Every year, SPIRAL International hosts groups of Chinese middle and high school students for one or two-week Adventure & Learning Camps at school sites in northern New England. Since 2010, we have hosted over 2,400 students!
This summer, we are working with schools in Vermont, New Hampshire, and Connecticut, and we’ll welcome students from three of our Chinese partners: Sunshine Consulting, Stilwell International Student Exchange (both Chinese travel and education organizations), and Xiang Jiang Secondary School (a private high school in Guangzhou).
The goal of these camps is to create a full immersion program in which the Chinese young people participate in activities both inside and outside the classroom to improve their English and learn first-hand about American culture. Each camp has a site coordinator who plans the camp activities, finds host families for the students, and recruits American student “peer ambassadors.” These American students join the Chinese students in sightseeing and typical local activities such as strawberry picking, canoeing, hiking, and playing Frisbee. The cultural exchange goes both ways because all of the students have the opportunity to share ideas and opinions about family life, music, movies, sports, etc. This experience helps the American students develop social and leadership skills.
On a typical day, the Chinese and the American students may be involved in a cooking or baking project that will require them to plan a meal, read the recipes, and identify the necessary ingredients. The students visit a farm to pick produce, and shop together to buy the rest of the food for the project and, at the same time, discover American supermarkets. They then work together to prepare and enjoy the meal.
Many of the Chinese students say that, before arriving, their images of America came from popular Chinese culture and government-controlled media, images that were at times less than favorable. Thus, a key part of the program is staying with local host families. By living with an American family, the Chinese students learn about American life and culture, and develop friendships with the host family and the local community which can last a lifetime.