Great opportunity for China to develop summer camp culture

By Catherine Valley Source:Global Times Published: 2017/7/26 18:18:40

Illustration: Lu Ting/GT

With the brutal summer hitting Shanghai, the city is once again silent. University students return to their distant hometowns, expats go traveling, local residents and office workers hide out in their air-conditioned buildings and even street vendors dare not venture under the sun.

However, the silence of Shanghai can be deceiving. Whereas in Western countries summer is a season of great joy for children, who are let loose in neighborhoods and parks to play, here in China, children usually spend July and August studying.

Not in ordinary schools, mind you, because public schools are closed. Instead, private training centers for languages and other subjects run day-long classes, which they deceptively call "summer camp" to trick children into thinking it's something fun. It's really not.

When I was a child growing up in Russia, our parents would send us away for a month or so to actual summer camps. These were vast forested areas located in rural parts of the country where kids were thrust into Mother Nature.

We slept in cabins and spent the days swimming in lakes or learning how to survive in the wilderness. We were supervised by counselors, who taught us campfire songs and encouraged our creativity, physical abilities and teamwork. Some of my fondest memories of adolescence were from summer camp.

Most other Western countries also have long-established summer camp cultures that are deeply ingrained in their societies. Take the US for example, which has even spawned its own sub-genre of Hollywood movies specifically about summer camps, such as Little Darlings, Wet Hot American Summer, Meatballs and even Friday the 13th.

Sadly, Chinese children seldom have such opportunities to explore the wilderness. Their parents, it seems, see little value in learning how to swim or hunt. They don't see anything special about spending a month surrounded by trees, fresh water and pure air.

Instead, local youth are forced to spend July and August sitting in cramped classrooms inhaling air-conditioning and chalk dust while they study English. A foreign friend of mine who teaches in Shanghai was shocked when he first heard that his students wouldn't be taking any time off this summer.

Other local children who do not have the financial privilege of being able to afford costly training centers are forced to work alongside their parents. Every morning, I see a little boy in my neighborhood rushing to a nearby convenience store. At first I thought he was going to get himself a cold drink or ice cream. Finally I realized that he was working the register with his mother!

There are in fact some old-fashioned summer camps located in rural parts of China that parents can send their children to, but these are quite costly at around 4,000 yuan ($592) for only one week. And as Mother Nature has yet to appeal to urban Chinese parents, they see no reason to give their children this sort of natural experience.

But I believe that, with some encouragement from the local government and perhaps State incentivization, more Chinese youth can attend these camps. This would provide great relief to local educational industries, which are notoriously overcrowded during the summer, and relief to the parents themselves, most of whom are working class and need someone to watch their kids.

A month or so in China's countryside would do wonders for their young minds in terms of learning to be creative and independent while also appreciating and respecting China's natural environment. It's a completely wholesome and healthy activity that Chinese youth desperately need. Not to mention that, giving them a much-needed break from academics would benefit, not hinder, them.

We Russians have an old saying: "Summer is a little life." Admittedly this might have to do with the fact that our country is 49-percent forested, but seeing as how 22 percent of China is forested, that is still plenty of wilderness that can be utilized specifically to develop a new Chinese summer camp culture that could thrive as lush and wild as the woods themselves. Summer simply is not meant to be spent in a polluted, hot city.

The opinions expressed in this article are the author's own and do not necessarily reflect the views of the Global Times.

Posted in: TWOCENTS

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