations about her son going on such a long trip so far from home.

“I kept hearing about children in the group who lost things or got lost themselves,” she says. “Although the school had teachers accompanying them, I couldn’t help feel worried about their safety.”

She is not the only parent who shelled out money for children’s “study tours.”

A recent article entitled “I Earn 30,000 Yuan a Month but Still Can’t Afford My Child’s Summer Holiday” widely spread across the Internet, striking a chord among parents. 

In the past two years, it has become a trend for students to go on trips abroad organized by their schools, travel agencies or training institutions. The tours typically last a week or two. Favorite destinations are the US, the United Kingdom, Canada, Australia and New Zealand.

There have been reports that the campuses of Cambridge and Oxford universities in the UK were packed with tourists this summer, and among the biggest group of visitors were Chinese students.

The summer overseas study tours where little is learned

Chinese students and their minders take a boat cruise on the River Cam in Cambridge this summer.

According to British media, the city of Cambridge, which has only about 100,000 residents, was inundated by more than 5.5 million visitors ─ the bulk of them from China and Japan. Chinese children in school uniforms have become a common sight at the British Museum, Stratford-on-Avon and Edinburgh.

Just like the trip He’s son took, most of these excursions are more “tour” than “study.” One trip billed as a 14-day “Sidney Fun English Study Summer Camp” involved language studies for only five mornings. A tour advertised as a 14-day “Scandinavian Art Exploration Summer Camp” had students visiting a TV station and a visual art center as the “art exploration” portion of the trip. These tours, costing 30,000 yuan or more, were all solidly booked.

Some parents were furious after realizing that they had been deceived by false advertising.

Li Shen, father of a junior high school student, registered his son a summer camp in Britain. What his son told him later made him regret the big outlay of money.

“They took the kids to the campus of what was a ‘renowned university’ and the kids just sat on the lawn,” says Li. “Several foreigners did come to talk to the students for a short bit. That was the ‘renowned teachers giving lessons in oral English.’ My son didn’t even understand much of what they said.”

Li says he would never sign up for another summer camp like this and would warn other parents to be wary.

In 2014, China’s Ministry of Education issued a guideline on outbound study tours, saying that the “study” portion should occupy no less than half of the whole tour. But the guideline doesn’t have any legal force, so it effectively goes ignored.

“There is currently no law regulating the study tour market,” says Dai Bin, director of the China Tourism Academy. “The organizers of such tours are usually commercial companies, with educational institutions playing a notional part. No one checks to see if these organizations or educational activities are what they claim.”

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