Although most Chinese parents don’t give a second thought about spending lavishly on their children, the mother of Xiang Miao, a high school sophomore who partook in a 16-day summer study tour abroad last year, regrets her careless spending.
Xiang’s mother paid 30,000 yuan (4700 U.S. dollars) for the so-called “overseas study tour,” which boasts of homestay accomodation, collective learning and sight-seeing activities in a foreign country.
“I would rather have taken him abroad myself if I had known about this kind of study tour. It is an eye-opener at best, rather than a way of truly enhancing his English skills or making preparations for future overseas study,” she said.
However, the number of applicants for such programs still saw “explosive” growth this year, according to Zhou Xiaolan, director of the marketing department at the New Oriental Education & Technology Group, a major Chinese education company.
More than 10,000 students in Beijing alone will travel abroad for the group’s summer study tour, more than the total for last year.
“Tour packages to popular destinations such as the U.S. and Britain were booked up three months in advance and less costly tours were also nearly packed,” she said.
Chinese parents usually give their children a wide variety of choices when it comes to how and where they spend their summer vacation. With the affluence of the Chinese middle class growing all the time, such choices are no longer limited to domestic locations.
A three-week trip may cost anywhere from 20,000 yuan to 43,000 yuan, depending on the destination. Most of the applicants are middle school students who have at least two to three years to wait before taking the national college entrance examination.
Parents generally expect their children to gain a great deal from their overseas experience, and some have purposefully put their children in such programs as a warm-up before future overseas study.
However, observers have warned prospective students and their parents to take caution, warning against profiteering and other shady practices.
Parents have reportedly complained about too many sight-seeing and shopping activities instead of programs that can help their children improve their language and communication skills.
Suzhou-based lawyer She Bin still worries about his son She Tinghui going abroad, even though the boy has already been abroad by himself once before. The boy is currently on a 12-day trip to the U.S., having already been to Singapore previously.
“When he was in Singapore, he was aware that his Singaporean counterparts developed stronger skills in problem-solving. I believe that influence was important for his growth,” said She Bin.
The elder She recommended government-guided programs or those organized by schools and education authorities.
Jiang Nan, an adviser for “global study tour” programs, advised parents to make sure they are clear about the purpose and schedule of any trip they choose to sign their children up for.
“When checking the itinerary and credentials of the program’s organizer, parents have to make sure at the same time that their children are really interested in exploring the place they are going,” he said.