Summer camps give students an edge

Updated: 2013-08-16 11:58

By Yu Wei in San Francisco (China Daily)

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 Summer camps give students an edge

Zhang Linghao (left), a Chinese high school student, wants to go to MIT one day and he's hoping a two-week summer camp at Stanford will give him a leg up when it comes time to apply. Provided to China Daily

Zhang Linghao, a 16-year-old high school student from Guangzhou, just finished two weeks at a summer camp at Stanford University that not only earned him eight college credits but could also give him an edge over the competition when it comes time to apply to US colleges two years from now.

Zhang's goal in attending the program was simple - he wanted to get to know the campus culture of the US.

As the only Chinese person in the program, Zhang was fully immersed in an environment that was totally new to him. "Now I know what a real American class looks like," he said. "And I learned how to socialize with Americans."

Zhang learned some other solid skills as well, like Java and iOS programming, which he put to use creating a mobile game as his final project. The credits he earned from Stanford Continuing Studies can be transferred to other universities down the road.

Although this is only Zhang's first trip to the US, he already has his heart set on going to a US university.

"In high school, I have been studying in the international department, so I have long been planning to do my undergraduate degree overseas," he said, adding that his dream is to go to the Massachusetts Institute of Technology.

The summer program that Zhang took part in is called VIP Tech camp, which is run by Ivy Summer School, a New York-based education and training institution that specializes in summer camps in the US for Chinese students. JoJo Zou, chairwoman of Ivy Summer School, said they offer more than 20 different kinds of programs, and the one that Zhang took, the VIP, was their "exclusive service".

According to Zou, students in VIP camp are fully tested and evaluated to provide tailor-made services.

"We have to get to know a student well in order to provide the most suitable individual service," she explained. "In this case, we learned that Zhang was especially interested in technology. So we placed him in a tech camp at Stanford University in the heart of Silicon Valley."

One of Zhang's specific interests is automobile manufacturing. So, in addition to Zhang's regular classes at Stanford, Ivy Summer School also arranged for him to visit the Blackhawk Automotive Museum in Danville, which displays a wide variety of classic cars from all eras, and go on a factory tour of Tesla Motors, a maker of high-performance electric vehicles.

"We also took him to Google and Apple, where he had lunch with engineers to let him get a better understanding of what high-tech companies are like on the inside," Zou said.

During Zhang's two-week study at Stanford, Zou said there was a mentor who guided him through the learning process. "Once the mentor found Zhang's academic problems, he helped him solve them in real time."

Zhang's elite VIP summer camp was certainly not cheap. Zou declined to give specific figures, but she did say that a two-week summer camp through her service could run as high as $16,000.

Zou said that the money spent on her summer camp was worth it.

"Overseas summer camps are booming in China now, but only a few of them are of good quality," Zou said, adding that some of the camps were no different than vacation tours.

"We offer a life-changing experience," she said. "Our goal is to sculpt the future leaders of China. Nobel Prize-winning economist Robert Mundell is our honorary advisor. We also have people from companies like McKinsey as our business advisors."

Zou's social networking prowess is, in part, the result of her personal social relationships. A former TV host in China, she earned a Master's degree in International Public Affairs from Columbia University.

"I graduated from an Ivy League school, so it is much easier for me to access the top universities and schools. Also, a lot of my friends from Ivy League schools are also on my team," she said.

Zou's Ivy Summer School is one of thousands of educational and training institutions in China that send students abroad each summer for language study and cultural immersion.

The explosive growth of China's middle class has brought about a surge in enrollment in such programs. According to the Shanghai office of EF Education First, North America and Europe are the most popular destinations.

UC-Berkeley has seen a significant increase in summer camp enrollments from China in recent years, said Diane Marcus, associate director of marketing at Berkeley Summer Sessions.

"Nearly 3,000 international students come to Berkeley Summer Sessions each year. In 2013, nearly 1,300 of them were from China," Marcus said.

"Summer Sessions at UC-Berkeley is an immersion program, where international students take class with UC-Berkeley students. They earn a UC-Berkeley transcript," she said.

Marcus agreed that such summer camps are a way to help a student get into prestigious schools like Berkeley, as long as they also "work hard and get good grades".

Zhang Linghao's father gets her point. "You can't simply say it will make my son more competitive with only one summer camp," he said. "But definitely the Ivy Summer School made him better prepared to study at a US college."

(China Daily USA 08/16/2013 page11)