Here at our CUSEF blog, we share news, updates and stories about China and the United States. We provide more than a cursory glimpse of what’s going on between the two powers - here, we offer an in-depth look into their current state of affairs.

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Schools Out, Camp is in Session!

[Photo Credit: Go Overseas]
[Photo Credit: Go Overseas]
Flags from all over the world were represented at a summer camp in the USA. [Photo Credit: American Summer Camps]

For children around the world, the last day of school before the summer break can feel like a long-awaited holiday. While kids may spend their summer in a variety of ways depending on where they live, there is one beloved summer activity that can unite kids all across the world: summer camp!

In recent years, over 14 million children and adults have enrolled in summer camps, with women and girls making up 56% of enrollment and men and boys consisting of 49%. Leading up to the pandemic, enrollment in camps continued to grow year by year, typically between 4-10% annually. While studies show that summer camp enrollment, particularly for overnight campers, dropped during pandemic, summer of 2022 saw the revival and reopening of many camps across the U.S. and the world.

[Photo Credit: American Camp Association]

At the core of summer camp is the opportunity to unplug from technology, get a break from the hustle and bustle of everyday life, and enjoy nature! Summer camps in the United States first began in the 1870’s as people began to move away from the country and into cities. Advertised as an escape from busy city life, the first summer camps not only included outdoor activities, but were seen as a secondary education in life skills and morals for boys. It wasn’t until after World War I that summer camps for girls began to appear, which focused on household skills like cooking and sewing, which were deemed important for women at the time.

The tradition of families sending their kids to sleepaway camps in the United States became popular in the latter half of the 20th century, and today thousands of kids travel from all over the world to attend summer camp in the U.S. However, there is one country that has a long history of sending their kids overseas: China! For many Chinese students, attending summer camp in the U.S. is an opportunity to experience American culture, learn English, and build helpful skills to hopefully become one of the 300,000 Chinese students that attend university in America each year. Throughout the last century the location, purpose, and demographics of attendees have changed, but one thing remains the same - summer camp provides kids from across the world a chance to escape from a world full of technology and reconnect with nature.

International students attend an English-speaking summer camp in Singapore. [Photo Credit: The Annexe Project]

You may be wondering what to expect out of you or your child’s first camp experience. First and foremost, camp is not a cheap endeavor, but for families who are able to afford the trip or receive a scholarship, you can expect several weeks full of life skills, outdoor adventures, and new friendships from people across the world.

A daily schedule at camp will be jam packed with activities from morning to night intended to be fun while teaching active and passive life skills. After waking up in a cabin or shared bunk in the morning, you can expect any number of sessions that include sports, arts and crafts, outdoor activities, and games in small groups in between meals. Evening activities may include camp wide activities, like a bonfire and songs, or even large-scale games. Since camps take place in the summer, many activities take place outdoors such as swimming in lakes or pools, as well as more unique outdoor activities like zip lining, archery, rock climbing, and horseback riding.

Camp attendees sit around a campfire in New Hampshire, USA. [Photo Credit: 2022 Queen's Careers and Employability Blog]

How do you decide which camp to choose? Some camps are oriented around a specific religion, while others are made to fit a specific need you may have, from academic and language learning programs to meeting the needs of people with learning or physical disabilities. Camps vary greatly in price, and the location will determine what activities you or your child will be able to engage in.

During the pandemic, some camps went virtual to make sure kids still were getting the chance to socialize and keep busy while they were on summer break away from school. Going virtual also offered special benefits for children around the world to attend camp at a lower cost and accommodated the needs of kids who may have not been able to attend in person for a variety of reasons.

Children attending summer camp in China. [Photo Credit: 2021 That's Mandarin]

While there has been a wave of interest in China for students to attend summer camps in the U.S., Chinese summer camps have also been opening their doors to American students who wish to learn Mandarin, see China’s historic sites, and experience the culture firsthand. Many Chinese summer camps are focused on Mandarin language studies, cultural activities, as well as tours of some of the most famous sites in Beijing and Shanghai. Some skills include Chinese calligraphy, cooking courses, attending tea ceremonies, and learning techniques with shadow puppets and paper cutting.

For American students who cannot afford to make the trip to China, there are several Chinese Culture Camps around the U.S. that still expose students to Chinese culture, art, and activities closer to home. “Chinese traditions can be hard for parents to explain to kids. Our camp provides an environment that helps kids understand these traditions and enjoy shared memories with their parents. For parents, this is very important. For the kids, it’s just a lot of fun,” said Tswei-Ping Wu who is the Vice Director of the Chinese Folk Arts Summer Camp in California.

Children playing at a Chinese Culture Camp in the United States. [Photo Credit: Chinese American Family]

Some camps have even offered a specific cultural exchange between the two countries, having locations in both the U.S. and China where students from their respective countries could spend several weeks immersed into a new culture and gain new experiences. Camps like this showcase the importance of cultural exchange and learning as a form of cultural diplomacy between the U.S. and China.

“The culture of summer camps is another reason for sending my child to the U.S. Children learn how to help others, make friends, follow and even set the rules, integrate with different cultures, and become leaders,” said one Chinese mother who decided to send her child to a summer camp in upstate New York.

Cultural exchange through summer camps has a long and rich history between the U.S. and China, and regardless of where you live, your age, and your current lifestyle, there is sure to be a summer camp available to teach you something new and get you out of your comfort zone. The lessons learned during summer camp will serve as an important reminder throughout the year to take time away from technology and enjoy nature with friends, new and old alike! 

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