Cool ad­vice for hot study tours abroad

China Daily (Hong Kong) - - VIEWS -

It has been a hot sum­mer in many ar­eas in China, but short study tours abroad seem to be even hot­ter. Par­ents spend tens of thou­sands of yuan on such study tours, es­pe­cially to places where top uni­ver­si­ties are lo­cated, in­clud­ing the New England area in the United States, and Ox­ford and Cam­bridge in the United King­dom.

There are bus­loads of stu­dents in some col­lege towns in the UK, and they make sub­stan­tial con­tri­bu­tion to the lo­cal econ­omy. Last Septem­ber, I vis­ited Cam­bridge and found that they charge a good amount of money for cam­pus tours, largely be­cause too many stu­dents come vis­it­ing.

But stu­dents who fly half way around the world to visit these uni­ver­si­ties are not likely to be de­terred by the high ad­mis­sion fees. As tourists flock to such towns in greater num­bers and dis­turb the oth­er­wise quiet town life, lo­cal res­i­dents are start­ing to com­plain. Young aca­demic pil­grims en­joy the sights, take pho­to­graphs, and go through rit­u­al­ized ac­tiv­i­ties such as row­ing on the Cam­bridge River.

Back home, their par­ents proudly post the pho­tos of their chil­dren on these study tours on so­cial me­dia. A hid­den peer pres­sure is build­ing up among mid­dle-in­come group par­ents as even those who have to work till they drop to pay for such tours are sign­ing up for them. These tours there­fore con­trib­ute to mak­ing our time an age of es­ca­lat­ing anx­i­ety.

These days many moth­ers and fa­thers don’t be­lieve they are do­ing enough for their kids un­less they spend as much, if not more, money as their neigh­bors do. Which is very dif­fer­ent from my child­hood when we all kids roamed wild, and par­ents con­sid­ered it natural. To­day’s par­ents don’t seem to have trust in their kids’ abil­ity to play any game un­less some­one has or­ga­nized it into tight struc­tures.

The univer­sity tours abroad are at­tract­ing more and more par­ents as com­pa­nies or­ga­niz­ing them grow. There is big money in this anx­i­ety busi­ness. These com­pa­nies cap­i­tal­ize on ed­u­ca­tional wor­ries of par­ents who care deeply about their chil­dren’s for­mal ed­u­ca­tion, al­most to a fault, but sel­dom con­sider the other op­por­tu­ni­ties their chil­dren can have.

For in­stance, par­ents could send their kids to some lo­cal scenic spots where they can spend sub­stan­tial time and be nour­ished by vi­ta­min N (N for na­ture). City­based par­ents could let their chil­dren stay with a rel­a­tive in the coun­try­side so that they de­velop em­pa­thy and in­ter­per­sonal com­mu­ni­ca­tion skills by liv­ing with a dif­fer­ent group of peo­ple. They could, for a change, buy or bor­row them books so that they en­hance their knowl­edge while let­ting their imag­i­na­tion fly.

“Be­ing there, done that” is not nec­es­sar­ily ed­u­ca­tional if the ex­po­sure is short, the vis­its hur­ried, and in­ter­ac­tion with lo­cals rare.

Vis­it­ing revered in­sti­tu­tions of higher learn­ing like Cam­bridge or Har­vard may mo­ti­vate and en­er­gize chil­dren who need role mod­els. But on such tours, chil­dren just get a quick peek of these places, with­out even see­ing many stu­dents who leave schools dur­ing the sum­mer va­ca­tion. Be­sides, due to ca­pac­ity is­sues, stu­dents are usu­ally not al­lowed to spend much time in one area.

Per­haps, fu­ture tours could be or­ga­nized to not the “hot” aca­demic in­sti­tu­tions, but to some lesser-known col­lege towns where full im­mer­sion is pos­si­ble.

I live in west­ern Texas where we don’t get any aca­demic tour groups from China, prob­a­bly be­cause it is even hot­ter here dur­ing the sum­mer. How­ever we have Korean and Ja­panese camps on the cam­pus where stu­dents get rel­a­tively enough time to im­merse in lo­cal cul­ture. Stu­dents are paired up with lo­cal fam­i­lies for a week­end stay, eat in the stu­dents’ cafe­te­ria, at­tend classes, visit fac­to­ries and of­fices, and also get to visit malls. And since tourists are rare, they are given more per­sonal at­ten­tion and care dur­ing their stay. I be­lieve such ex­pe­ri­ences of im­mer­sion are more ed­u­ca­tional and leave stu­dents with bet­ter mem­o­ries.

Still, if some par­ents want to send their chil­dren to Ox­ford or Cam­bridge, they should ask the young­sters to use their eyes and ears more, and phones and cam­eras less. Chil­dren learn more that way.

The au­thor is an in­struc­tional de­signer, lit­er­ary trans­la­tor and columnist writ­ing on cross-cul­tural is­sues.

MA XUEJING / CHINA DAILY

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