Look around the top US universities this summer and you will not find quiet, empty campuses, but a large number of bustling tour groups. A majority of these groups are young Chinese students, eager to see prestigious institutions that they dream of attending one day.
These tours, previously ignored in the West, gained attention this summer when the recent Asiana plane crash in San Francisco tragically took the lives of three Chinese students bound to the US for a summer study tour. In fact, many of the plane's passengers were on this type of trip.
These tours are quite prevalent, and an entire industry has been created around them. Some organizations offering this type of service operate illegally and provide poor programs, damaging the entire reputation of any company in this sector.
Because of this, these tours have sometimes been pegged in the Western media as "rip-offs," and some Chinese officials have attempted to curb illegal operations.
Westerners are quite familiar with an influx of Chinese students in their classrooms. In recent decades, nations around the world have experienced this firsthand, as Chinese students have filled classrooms abroad. Now Chinese students account for the highest number of international students worldwide.
These tours are associated with the Chinese dream. Getting an education and improving a person's lot in life has never been easier for the masses in China. These expanded opportunities bring students to the US or other Western countries. The summer educational sojourns are stepping stones in the achievement of that dream.
For Americans, college visits are an important part of the maturation from high school into higher education. For Chinese parents, the US itself is the college to visit.
Parents of Chinese students are willing to sacrifice thousands of dollars on these tours, because they believe that ultimately education will spur success. As more people move into the middle class, these tours will only increase, and Americans should take notice.
Education is valued and weighted differently in Western culture, and these expensive trips may not seem worth the price. Westerners might be unwilling to spend this amount of money to send their child on short-term educational sessions.
However, US parents have shown that they will spend thousands on camps or training for sports or other athletic endeavors.
Despite the relative low odds of anyone actually becoming a professional athlete, or even getting a college scholarship to play sports, basketball, football, and baseball camps around the US are filled with kids working hard on their games. Chinese parents, in turn, might be hesitant to spend money on these endeavors.
But on the other hand, the expenses of summer tours are a great sacrifice for Chinese parents, but the payoff, if fulfilled, can indeed be priceless.
This can ultimately come in the form of studying in the West for their higher education, even bypassing the gaokao, or the rigorous national college entrance examinations.
The illegally operated summer educational tours have rightfully been targeted, yet this should not condemn the entire practice itself. There is still much value in the educational and cultural gains for potential students.
The US government agrees, as it has attempted, to build a similar tradition of educational exchanges to China, but with much less success.
China is still a developing country, and the vast majority of its people cannot afford the price tag of a US tour. However, as the middle class continues to grow, more and more parents will look to give their child an educational advantage, and these summer educational tours are only a part of this quest.
This is good for China, its citizens, and its future. Perhaps US parents should take note in this regard too.
The author is an adjunct lecturer of history and politics at Berkeley College in New York. firstname.lastname@example.org