Campers Seek Immersion in U.S.
By Kyle Spencer
After hours spent performing cartwheels, American show tunes and jazzy dance routines in a cramped studio in Manhattan, 8-year-old Futaba Kawakami left TADA Youth Theater camp clammy and slightly hoarse. She pulled off her new camp T-shirt and marshaled enough energy to ask her mother for ice cream.
Then Futaba and her mother, Keiko, piled into a cab that whizzed them to a short-term luxury rental apartment behind the Plaza hotel. That’s where the Kawakamis, who are Japanese and live in Tokyo, were staying so that Futaba could experience what many city children take for granted: day camp.
Camp directors say the children of well-off families from Beijing, Seoul, Taipei and Tokyo now annually descend upon the city’s acting studios, sports centers, science labs and swimming pools in what has become, for those who can afford it, an international rite of passage.
Ten years ago, Cari Kosins, the camp director at the Little Red School House and Elisabeth Irwin High School, rarely got so much as an email from abroad. This year, nine campers and their families have flown in from Bali, China, Japan and Singapore to take part in spy school, jewelry-making workshops, rock band sessions and soccer tutorials.
“Families come and then they fly home, and tell their friends back home,” she said. “It’s not unusual for us to get several families from the same city or school.”
New York’s wealthiest families don’t usually send their children to day camp in the city, preferring instead to pack them off to summer-long sleep-away camps in Maine or the Adirondacks. More often, city camps cater to youngsters with two working parents, neither of whom can afford to take the summer off and who need a way to keep their children occupied. Well-to-do families from overseas, however, see day camp in New York as a coveted opportunity.
Futaba said that attending day camp in New York is a must-do for children from her set. “It’s kind of the really cool thing,” she said in near-perfect English.
“We do not have these kinds of opportunities in Japan,” Ms. Kawakami said. “We have music and dance camps. We don’t have variety.”
Last summer, Grace Leng, an education consultant, accompanied 15 students, ages 7 to 12 to the United States from China for seven days. The children of technology executives, hoteliers and manufacturing magnates, they spent their mornings at Robofun designing electronic cars and robotic monsters.
Other Asian children, like the half-dozen or so teenagers from China and Japan who last year attended CampusNYC, a two-week culinary camp, come without adult chaperones. Staying in a dormitory, they filled their days making blanquette de veau, Philly cheesesteaks and flourless ginger-chocolate cake and their weekends with city food tours.
Most campers come with at least one parent, and stay in luxury rentals. Add airfare, camp tuition, spending money and the cost of supplies, and many families can end up spend more than $15,000 per child, according to Evelyn Sinae Jang, an education consultant from Seoul. Graphic novel camp for 10-year-olds at Curious Jane, for example, costs $585 a week. A two-week iD Tech programming camp can cost close to $3,000.
Douglas Murphy, who runs CampusNYC, said last year’s international campers came armed with their parents’ credit cards, and used them to spend hundreds of dollars on jewelry. One teenager spent $800 at a makeup store.
But most parents said they were sending their children to New York camp for something money can’t buy: ease with American culture.
One mother, Zou Lifen, said the family wanted her 5-year-old son, Cao Zilin, to learn English, and familiarize himself with American ways by attending Pierce Country Day Camp, in Roslyn, New York. The hope is that he will attend high school and university in America.
At camp, Tony, as he was being called, dived for rings in one of the camp’s seven pools, played basketball, decorated pancakes and made a necklace with his name on it during arts and crafts.
During the first days of camp, after he had disembarked from the bus and was back at the family’s rented house, Cao asked his mother what “follow me,” a phrase often repeated at camp, meant. He also wanted to know how to say “cookie,” because they were abundance at the camp, he told her.
Ms. Kawakami said she also wanted Futaba to be able to express herself more fully.
“At home, she can be in her shell,” Ms. Kawakami said. “But she comes out of it when she is in New York. I want her to be confident like that all the time.”
2014-09-02聯合報/G5版/UNITEDDAILYNEWS 馮克芸譯 原文參見紐時週報十一版右