BEIJING – Local education officials in China suspended trips to U.S. summer camps by schools in the home city of the two teenage girls who died Saturday in the Asiana flight that crashed at San Francisco International Airport.
In eastern China’s Zhejiang province, one of the nation’s wealthiest regions, the government also vowed tighter regulation of the new and fast-growing market for summer camp trips and other overseas study tours.
As China grows richer, more families here have the means and the interest to give their offspring, usually single children, a taste of the United States, often with a view to full-time education there when they are older. Of the 141 Chinese citizens aboard the Asiana flight, 70 were students or teachers bound for U.S. summer camps.
The education bureau of Zhejiang’s Quzhou City, which also administers the smaller city of Jiangshan where the two girls studied, issued the order Sunday to suspend all summer camp trips and study tours. It was sent by text message to schoolmasters in the jurisdiction. Organizers of school trips already underway must pay extra attention to safety, said the message, which gave no specific reason for the suspension.
Victims Wang Linjia, 16, and Ye Mengyuan, 17, were among a group of 34 students and teachers from Jiangshan Middle School en route to attend a two-week summer camp at the West Valley Christian School, in the San Fernando Valley section of Los Angeles. On Monday, their parents and eight others, including parents of injured students, will travel to Shanghai and then fly to San Francisco, Xinhua, the state news agency, reported.
Thirty-six Chinese students and teachers bound for U.S. summer camps from two schools in Shanxi province were on the same flight, China’s Ministry of Education said.
Shu Peidong, an official at the Zheijiang provincial education bureau, said Monday the government would introduce measures aimed at better regulation of the market for summer camp trips. Over 100 agencies in Zhenjiang now offer this kind of overseas study trip, and problems have arisen, such as parents bearing the cost of accompanying teachers, Shu told the China News Service.
News of the crackdown surprised at least one parent whose child survived the flight Saturday unharmed.
“The incident was accidental, and we have no complaints against the school,” a man surnamed Mao, the father of a Jiangshan Middle School student on the U.S. trip, told Xinhua. “I have learned that my child is safe. I wish a safe journey back for all of them.”
For the past seven years, the Jiangshan school has sent groups of pupils in their first year of senior high to experience U.S. summer camps during the Chinese school break. Although no previous major incidents have been reported, one parent wrote last year to the Jiangshan city government questioning safety procedures. The parent also queried who paid for accompanying teachers, and asked for a breakdown of the almost $5,000 fee for a trip of under three weeks.
In an online response, the city education bureau posted replies from the school that said the aim of the summer camp is “to broaden students’ views, let them personally experience a different culture, customs and habits, learn authentic American spoken English, and improve team awareness during the trip.”
As is common practice, the trip was advertised through the school but arranged by a third party, in this case the Boyue International Exchange consultancy, based in Zhenjiang in neighboring Jiangsu province. Its leader, Yu Guoping, currently in the United States to deal with the accident, confirmed the students had insurance, the Qianjiang Evening News paper reported Monday.
Jiang Wenbin, a student at Jiangshan Middle School, said his family paid $5,000 for him to attend the school’s summer camp trip last year. “This tragedy will put some students and parents off” joining future trips, said Jiang, 19.
Chinese media carried extensive reports Monday about the crash, and there was an outpouring of condolences online. Fellow pupils gathered in the hometown of the victims to mourn them Monday night.
The impact on China’s booming demand for overseas summer camps will be limited and localized, Alex Abraham, the founder of Blue Sky Study, a Shanghai-based overseas education consultancy. The number of Chinese parents sending children to U.S. summer camps “grows significantly every year,” he said.
“Parents often know other families who have done it, so they want to ‘keep up with the Joneses’, or their kid asks to go,” he said. Many parents also consider sending their children, when older, to study full-time overseas.
Through summer camps, “they want them to get some experience of another country and improve their English,” Abraham said. For Shanghai parents, the United States is by far the most popular choice, while parents in the rest of China are more willing to consider the United Kingdom, Australia and Canada, he said.
Contributing: Sunny Yang